A Summer in Review

With grateful hearts and exhausted bodies, we arrived home yesterday afternoon.  Our two and a half months in Alaska flew by (pardon the pun), and it seems appropriate now to take a glance behind at a broader perspective of what that time entailed.  We’ll keep it brief, since many of you have been following our updates throughout the summer.

Things got off to a chilly start at beautiful Kingdom Air Corps, as Jared spent time training under Dwayne King in preparation for a summer of bush flying:

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After two weeks of enjoying the grand, mountainous terrain around Kingdom Air Corps (in the Sutton area), we traveled to Kako Retreat Center in western Alaska.  There are rolling hills around Kako, but much of the outlying terrain is tundra–a nice word for boggy, buggy lowlands.  From mountains to tundra, Kako to coast, Jared spent the summer as air taximan, mailman, cargo transporter, you name it!  With no roads connecting villages in this area of Alaska, the whole ministry depends on the airplane.

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The Kako ministry reaches about a 160-mile radius.  Within this radius are 56 villages–oh for the resources to reach them all!  We’re praising God that this year, about 200 children from over 15 different villages attended camp and heard the message of the gospel, many of them for the very first time.  Several of these kids now confess Christ as Savior.  Please pray for their continued growth in the Lord, as many of them return to families and communities that are hostile to the truth of Christ.

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After the end of the five-week camp season, our family remained at Kako for another week and a half.  After a little relaxation (those campers keep everybody busy!), we filled much of the time with clean-up projects (Carol and Lucy) and airplane maintenance (Jared).  Jared had a bucket list for his last couple of days, which included panning for gold (Kako is a viable gold mine, but we certainly didn’t strike it rich this summer):

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Fishing was also on Jared’s list.  Watch the progression of Titus’ interest in what Daddy is doing:

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We had beautiful weather to send us off on Tuesday afternoon.  We will miss our Kako family but treasure the memories from this eventful summer!

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Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your prayers, support, and encouragement during our stay in Alaska!

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What’s in a Name?

The name Vera means “faith.”  Today we’d like to introduce you to Vera Penz, co-director of Kako Retreat Center, whose life is an unfolding book of faith–even in the midst of devastating circumstances.  The following life testimony is published with her permission (and many of her own words).

I am so thankful for a godly heritage!  As a child, I was taught from the Scriptures, and I saw evidence of a real and living faith in the lives of my mother and older sister.  Both greatly influenced my life.  My father died when I was six years old.  Mother kept the family together.  There were five children; my twin sister and I were the youngest.  During those growing up years I felt very secure and loved.  We did not have a lot of money, but we did have a lot of fun.  I never felt poor.

At the age of twelve, I trusted Christ as my own personal Savior.  Although I knew a lot about the Bible and Jesus, I had just a head knowledge.  During a special evangelism meeting, I was convicted of my sin and invited Christ to be my Savior.  My family rejoiced with me and welcomed me into the family of God.

In the years that followed, many influences were used of God to prepare my heart and bring me to the place of total commitment to Him.  In preparation for missionary service, I attended Shelton College in New York City.  Through Foreign Missions Fellowship, North America-Alaska Prayer Group, and missionary speakers, God laid upon my heart a burden for Alaska.

While at college, I met my husband-to-be, Al Kelley.  He was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, six-foot-two semi-pro football player with a real love for his Lord.  We were married at the beginning of our Junior year in 1951.  Our wedding verse was 1 John 3:16: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  We were very much aware of God’s great love for us, and we desired to share this love with others, presenting ourselves to God for service in Alaska.  Little did I know that just five years later, Al would literally lay down his life in the Alaskan waters.

We were accepted by the Central Alaskan Mission (CAM), and in 1954 we made our first trip to Alaska over the Alcan Highway.  Our daughter Debbie was just nine months old.  How can I begin to sum up those early years of service?  Our first year was spent in the Indian Village of Copper Center, the first mission station of CAM.  It was an introduction to Alaskan life as we faced cold winters with temperatures of 50-60 below zero.  We learned to live off the land, enjoying moose, caribou, and salmon.  Most importantly, it was a year of getting to know and love the Alaskan people and see God work in their lives.

From there we opened up a new work on the Prince William Sound among the Aleut people in the village of Tatitlek.  Tatitlek is an isolated village, thirty miles from Valdez, and can only be reached by plane or boat.  We soon purchased a fishing boat for travel.  Again much time was spent in just living…hauling water, chopping wood, and living off the land.  As we shared the Gospel message, we saw some come to Christ.  We saw much opposition, as well.  It was here that we literally passed through the deep waters spoken of in Isaiah 43:2.

