Thursday, June 9, 2016

Come Wind and High Water

In the 1930s, while my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, were pastoring the Assemblies of God church they'd pioneered in Juneau, Alaska, a young mother who was dying of an incurable kidney disease, began attending. Helen Johnson had already had one diseased kidney removed, and the other was infected too. The doctors gave her six month to live.

Helen loved children but had only been able to have one little girl of her own. Seeing all the dirty, neglected children on the streets of Juneau, she complained to God, "I wanted my child, and You are going to take me from her. It's not fair!"

The Lord spoke to her heart, "Open your home to those neglected children."

"All right, Lord. You know I'm dying, but if that's what You want me to do, I'll do it."

Her husband, Lyle, not yet a believer, agreed to help her.

Helen Johnson is shown at right front holding little girl on her lap.

At church, Helen learned about the Lord, our Healer. In answer to prayer according to James 5:14, 15, she was completely healed. The home she opened and operated for many years became known as the Juneau Children's Home. When she died 40 years later, her one kidney was still functioning perfectly. (The rest of the story is in my book, Frontiers of Faith.)

The first girl the Johnsons took into their home was Lillian Lorraine Lehtosaari. Her mother had died, and Lillian, though young, had been a dancer and performer with her father. When he tried to commit suicide, she went to live with the Johnsons.

Lillian remained with them until she left for Bible school, where she met and married Alvin E. Capener. For many years, they ministered among the Eskimos and Aleuts in Alaska, building churches in Nome, Barrow, and on Saint Paul Island, one of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. The Capeners were longtime friends of my family.

In 1975, the Capeners visited me when I was working as an editorial assistant for youth magazines at the Headquarters of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri. They shared this testimony, which I wrote up for publication in Youth Alive:

Off the western coast of Alaska, Saint Paul Island is the summer home and mating grounds for the fur seal. At that time, the U.S. government operated the multi-million dollar seal industry. Since the government owned the land, the Capeners were not allowed to purchase land for the mission. Instead, the government assigned them a lot on a use permit. This lot was in a low-lying area of the barren, treeless island that had been formed by several "extinct" volcanoes.

On Christmas Day, 1966, 90-mile-an-hour winds pumped unusually high tides into low-lying areas above the beach line on Saint Paul Island, flooding the Capeners' mission station and their 1960 Rambler that had been provided to them by Speed-the Light, a funding raising effort of youth across the United States, to be used for carrying people to and from church. Upon delivery, the Capeners had dedicated it to the Lord.

The 1960 Rambler was inundated with salt sea water to the dashboard. Everyone said, "It'll never run again. Better just leave it set."

Undaunted, Capener replied, "I dedicated it to the Lord. I'm going to try to start it anyway." He flushed out everything with fresh water: the motor, carburetor, crankcase, transmission, differential, and generator. It started!

After the flood, the government assigned them a new lot in a better location for the parsonage and a new church building. That Rambler was used to haul more than 200 tons of building materials for the church, carrying as much as 1,400 pounds of rock at one time. It carried "scoria" (volcanic ash used in place of gravel, which is not available on the island), sand, lumber, rock for the retaining wall for the parking lot and for the lower four feet of the exterior of the church, and material for manufacturing 30 cubic yards of cement.

The only problem was with the electrical connections, but that did not prevent the car from operating. Though the body rusted badly, and Capener had to weld the trunk lid on three times before it could no longer be welded and was discarded, that Rambler ran for eight more years.

In 1972, Speed-the-Light purchased a second used car for the Capeners, a 1970 Dodge Dart, for carrying passengers, but the Rambler was still used for hauling supplies and refuse until it was finally junked in 1974, eight years after the Christmas Day flood.

Reminds me of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. For forty years, their clothes and sandals did not wear out. God still provides for His children.


  1. An interesting and inspiring testimony!

  2. Thank you, Deb! I love to share how God still provides for His people today.