Bring the Books: Toil & Treasure in Alaska

Someone once said, “Ordinary people, who make simple spiritual commitment to the Lordship of Christ, can make an extraordinary impact in their world.” Tommy and Sadie Thompson are an example of this.

Sadie was the daughter of good-living religious parents. Shortly after being married she trusted Christ as Savior. This brought Tommy into deep conviction of sin. One evening, sitting beside his young wife in the balcony of a Belfast church, God saved him..

To prepare them for a neglected village in Alaska, God first moved them to South Africa. There they learned something of being guided by the Word of God. With others, they saw souls saved and gathered unto the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Challenged by elderly William Rae to help in neglected Alaska, they responded, and commended by seven assemblies, sailed for America. July 2, 1954, found them standing on a dock in New York with their two boys, Brian and Billy. Tommy was 29. Sadie was 25. Their earthly possessions were in a few cases. No one else but God knew that between them they had $6.00! And 6000 miles still to go!

David Zuidema met them and he and his wife graciously cared for them, as they had for so many others. After receiving a gift from the saints meeting in Midland Park, they traveled on the Pacemaker to Chicago, arriving with $20.00. Awaiting them was a letter from William Rae, the man God had used to direct their footsteps. Enclosed was $200.00 to purchase a car. Even in 1954, $200.00 didn’t buy much. Some laughed, imagining what he might get! Finally, in a rusty 1948 station wagon, they headed up the Alaska highway. Gravel and large rocks could be seen passing underneath, through holes in the floorboards where thick dust rolled in.

Forty miles off the main road was Chitina. God had designs of grace towards this village. They drove in the dark over logs laid in mud to reach the dilapidated place. It looked like a ghost town with skeletons painted on some buildings. Their first stop was at a dumpy store where the men were drunk. However, they assisted them to kindly Mrs. McKellar’s bunkhouse, even pushing them out of a mud hole. There they spent their first night in the place to which God had called them.

And what a place! No spot for a lazy man. Endless chopping and splitting. Water was carried in buckets from the river. At times the temperature dipped as low as -70F. After a few months in a bunkhouse that was impossible to heat, Tommy built a cabin. That meant cutting trees four miles down river and dragging them home on the ice behind his old ’48. Scattered about the village he found an old staircase, old windows, an old bath tub (mind you, everything in Chitina was old), rubber hose for plumbing and other bits and pieces. He only had to buy flooring, roofing, tar paper, and nails. With no tools, he built the cabin using his boys “Handy Andy” tool kit. The project cost $110.00. It must have been encouraging one evening when some came with fish and berries and meat. “We are glad you came to live with us,” they said in their quiet way.

But the Thompson’s were not in Chitina just to cut logs and carry water. He soon started gospel meetings in an old church, often preaching every night. Almost everybody attended, except for some hardened alcoholics. One by one, the Lord saved some of the worst. Tom and his son Pat were both drunkards. When the Lord saved Pat, Tom saw such a change in his son, he was soon saved. Another drunk, Johnny Billum and his wife Mollie, Henry and Etta Bell, George Brickle, Pete Ewan, John and Fanny Stanfield, Thomas Pete, Alex Ring, and others were reached.

By October 1955, after a little more than a year, 18 had been baptized in the creek. Tommy taught them that going into the water they showed they had died and were buried with Christ. Walking up the opposite bank was a visual demonstration that they were now risen with Christ, dead to sin, to walk a new trail. Meeting together each Lord’s day, they remembered the Lord in the Breaking of Bread. They had much joy seeing their children “… walk in truth” (3 John 4).

But there were struggles. The school teacher opposed. A man from a nearby town stood in the way. An atheist often verbally abused Sadie and once chased their children with a knife. Many months they saw less than $10.00, but God provided moment by moment. Once, just after praying for food, a poor sister came to their door with $5.00. A brother shared $5.00 from profits on his trap line. Another time they caught a rabbit. The gruff storekeeper cashed their checks, so he knew how little they had and one Christmas gave them a box of food. Nevertheless, they had much joy “… as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Cor 6:10).

Tommy preached at fish camps, dog-sled races, and wherever people gathered. He also started a camp for children. Then in following years they worked in other places: Tetlin, Mentasta Lake, Wasilla, Bird Creek, Girdwood. Believers, gathered to our Lord’s name, meet in some of these places today.

Finally, they moved to Anchorage. It was here, after a lengthy illness, the Lord took his beloved wife and faithful partner home. Sadie died July 31, 1984, at 56, leaving Tommy and 5 children. Those were sad days.

Two years later the Lord graciously brought Marjorie Curran to be his wife. She has joined with him as they continue to minister God’s grace to the people of Alaska. Just ordinary people, the Thompsons made a simple spiritual commitment to the Lordship of Christ, and an extraordinary impact in Alaska.