Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Lifelong Search Rewarded

A warm, sunny Sunday morning near Athens, Greece, not far from the road traveled by the Apostle Paul, an 8-year-old, sandy-haired boy sat in a tree. He was obviously American. He had climbed up there to get a better view. As he gazed out over that ancient land from his perch on the gnarled limb, he heard a unit of Greek soldiers singing hymns as they marched to the Greek Orthodox Church.

How guilty the boy felt because he never went to church! God must hate me, he thought.
Then a warm Presence enveloped him, as though Someone had put His arms around him. "I love you, Bobby," He seemed to say.

For the first time in his young life, the boy knew there was a God who loved him. But how could he know Him? The boy didn't know, but at that moment in time he determined to search for a relationship with Him.

Robert James Conti was born July 12, 1944, in Newburgh, New York, while his father was fighting in World War II in the European Theater. His father, who made the Air Force his career, was not a religious man. He'd been baptized and married in the Catholic Church, but that was all. Bob's mother had a Baptist background, but she did not attend church then, either. Thus, Bob had had no religious training of any kind.

The Air Force sent the family to Greece for three years when Bob was 8 years old. He had few playmates and often explored the countryside alone with only his specially trained guard dog, a German police dog named Aristides, for a companion.

After his experience in the tree, Bob immediately began to search for God. Church was the place to start, he figured. In Greece, that meant the nearby Greek Orthodox Church, so Bob went to visit. As he entered the huge stone cathedral, fear filled him. It was dimly lit by candles. Incense pervaded the air. After the bright sunshine, it took time for his eyes to adjust. From all along the walls, strange looking statues and icons stared down at him.

A priest in a flowing black robe, a long beard, and a tall, stovepipe hat with the brim at the top approached him. "This is no place to play. Scram." Bob took one look and fled. Feeling none of the peace and comfort he'd experienced in the tree, he decided that he surely wouldn't find God there.

When the family returned to the States, Bob again began his quest to satisfy the longing in his heart to know God. They were stationed in Bethesda, Maryland, and his buddy across the street, who was a Catholic, began telling Bob he was going to hell unless he went to church.

That remark sent him running to his parents to find out what religion they were. "You were baptized a Catholic," they told him. So Bob began going to the Catholic Church just around the corner with his buddy.

Bob was now 11 years old. He had a lot of catching up to do, so a special catechism class was formed just for him that summer. He became a very devout Catholic. Bob had an excellent singing voice, and he was soon singing in the choir at Mass. He learned the prayers and spent many hours in prayer.

Every week, he went to confession, even though it was a frightening experience for him. For the one moment following confession, he felt all clean and good inside, but then he'd swear or commit some other sin and had to sweat it out until the next Saturday confession. Due to his penchant for swearing, he often confessed to having been "irrelevant," until the priest suggested he meant "irreverent."

During Bob's sophomore year of high school, the family was transferred to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Catholic chaplain on the base gave him a Good News for Modern Man, a translation of the New Testament in modern English approved by the Catholic Church. The Mass at that time was still in Latin, but Bob had always loved the weekly readings in English from the gospels. He began to devour the stories in his New Testament.

As he read, many questions came to his mind. When he mentioned them to the priest, he was told to just trust the Church. "The layman cannot understand the Bible." But that didn't satisfy Bob. When he graduated from high school, he left the Catholic Church. Since he'd been taught that the Catholic Church was the only true church, he had no idea how to know God now.

While in high school, Bob became an Explorer Boy Scout. Many weekends, he, and sometimes a buddy, would go camping in the subArctic winters learning to survive in sub-zero temperatures. Many times during those crackling cold nights among the aspens and birch trees, he would look at the stars or the dancing Aurora Borealis and pray, using the Catholic prayers with his lips, while his heart cried out for fellowship with his Maker. He had always been a loner, and the frozen expanse of earth and heaven added to his loneliness. Yet, he loved the solitude.

The week he graduated from high school at age 17, he left home. He worked as a night watchman for the military recreation center at Birch Lake near Fairbanks. Patrolling the lake in his speedboat during those short twilight nights, watching the sun set at 10 or 11 p.m. only to rise at 2 a.m., coming upon a cow moose and her calf grazing on the lake bottom at sunrise was like heaven to him. The stillness of the lake in those hours soothed his soul.

In the fall, he enrolled as a freshman in the engineering department at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. There, he learned to drink and smoke a pipe and cigars. He had never been a particularly good student in spite of his obvious intelligence, and the end of the year found him on academic probation.