Traveling to Valdez in our boat, we came into a storm.  As we decided to turn around, the engine of our boat died.  My husband and a native boy with us worked on it for many hours, but to no avail.  Al then made the decision to go back for help in our skiff.  I last saw him rowing into the waves.

We spent that night on the boat, and the next day a huge swell took our boat and cast it up against some rocks on the mainland.  We were able to reach safety and made our way into the trees where we found two fallen logs to use as a shelter.  The double mummy bag I had grabbed from the boat proved to be our only source of warmth as we divided it among ourselves.  Debbie was almost three, and my son Tommy was six months old.  This was the month of November.  It was snowing, and temperatures were below freezing.  We later found our boat washed up in a cove nearby, but the food locker was washed out.  We did find a can of bear meat, brown bread, mustard, and ketchup.  We were there five days in all.

I had recently weaned Tommy, and these days proved to be impossible for him.  He was too young to eat the food that we had found, and in vain I tried to keep him hydrated with melted snow.  On the third night, Tommy died in my arms.  The hardest thing I have ever done was setting his body aside to care for my little daughter.

The next day, the storm let up, and a search was started for us.  We were eventually rescued by a fishing boat from the village, and an extensive search was begun for my husband.  His body was never found.  We were then flown to Glennallen, where I was hospitalized for frost-bitten feet.  The Lord wonderfully kept Debbie through all of this.  In that hospital bed, I was very much aware of God’s comfort, peace, and grace as He wrapped me up in His love.  I found comfort in His Word and hymns and was lifted up in prayer by many people.  Psalm 18:30, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 12:9, and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 were especially meaningful promises I claimed.  Take time to read them.

There are no dead ends in the life of a believer.  Death is not the end but the beginning.  I knew that both Tommy and Al were with the Lord.  As for myself and Debbie, I believe God spared our lives for a purpose, and the seeming dead end became a new beginning as we trusted the Lord.  When the waters were the deepest, the Lord God was the closest.

Over the next thirty years, Vera Kelley raised her daughter Debbie as a single mother and continued the whole time in active ministry in Alaska.  Today there is a sound church in the village of Tatitlek, pastored by a native couple.  God faithfully grew the seed that Al and Vera planted, and it bears lasting fruit.  In 1988, Vera married Dave Penz and came to Kako Retreat Center to work beside him for the salvation of natives in over 50 surrounding villages.  They continue to operate a vital ministry to native families and children in western Alaska.

Let the Angels Be Glad!

Thursday evening, Jared wearily climbed into an airplane loaded down with five teenagers and their baggage.  He wasn’t looking forward to this flight–it would be almost an hour each way, and he was suffering from a bad cold in the head.  He wasn’t even sure he’d be able to communicate on the radio with such a hoarse voice.  Nonetheless, the kids had to be returned to their homes.

Sitting next to him on this flight was Anthony, a sixteen-year-old boy who had come to Kako for the first time this summer.  Anthony matched Jared’s silence during the first few minutes as the plane climbed in the sky and turned its nose toward the coast.  Finally, Jared’s voice came over the headset:

“Sorry I’m not very good company right now.  I’m not feeling that great tonight.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Anthony replied softly.

They lapsed into silence for a couple more minutes.  Then Anthony forced out some surprising words:

“I saw angels, man!”

“What?” questioned Jared, a little confused.  “When did you see angels?”

“Just back there, when we were leaving Kako.  They were all around us, smiling at me.”

“What did they look like?” Jared asked, his interest quickening.

“They were all in white, with halos and wings, and they were the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  They were so happy–they were all rejoicing!”

Jared questioned again: “Did you believe in Christ this week?”

“Yes, I did,” Anthony replied, “and I’ve never felt so free and happy in all my life.  I just feel so light!”

“Anthony, those angels were rejoicing because you accepted Christ,” explained Jared.  “You’re lucky, man–I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and I’ve never seen any angels!”

For the remainder of the flight, Jared poured truth into Anthony and rejoiced with him in his new salvation.  What began as nothing but a mundane flight over western Alaska became a miraculous encounter with the messengers of Heaven as they joyfully welcomed a new soul into the family of God.

   “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15:10