Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Christmas I Learned to Pray

It was December 1950 or 1951 in Juneau, Alaska, and I was 5 or 6 years old. Most families did all their shopping by catalog in territorial Alaska. We kids spent hours pouring over the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog, studying page after page of toys and dolls, looking for what we wanted for Christmas. 

As I turned a page, my eyes fell upon the most beautiful doll I'd ever seen--a bride doll dressed in lace and tulle, a veil over long, blond curls that could be combed and styled.
I ran to show my mother. "This is what I want for Christmas!"

With sadness tingeing her voice, she said, "Oh, honey, you'll have to pray and ask Jesus for that doll. We don't have enough money to buy presents this year."

My parents operated the Bethel Beach children's Home home by faith. As many as thirteen children, nine of them under five and two babies in cribs--orphans, neglected or abandoned children, and others with only one parent and no one else to care for them when the parent worked--lived in a big house on the beach just outside of town. Some parents were able to pay a little; those children placed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or welfare were subsidized. 
Bethel Beach Children's Home in Juneau, Alaska, c. 1950
I am the girl in the back row next to my dad
My dad worked full time to support our family and the home while my mother cared for all the children, did the cooking, the laundry, and the cleaning, usually without other adult help. Both of them provided us with a lot of love and Christian training.

That year, every night until December 24, when I knelt to say my bedtime prayers, I asked Jesus to give me that beautiful bride doll for Christmas. My request wasn't very significant to anyone but me. You might even say it was selfish. It certainly would not change the course of history if I didn't receive that doll. 

But that Christmas morning when, wide-eyed with expectation, we children tripped down the stairs and peeked into the large living room, we discovered gaily wrapped presents under the tree for each child. The tags all said, "From Jesus." When I unwrapped my gift, the beautiful doll I'd prayed for lay inside.

Years later, my mother told me the rest of the story. That Christmas Eve, Behrends, the only department store in Juneau, had called my parents to come down to the store and pick out gifts for all the children in their children's home. Among the unsold toys she found a bride doll for me.

That Christmas, this young girl learned that the God who created the Universe cares about every detail of her life, including what she wanted for Christmas. And to this day, that sense of my Heavenly Father's love has never left me.


  1. Oh my goodness! I have been reading your blog for hours! It is now 2 A.M. This story is so much like the miracles my family experienced. My parents were also missionaries in Ketchikan in 1946 through 1949 and again in 1955. They too had a children's home and lived by faith. So many miracles! And . . . my parents knew Byron Personeus and his wife! Small world! I found your blg through my friend Jim and Margarita Neyens FB. My family was also good friends with the Sommers in Anchorage. Saralee (Rientjes) Lathrop (

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed my blog! When I was 2 1/2, my family took a steamer to Ketchikan to meet up with my Uncle Byron. We surely must have visited your family at that time. Have you read my book, Frontiers of Faith, the story of my grandparents, the C.C. Personeuses, the first Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska in 1917-1982? For more information about my Alaska books,see my website, It is wonderful to connect with you.

  2. Beautiful story, AnnaLee. Merry Christmas!

  3. Was there only one Bethel Beach Children's home in Juneau? Do you know what happened to the records of the children who lived there?

  4. Was there only one Bethel Beach Children's home in Juneau? Do you know what happened to the records of the children who lived there?

  5. Yes, there was only one Bethel Beach Children's Home in Juneau. It closed in 1953 or 1954. Some of the children were placed by the Welfare Dept. or the Bureau of indian Affairs. Some were placed there by a single parent. I do not know what happened to the records, but I do know what happened to some of the children.