Tag Archives: Alaska

Clarence and Orvia Strom: Assemblies of God Church Planters in Alaska

Clarence_Strom_1400This Week in AG History — September 20, 1964

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG News, 19 September 2019

Clarence L. Strom (1911-2001) and his wife, Orvia (1915-2009), were pioneer Assemblies of God church planters. Practically every place they went, they started a church or helped a struggling one to grow. Their big start in the ministry together began in the backwoods of the Kentucky mountains, a place that came to be a testing ground for a number of missionaries in the early days. From there they worked in various small towns in North Dakota, Montana, Alaska, and elsewhere.

The Stroms were, perhaps, best known for their service as missionaries in Alaska, where they spent 18 years. They went to Alaska in 1959 to become the supervisors at the AG Boys Farm in Palmer. They went on to plant and/or pastor churches in Petersburg, Nenana, Yakutat, Gustavus, and Valdez, Alaska.

Fifty-five years ago, Strom authored an article published in the Pentecostal Evangel that documented his travel across Alaska. His article provided a bird’s-eye view of Assemblies of God work in some of Alaska’s key cities. At that time, the AG divided Alaska into four sections: Arctic Coast, Northern, Central, and Southeastern. He toured the Southeastern section, stopping first in Ketchikan.

To get there, Clarence Strom had to board a boat which took him over the Alaska Marine Highway on the inside channel. He then drove to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, to board a ferry. This was followed by a six-hour ride by automobile. This gives an idea of how difficult travel in Alaska could be. In Ketchikan he visited Pastor and Mrs. Alver Loftdahl, who reported a thriving congregation which was experiencing revival in the Ketchikan Assembly.

Next he traveled to Wrangell, an old Indian village which was known for its lumber and fishing industries. He visited with the George Downses who had been able to build a new church, which was also thriving.

In Petersburg, on Mitkof Island, a town made up of several nationalities, including Tlinget Indians, Filipinos, and Japanese, Strom (who was the former pastor) visited the new pastors, the Bernard Tewells, and reported this was a growing assembly.

In Juneau, he visited Roy and Pauline Davidson, who were pastoring the largest church in the Southeastern section. He also visited Lyle and Helen Johnson who had been supervising the AG Children’s Home in Juneau for over 30 years. At that time about 40 children were staying in the children’s home.

Strom next visited the Leonard Olsons who were pastors at Haines. About 11 miles out of Haines he visited the village of Klukwan where Charles and Florence Personeus had established the Pentecostal work in Alaska in 1918. That church later became an outstation of the Haines Assembly.

Another stopping point was Skagway, a gold-mining town. The Gil Meroneys were serving there as pastors and had plans to construct a new building which could better serve their needs.

Next he visited the John Phillipses, who were pastoring the Sitka Assembly with plans for a building program to provide more room for services. In addition to the local population, they were also able to minister to people who came to Sitka for medical assistance and schooling at Mount Edgecomb Hospital and School.

In Yakutat he visited Donald Von Wald, who was pioneering a small church there. The last stop was Angoon, a little Indian village of 400, located on Admiralty Island. Missionary Eva Wright was doing a remarkable work there among the native population.

The trip gave Clarence Strom “a new appreciation of our faithful missionaries in Alaska who work often under great difficulties.” The work of faithful pastors and missionaries in Alaska has not been in vain. Today, Alaska is home to 89 Assemblies of God churches and over 10,000 adherents.

Read more about “An Armchair Tour of Southeastern Alaska Assemblies” on pages 16 and 17 of the Sept. 20, 1964, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Hidden Life,” by Violet Schoonmaker

• “Prayer, an Indispensable Part of Our Education Program,” by Charles W. H. Scott

• “The Church and Its Colleges,” by Philip A. Crouch

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

3 Comments

Filed under History, Missions

Paul Patkotak, a Pioneer Pentecostal Eskimo, Helped Bring Revival to Alaska

Patkotak Paul

This Week in AG History — July 21, 1963

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 19 July 2018

Paul Patkotak (1891-1980) was born during a harsh winter on the North Slope of Alaska. His Eskimo parents left him on the tundra to die rather than face almost certain death from starvation due to lack of food. Paul survived, however, and later became one of the earliest Eskimos to identify with the Pentecostal movement.