Bob at Paxson  September 1963
That summer, he worked as a surveyor for the Alaska Department of Highways at Paxson, a hunting lodge near Denali National Park, building a road into the Alaskan wilderness. "Roughing it," they called it. Instead of going to town to look for girls with the guys on his days off, he explored the area. Finding a secluded place, he would sing the Catholic liturgy and songs like "Ave Maria" at the top of his lungs or pray his Catholic prayers in his desperation for God because they were all he knew. And he still went on drinking sprees then went to work with a hangover.

That fall, he went back to the university. A friendship developed with a girl he had met the previous year. She was different than the other girls he knew. One week she invited him to her church, the Denali Bible Chapel, a Plymouth Brethren fellowship. They had a Canadian evangelist for special services.

The sermon that night was simple and quietly given. The text was John 10:9, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." The evangelist talked about the Door, Jesus Christ. He said, "Many people come to the Door. They look at it. They open it. They walk all around it, but only by entering through it can we be saved."

Bob looked back over his life and thought, "That's me. I've looked at it. I've walked all around it. But I don't know if I've ever walked through that Door."

After the service, Bob talked with the evangelist. "I'm not sure if I've been saved or not, but what you're talking about sounds like something I've done before."

The evangelist said, "Well, let's put it this way. If you weren't saved before, then you know you are now." And they prayed together.

Later, Bob learned the hymn, "Precious Hiding Place." He says, "'I was straying when Christ found me, in the night so dark and cold,' and friends, that's true because I found God at the age of 19 in November in Fairbanks, Alaska, and let me tell you, it was dark and cold! Yet, everything seemed brighter and cleaner, and I felt brand new inside."


Now that my Alaskan Waters Trilogy of Christian fiction is completed, I am beginning a collection of stories and testimonies of my family as we followed in the footsteps of faith of my maternal grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, 1917-1982. I hope to publish them in a sequel to Frontiers of Faith. The working title is Following in the Footsteps of Faith. This will be one of the stories.

NOTE: Beside Still Waters, Book 3 in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is now available in e-book on and Barnes & It will be available very soon in paperback.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Beside Still Waters

Watch for Beside Still Waters, Book Three, Coming Soon in e-Book 

and in Paperback in May!

Is she jumping from a city firetrap factory into a wilderness icebox? 

In the third and final book in the Alaskan Waters series, Beside Still Waters, Violet Channing, orphaned at a young age, is tossed about by life's turbulent waters when the aunt who raised her dies. She wants nothing more than to be a schoolteacher. 

Living in a Boston tenement in 1915, barely able to survive, she accepts a job as a live-in teacher for a sick, motherless child in the harsh Yukon Territory. 

Sailing up the Inside Passage of Alaska, she falls in love with a dashing Yukon riverboat captain. Just when her life feels as beautiful as her new surroundings, tragedy strikes again. 

Can Violet allow her losses to make her better not bitter and learn to love again in this continuing saga of the loves, tragedies, and second chances of a Norwegian immigrant family who must battle the beautiful but often dangerous waters of early twentieth century Southeast Alaska?

Scenes Violet may have seen while traveling to the Yukon Territory:

Whales bubble feeding along the Inside Passage

Whale breaching along the Inside Passage

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway between
Skagway & Whitehorse
Lake Bennett, Yukon Territory,
Yukon Sternwheeler "Casca" mentioned in Beside Still Waters

Beside Still Waters, along with the other two books in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, Till the Storm Passes By and A Star to Steer By, is published by Ambassador International and is available at (Kindle and paperback), (Nook and Paperback), iBooks, Kobo, Vyrso, and 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Proofs of the Resurrection

Last spring, I attended a high school production of the musical, Godspell. Even though it is an old musical, I had never seen it before. The depiction of the life of Christ was fairly good until the last scene. They left out the Resurrection. I wanted to stand up and shout, "You omitted the best part of the story. He's alive!"

The Resurrection of Jesus is the most significant event in all of history. 

The Pyramids of Egypt are famous because they contain the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Westminster Abbey in London is revered because in it rest the bodies of English nobles and notables. Mohammed's tomb is noted for the stone coffin and the bones it contains. Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D. C., is honored as the resting place of many outstanding Americans.


But the Garden Tomb of Jesus is famous because it is empty! 

I've been there. I've walked around inside. It's empty. He's not dead. He's alive forevermore! And because He is alive, He will always be with us.

