I must have looked pretty bad by this time: pale, drawn, unhappy, discouragement etched on my face. Early in December one of the Eskimos invited me to go with him by snowmobile or ski-doo (a machine with skis on the front and a track on the back to carry you over the snow) to the other village, about 70 miles away.
On a fine Saturday morning we set off, he on the ski-doo, me standing on the runners of the dog sled hitched behind it. We went up towards the mountains, the wind whipping the snow around us.
Just before curving behind the nearest mountain, he stopped and we looked back at the village. It was barely a smudge of dark against the white snow of the land and the sea ice that went as far as the eye could discern. I felt really tiny in that great white world.
The trip took 8 hours. There was no road, but the Eskimo knew the way through the mountains and brought us safely to the village of Gambell.
I stayed there with the public health nurse, another farm boy like myself. Doug had responsibility for all the medical needs of the Eskimos in both villages, a much heavier load than mine. Yet he was bright and happy. In the evening I asked him, “What’s your philosophy of life?”
He didn’t hesitate, “I’m a born again Christian. My philosophy is to live according to the Bible, and with God’s power, for Jesus.”
I was impressed. Like the young fellow in Montana there was a positiveness about Doug. There was also a discernable power in his life that I knew I didn’t have.
On this visit I also briefly met Dave and Mitzy Shinen, Wycliff Bible Translators, fine believers who would shortly play a significant role in my life. They had spent many years working on translating the New Testament into Yupik Eskimo.
Sunday afternoon we headed back to Savoonga by ski-doo and had a close call on the way. At one point my sled slid sideways, caught on some ice and turned over throwing me off. My Eskimo friend was not aware of this and kept going.
I jumped up and shouted to him, but the sound of the motor drowned me out. I ran after him, but was no match for the speed he was going. I stopped, puffing out clouds of steam in the cold air.
In God’s goodness, the Eskimo looked back at that moment and saw what had happened. He circled around and picked me up. If he hadn’t glanced back at just that moment, I could have been left in a difficult position, with darkness coming on, no food, no weapon and no knowledge of how to survive in such a place. But the Lord protected me with a very obvious God sighting.
The Lord watched over me in another way, too. When I had first arrived in the Savoonga, I got a brochure from Word Book Club. The first book they offered was, guess what? Taste of New Wine, the book the young minister had spoken of in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I had ordered it and when I got home to my little house it was waiting for me.
In this book was the help I was looking for. It was about a Texas oilman who was searching for God. He even went to seminary, but didn’t find what he was looking for.
One day as he was driving along, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of his inability to handle life. He broke down sobbing, pulled over to the side of the road and prayed a very simple prayer. “Lord, I give you my will and take yours in its place.”
“That,” I said to myself, “is what I have never done!” I knew the gospel thoroughly, knew that I was a sinner–there was so much sin in my thought life alone that I could not deny it–I knew the historical fact that Christ had died for me and had risen from the dead to buy forgiveness and eternal life for me, that only He could save me. But I had been unwilling to surrender my life to Him.
On my motorcycle trip to Alaska He had shown me time and again how weak I was, how small, vulnerable and unable to handle life in my own strength. At the same time he had shown me how powerful He was, saving me from accidents, from the tornado, from the bears, and again yesterday from being left behind in the wilderness.
He had brought me into contact with people who lived their faith, who walked in the power Jesus gave them, who were “shiny” as they unashamedly shared their faith.
And now He had gotten this book into my hands at the right time. He had been showing me all along that I could trust Him. He also now had me at the end of my rope, desperate for a philosophy of life that worked, one that would answer my childhood question, “Why am I in the world?”
I got down on my knees on that dark arctic December night and prayed, “Lord, I give you my will and take yours in its place.” I waited. Nothing happened, so I went to bed.
The next morning, as the first stream of consciousness flowed up into my mind, along with it rose a pearl of hope, spinning, shining, gleaming in my soul. This was so different from the dark oppressive feeling I normally encountered upon awakening. The heavy blanket of depression was lifting.
Picture: the village in the sea of snow as seen from about 2 miles away