Paul’s parents were traditional Eskimos and lived near Wainwright, a village on the Arctic Ocean. He was born in the family’s snow house. At the time, his parents and their five other children were on the verge of starvation. Other families also faced the agonizing choice of whether to allow their children to die from exposure or starvation. Paul’s father insisted that the newborn must be placed in the snowbank, but his mother initially resisted. After several days, though, it seemed obvious that she was postponing the inevitable. They bundled up little Paul, placed him on the cold tundra, and left to go hunting for food.

Shortly after Paul’s parents left, his grandmother ventured outside and rescued the hapless newborn. She tucked her bundled grandson into her own clothing, but she fell in the snow and was unable to get up and return to the house. It seemed that both would die from exposure. However, a hunter discovered their plight and brought them to his hunting camp. That night little Paul had nothing to eat, but he survived in his grandmother’s care.

The following morning, a caribou herd wandered into the camp. The hunters killed enough animals to provide food for the winter months. Paul’s grandmother fed Paul with milk from one of the caribou cows, which she had managed to milk. Later that day, Paul was reunited with his mother, who had never expected to see him again.

Paul was reared according to traditional Eskimo customs, learning to fish, trap, and hunt. He had contact with government workers and missionaries, who gave him a rudimentary education based on Bible stories. Although he did not become a Christian until years later, the stories of Jesus intrigued Paul.

Unlike many of his Eskimo friends, Paul wanted to further his education. He worked hard, trapping and pelting countless white foxes, which he planned to sell to make his dream possible. In 1911, he boarded a steam freighter with his pelts and headed for Seattle.

Paul arrived in Seattle and felt overwhelmed by the large city. He discovered a Free Methodist school called Seattle Seminary (now Seattle Pacific University), which he wanted to attend. He was not qualified to enroll, but professors allowed him to sit at the back of the classroom and audit classes.

Paul’s limited reading skills hampered his ability to understand, and other students severely ridiculed him. He grew desperate. He wanted to learn, but education seemed out of reach.

One day in 1913, while Paul was wandering down a street in Seattle, a man asked him, “Are you hungry for the Lord?” He responded affirmatively, and the man led Paul to a small Pentecostal congregation affiliated with the Apostolic Faith Mission (Portland, Oregon), which had roots in the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909).

The young Eskimo sensed the power of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal meetings. An African-American woman caught his attention when she testified that God looks at a person’s heart, not at the color of their skin. He realized that he had built up hatred toward white students at the seminary who mocked him. He also realized that he needed to abandon his belief in the power of traditional Eskimo shamans. Paul responded to the altar call, repented of his sins, and peace and joy flooded his heart.

Paul spent the next two years at a government boarding school for Native Americans, where he improved his reading skills. He also remained active in the Apostolic Faith Mission.

Paul sensed a burden for the Eskimo people. In 1913, in a letter published in The Apostolic Faith newspaper, Paul testified of his newfound faith in Christ and stated that he felt called to bring the gospel to his people. He began praying for a mighty revival to come to the Eskimos.

In 1919, Paul, his wife, and children moved to Alaska. They adopted the nomadic lifestyle of a hunter and trapper. This lifestyle made it somewhat difficult to effectively witness to other Eskimos, as they often lived in isolation. Paul was a faithful Christian and shared the gospel when he was able to do so. He was not a credentialed minister, but he went on several extended evangelistic tours across Alaska. The family later moved to Wainwright, so that their children could receive an education.

In the 1950s, the development of the oil industry brought significant changes to the North Slope of Alaska. Outsiders brought money and new opportunities for sin, disrupting traditional society.

In 1954, Paul joined forces with Sherman Duncklee, an Assemblies of God evangelist who was planting a church in nearby Barrow. A significant revival swept Barrow, and then Wainwright. Assemblies of God churches were formed in these towns, and the revival spilled over in to the Presbyterian church and divisions between the churches came down. Paul’s son, Steven, was among the hundreds of converts in the revival. Another convert, Ned Nusunginya, would become the first Eskimo to be ordained by the Assemblies of God.

Paul had prayed since 1913 for revival among the Eskimo people. After 40 years of prayer, a spiritual awakening had finally come to the Eskimos!

The story of Paul Patkotak illustrates several themes in Pentecostal history. The interracial nature of the Azusa Street Revival reverberated through early Pentecostalism, and people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds found new life in Christ through Pentecostal churches. Significantly, much of the ministry among early Pentecostals was performed by lay persons, such as Paul. The testimonies of these early converts helped bridge cultural divides and laid the groundwork for the development of revivals and churches.