One local advice column received a letter from "Bewildered": "Our preacher said that Jesus just swooned on the cross, and the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think?"

The columnist responded, "Beat your preacher with a cat-o-nine tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross, hang him in the hot sun for 8 hours, run a spear through his heart, embalm him, put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours, and see what happens."

The Resurrection of Jesus is one of the best documented facts of history. Read the Gospel accounts and 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. In addition to the NT accounts, the Resurrection is referenced in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus, among others.

Let's look at the event itself. The centurion overseeing the crucifixion had certainly seen death before, and he declared Jesus to be dead. And the guards, under penalty of death if they deserted their post, ran away from the tomb at what they had seen.

The empty tomb was the first indication to the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. On the first Easter morning, the women who came to complete the embalming of Jesus expected to find the tomb sealed by an enormous stone. They wondered how they would be able to roll it away to gain access to the body. When they arrived, they found the tomb open and empty.

Not only was the body missing, but angels proclaimed that Jesus had risen.

The position of the grave clothes looked as though the body had evaporated through them, leaving them undisturbed except for the folded head napkin.

The gospels emphasize that the disciples did not expect to ever see Jesus again. They were afraid and hid.

Over the course of 40 days, Jesus repeatedly appeared to His followers individually, in small groups, and to a gathering of 500. He talked with them, ate with them, and they touched Him. Most of them were still living when the New Testament was written. Certainly, they would have refuted it if it were not true.

If Jesus' enemies had stolen the body, they would have surely produced it to disprove the disciples' preaching of the Resurrection.

But the greatest proof of all is the changed lives of His disciples and millions more down through the ages. If the disciples had stolen the body, as the Jewish leaders claimed, they could never have preached with such conviction nor would they have so courageously suffered martyrs' deaths for a lie. They were transformed from fearful cowards into bold witnesses who declared the fact that Jesus is alive again.

And Jesus is still radically changing lives today.

The Resurrection is the foundation of our Christian faith. In his great treatise on the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, pointed out that "if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then our faith is useless, and we are still under the condemnation of sin."

But He did rise from the dead, and whoever believes on Him has eternal life. Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also" (John 14:19). Because He lives, we have eternal life with Him if we simply accept His sacrifice on the cross as the payment for our sins and live for Him.

If you've never done so, why don't you make this Easter your personal Resurrection Day by receiving the life He wants to give you?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

To the Rescue

Recently, I came across a touching story that I want to share:

Many years ago, a sailing ship was driven onto the rocky coast of Scotland in a tremendous hurricane. The wind and waves were rapidly beating the vessel to pieces. The life-saving crew on shore, at great peril to themselves, attempted to rescue the ship's crew.

With heroic effort, they had succeeded in getting them all into the lifeboat. As they were drawing away from the stricken ship, however, they noticed one poor man who had been overlooked and was clinging to what was left of the rigging.

The rescue team said, "If we attempt to go back to get him, our boat will be dashed to pieces, and we will all be lost." Reluctantly, they left the man and continued toward shore.

When they landed, one strong young man said, "If someone will go with me, I will go back and get that man off the wreck."

His mother, who was standing by his side, put her arms around him and begged, "My boy, you must not go. Your father was a sailor and was lost at sea in a storm like this. Eight years later, your brother, William, went to sea, and we have not heard from him since. No doubt he too has found a watery grave. What am I to do if you go and are drowned? I am old, and you are my only support. You are the only one left. I beg you not to go."

Gently, he removed her arm from around his neck. "Mother, out there is a man in peril. I believe it is my duty to rescue him. If I am lost while doing my duty, God will take care of you." He kissed her. Then he and his companion stepped into the boat and rowed away into the teeth of the storm.

Those on shore waited a long time. Anxiously, they strained to see through the raging storm, hoping and praying for the lifeboat's safe return. By and by, they saw it struggling through the wind and darkness toward the shore.

Finally, weary and worn out, the two brave men applied all their remaining strength to reach land. When they were near enough to be heard, those on shore shouted, "Did you save the other man?"

Lifting his hands to his mouth to trumpet the good news, the young man called back, "Yes! Tell my mother I've got my brother, William!"

The lone man he had rescued from the rigging was his long lost brother!

This story reminds me of a song my uncle used to play from his gospel mission boat as he approached a tiny village or cannery in Southeast Alaska, "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning." One line reads, "Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."

The Lord wants each of us to reflect His light into the storms of life that would destroy our brothers and sisters and rescue the perishing from the destruction of sin. What are we doing to accomplish this task?