Thursday, May 25, 2017

An Out-of-Character Request that Saved Our Lives

Byron & Marjory Personeus
Today I was looking through some writings of my Aunt Marjory Personeus given to me by their daughter last summer. Uncle Byron and Aunt Marjory have both gone to be with the Lord, but they operated a mission boat in Southeast Alaska in the forties and fifties and then around Vancouver Island for another 20 years.

During those years, they often experienced God's protection. Some of their stories are included in my book, Frontiers of Faith, about my grandparents' 65 years of ministry in Alaska as pioneer missionaries. But this story was one I had never heard.

I am telling it here in my aunt's point of view:

At 5 o'clock in the morning, I rolled over. The cabin was cold, but it was too early to be disturbed. "Don't get up to start the fire yet, dear. I'm so comfortable. Let's wait until 6." We snuggled under the warm covers.

The little three burner propane stove in the tiny cabin on our missionary boat, Gospel Light II, could not keep us warm, so we had installed a small charcoal stove we had picked up at the army-navy store several years before. The instructions promised no fumes or chimney needed.

At 6 a.m., Byron got up to start the charcoal stove and crawled back into our bunk, a small chesterfield (couch) on one side of the main cabin, until 7. Then we had to hurry and get underway for a logging camp where we were to hold Sunday school that morning, the first to be held at the location. We had visited the homes and invited the children, hoping to soon build it up into a regular morning service too. We didn't want to be late.

At 7 a.m., Byron went outside onto the aft deck to turn on the gas so he could start the engine. That's when he noticed that the air inside the boat smelled quite stale, so he left the door open. As I got up to make up the bunk, I felt sick. I tried to get out the cereal for breakfast but had to lie down again.

When Byron came back in, he said, "I feel sick."

I was feeling a bit better, so I quickly got up and told him to lie down. No sooner was he on the chesterfield than down I went onto the cold, hard deck. I could not stand up.

Byron managed to honk the boat's horn to signal for help, but no one came. The folks in our beautiful little village of Quatsino, where we had had a precious service the night before, thought we were signaling a friendly goodbye.

The Gospel Light II in the 1960s
Byron forced himself up and outside onto the float to untie the boat, almost falling into the water as he tried to loosen the lines. Steadying himself, he staggered back on board and to the controls. The little engine chugged to life, and we got underway.

Try as I might, I couldn't make myself do anything. Each time I tried to get up, my head felt so light I had to drop down again. I couldn't even attend Sunday school that morning. Although he too was feeling very weak and had a headache, Byron had to do his best without me.

That afternoon, we continued on to Port Alice for an afternoon service. An RN in the congregation told us that our symptoms indicated that we had no doubt almost been asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. Since my side of the bunk was under the side deck where the fumes had collected, I was hardest hit. Both of us had bad headaches all that day.

When out dear congregation in Quatsino learned of our near-death experience, they came to our boat the next Saturday night after service and presented us with a key to a lovely little cabin. "We don't want you to sleep on your boat any more. Whenever you minister in this area, we want you to sleep here."

Rarely did I tell my husband not to get up to start the fire early on a chilly fall morning. How thankful I was for God's nudging that morning! Little did I realize that my unusual request would save our lives. An hour longer breathing those fumes and we'd have been dead.

Beside Still Waters, Book 3 of my Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is now available in Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and in paperback. See

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