The July 21, 1963, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel included an account of Paul Patkotak and the Wainwright revival. Read the article, “Arctic Village Turns to God,” by Ida Cecelia Piper, published on pages 24 and 25.

Photograph used with permission of the Apostolic Faith Church (Portland, Oregon).

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Revival We Need,” by Robert C. Cunningham

• “The Vision of the Lord,” by Arch P. Collins

• “The Precious Blood,” by J. Narver Gortner

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: http://www.iFPHC.org

1 Comment

Filed under Biography, History, Missions, Native Americans, Uncategorized

Learning Gratitude on the Frozen Tundra: Paul and Marguerite Bills, Assemblies of God Missionaries to Alaska

billsThis Week in AG History — November 24, 1968

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on PE-News, 23 November 2016

Paul E. Bills (1921-1977) and his wife, Marguerite, learned true gratitude while serving as Assemblies of God missionaries in the harsh conditions of remote Alaska. In a 1968 Pentecostal Evangel article, Paul showed how the challenges of life on the frozen tundra taught them to be thankful.

In faith, Paul and Marguerite drove from New Jersey to North Pole, Alaska, in the fall of 1955, thinking they were under missionary appointment with the Assemblies of God. When they arrived, however, they were surprised to discover that their paperwork had not been received. Eventually things were straightened out, and they were granted appointment.  For the next 20 years Paul and Marguerite devoted their lives to evangelizing Eskimos in spite of difficult and primitive conditions.

Paul Bills made the bold statement: “It took the Alaskan mission field to create within us a thankful heart.” While pastoring a church in North Pole, Paul and Marguerite adopted two infant Alaskan Native girls named Marcis and Roxanne. Later the family added a son Paul.

One of their first mission stations was in the village of Beaver, located on the Yukon River just south of the Arctic Circle. They lived in a little two-room dirt-roof cabin.  One of the first questions Paul asked was “Where do we get our water?” He was told that the Yukon River had lots of water.  However, it was under several feet of ice, plus there was a very steep bank at the edge of the river. Bills declared, “You have no idea how we struggled and slipped and prayed as we filled our water barrel. Never had water seemed so precious.”

From North Pole and Beaver, Paul and Marguerite and their daughters went to Barrow and ministered for several years. There they found the water situation even worse. The source was a lake located five miles out on the tundra. Most of the year the water was in the form of ice. Sometimes they were able to buy ice from those who had dog teams. The price was not unreasonable, at about 10 to 20 cents a gallon, as it wasn’t easy work to chop the ice and then deliver it. But that was not all. Once received, the ice had to be scraped before being put into a tank next to the furnace. This procedure itself took several hours. Every ounce of water was precious, and none of it was wasted. The same water was often used for several needs—washing dishes, taking baths, washing clothes, scrubbing floors, etc.

Have you ever thanked God for a thermostat?  You might if you lived in Alaska.  Paul Bills’ first winter there was a rough one. For a six-week period the temperature never rose above 40 below zero. It stayed mostly 50 to 60 below and got very close to 70 below. In those conditions, hitching up a dog team and going out looking for wood is quite a chore which often could involve frozen toes, fingers, and faces. “Every piece of wood put into the Alaskan stove is like a gift from God,” said Bills.

How often do you thank God for the sun? When living in Alaska, one tends to appreciate the sun very much. Bills remembered coming to the Barrow station, and each day the sun would be lower and lower in the sky. He shared: “On November 18 we watched it sink beneath the horizon and there was a sense of sadness. It was almost like losing a friend, for we knew we would not see it again for over two months. You really don’t miss something until you lose it.” This is especially true with respect to the sun. Bills shared, “January 23rd is always an exciting day in Barrow. Everyone talks about it.” On that day each year, the sun appears again in the sky, and everyone is happy for daylight again.

Have you ever lived in a desert or treeless area for an extended period of time? In 1965, Paul Bills and family moved to Nome, Alaska, among a group of people who in all their lives had never seen a tree except maybe in a picture. In the fall of 1968, at a time when many people in the rest of the U.S. were enjoying the changing colors of the fall trees and looking forward to a Thanksgiving feast, Paul shared: “In our present station in Nome we are in a treeless area and when we are able to get out to the tree area we cannot help but notice the majesty of trees.”

