Thursday, March 28, 2019

My Watershed Moment

Yesterday marked the 55th anniversary of the watershed moment that changed the direction of my life. The Great Alaska Earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, interrupted my freshman year at Seattle Pacific College on March 27, 1964.

Seward, Alaska, before the 1964 Earthquake

Seward after the 1964 Earthquake
My family the Christmas before the earthquake
(I am front left)

I grew up in a missionary family in Alaska in the fifties and sixties. We lived by faith on my dad's meager pastor’s salary. My personal faith grew as I experienced many answers to prayer. Feeling called to fulltime Christian service, I wanted to attend a Christian college, where I hoped to find a godly husband.

When I graduated from William H. Seward High School, I knew I couldn’t expect financial help from my family for college, but with a scholarship and money I’d saved from hundreds of hours of babysitting and ironing, I enrolled at Seattle Pacific College, an accredited Christian college closest to home.

Oil storage tanks burned for days
That memorable Good Friday in 1964, clocks stopped at 5:36 p.m. when the largest earthquake ever to hit North America struck Southcentral Alaska. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale (the Japan quake a few years ago registered 9.1), the quake centered in Prince William Sound, along the northern edge of the Gulf of Alaska. It generated tsunamis and devastated every city, town, port, connecting highway, and railroad in the region.

Railroad cars tossed like toys by the tsunamis
Horrified, I watched coverage of the destruction on television. Seward, a small port city just south of Anchorage, where my entire family lived, had been hard hit.

The docks were swallowed up by Resurrection Bay. Oil storage tanks ruptured, belching flames and black smoke for weeks. Homes were destroyed. Bridges were stranded 8-12 feet above shredded ribbons of highways. Several tsunamis carried burning debris inland, setting everything on fire. Many people were killed. For a torturous week, I didn’t know if my family had survived.

That summer, I returned home to a very different landscape. Miraculously, our church and parsonage had survived, but everything south of us was gone—many homes, the docks where my father had worked as a longshoreman to supplement his income, the shrimp cannery where I had pulled several night shifts while in high school.

Ninety-five percent of the industrial area had been destroyed. Family men couldn’t find work, let alone a single college girl.
And no one needed a babysitter.
Ninety-five percent of Seward's industrial area obliterated.

As that jobless summer progressed, I prayed and tried to have faith, but I knew it would take a miracle for me to return to college that fall. In July, evangelists visited our tiny church. We agreed together to make it a matter of special prayer, and my faith increased.

The first week of August, the local librarian asked me to help her catalog new books. She could only promise me babysitting wages (50 cents an hour at that time). It wouldn’t pay my way to college, but it was something useful to do!

While I was working at the library, a bulletin from the Ford Foundation arrived announcing an “Earthquake Relatedness” Scholarship for those who had lost a family member, property, or employment due to the earthquake. It would cover up to full expenses according to need. I was eligible.

But there was one catch. This scholarship was only for students attending universities in Alaska. I could not use it at Seattle Pacific College.

Although it was not what I’d hoped for, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayers. I immediately applied to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and felt peace. At least I would be able to continue my education.

The week before school started that fall, I received my letter of acceptance and a scholarship covering full expenses for the year. It even included money for books, a fur parka essential to living in the interior of Alaska where the thermometer reaches 50 and 60 degrees below zero for weeks on end, and spending money. And all of my credits transferred. When I graduated three years later, the scholarship had covered all of my expenses for all three years.

But that’s not all. Not only did God meet my needs, He gave me the desire of my heart.

The first week of school that fall of 1964, I met a young man at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. We married three weeks after our graduation in 1967. We will celebrate our 52nd wedding anniversary in June.

I often laughingly say, “God had to send an earthquake to introduce me to my husband.”

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