Recounting all the things he was thankful for, he asked, “Are you really grateful for the food you eat? When you offer thanks is it a mere ritual? A Christian duty? Do you consider the variety of items before you? How about those fresh fruits and vegetables?” His response was, “If you live in a remote Alaskan village you would forget that some of these items exist. Then sometimes you would dream about corn on the cob, watermelon, peaches, oranges, and dozens of other foods which are just memories of former days. If perchance a plane brings in a delicacy on a rare occasion, you bow your head in deep gratitude for this special blessing from God.”

Bills concluded his article by remarking, “Yes, we are truly thankful for the privilege of living on the mission field, for it has awakened our soul to the virtue of gratitude; and it is such an enjoyable and edifying experience to be grateful for the everyday blessings of life.” Importantly, he observed that “Genuine thankfulness is a help to holiness.”

In 1976, Paul Bills was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He died the next year and was buried on his 56th birthday. At his request, he was buried in Barrow beside Ned Nusunginya, his close friend and interpreter, who was converted during Paul’s initial revival in Barrow.

Paul and Marguerite Bills devoted their lives to share the gospel in remotest Alaska, and the challenges they encountered taught them about the importance of gratitude. They developed an attitude of thanksgiving, and they encouraged others to likewise view difficulties as valuable, transformative experiences for growing in Christ.

Read Paul E. Bills’ article, “I Learned Gratitude on the Alaska Mission Field,” on pages 2-3 of the Nov. 24, 1968, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Five Grains of Corn,” by Mrs. Max (Hannah) Johnson

• “Maintaining the Balance,” by Alice Reynolds Flower

• “A Change in Government,” by C. M. Ward

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived edition courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Missions, Spirituality

Reaching Remotest Alaska: Byron and Marjory Personeus and the Gospel Boat

Fairtide II leaving for Alaska 1945

Byron and Marjory Personeus on board the Fair-Tide II, 1945

This Week in AG History — July 7, 1945

By Glenn Gohr
Originally published on PE-News, 7 July 2016

Byron and Marjory Personeus, Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska, developed a unique evangelistic tool at the close of World War II.

In 1945, funds from Speed the Light, together with money Byron had raised itinerating, made it possible for him to purchase the Fair-Tide II. This gasoline-powered cabin cruiser was an answer to prayer, as he longed for a mission boat to evangelize in Southeastern Alaska.

Byron Personeus was born in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up on the mission field as the son of pioneer AG missionaries Charles and Florence Personeus who first went to Alaska in 1917. After Byron finished Bible college in 1940, he worked with his father in Ketchikan and later helped him build the first Assembly of God church in Pelican.

After he was ordained in 1944, Byron presented the idea of Alaskan boat ministry to the Northwest District, and he was granted approval to itinerate among the churches to raise funds for this project. Because of gasoline rationing during the second world war, he used a motorcycle as he traveled some 5,000 miles raising funds.

An article entitled “Gospel Boat for Alaska,” published July 7, 1945, in the Pentecostal Evangel, reports on the Fair-Tide II, which “will be used to carry the gospel to fishermen, cannery workers and villagers among the many islands sprawling along the southeastern coast of Alaska where the Full Gospel has never been preached.”

The Fair-Tide II, built by the Stephens Boat Company of Stockton, California, in 1930, was commissioned in 1934. It was 43 feet long and could accommodate up to nine people. At the time of the article in the Evangel, the newly-acquired boat was on its way from Portland to Seattle, where it would be “recommissioned and dedicated to the service of the Lord.” While in Seattle, the boat was equipped with a public address system, and a few other necessary alterations were made before Byron and his new bride, Marjory, embarked for Alaska.

During the summer months, the Personeuses lived on the boat, taking the gospel to many isolated villagers and cannery workers. The Fair-Tide II was used regularly in gospel ministry until it was sold in 1949 because of needed repairs. After that, additional funds were raised so that other mission boats called the Anna Kamp and the Taku could be skippered by Byron Personeus as he and his wife continued to spread the gospel to the remote island areas of Southeastern Alaska.

Read “Gospel Boat for Alaska” on page 11 of the July 7, 1945 issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:
• “When Pentecost Came to the Moluccas,” by Mrs. R. M. Devin
• “Not Limiting the Holy One of Israel,” by Zelma Argue
• “Hints to Preachers,” by A. G. Ward
And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Missions