No Other Choice

ID 42203062 © Ewa Mazur | Dreamstime.com

I have always enjoyed my Fish and Game work and decided many years ago to make Wildlife Management my profession. During my university breaks, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game employed me five summers. During the 1965 season, I worked for Game Management Department, first in Palmer then in Anchorage. In Palmer, it was fascinating to fly over about 1200 square miles doing a moose, vegetation habitat study. With a Fish and Game pilot, I observed various undergrowth types and using aerial photos delineated these flora varieties onto topographic maps. In addition, extensive foliage notations were made by plane, vehicle and on foot. This was just one summer of tremendously stimulating ecological employment.

One day Joe, my supervisor said, “We have a new area to examine.” He showed me on a map where we had to go, but added, the well-known area west of Big Lake was not necessary to study. However, that was to be my target, since my father owned some property there. Because I was interested in developing this land, I made it my goal.

The next day I drove directly to Crooked Lake, even though Joe told me definitely not to go there! I was thoroughly enjoying this excursion and the beautiful scenery, not paying attention to where I was driving. At 11:00 AM, as I was arriving at my destination the road began narrowing drastically. Consequently, I had to find a place to turn around. As I commenced turning, my situation became more problematic. I tried everything possible to head in the opposite direction, but all my efforts were in vain. Nearly 4 hours later, I was unable to improve my position.

There was a swamp on the left side of this small roadway and a steep embankment on the other side. Unfortunately, while I was trying to turn my vehicle, it lodged between two trees, one tree in front, and one to the right side. My panel truck was now perpendicular to the narrow road and half way up the bank. I tried jacking up the truck and pushing it off to the left but only got into a more precarious predicament.

Now I was desperate! “Don’t drive there.” I remembered. In those days, there were almost no inhabitants in this area. About 10 miles away was another narrow road, but hardly used by anyone. This joyride was costing money, and it would cost more, if I left my vehicle there. Thus, I began to walk out, and if possible hitchhike to Palmer, but thumbing a ride was very unlikely and it was too far to walk. What was I to do? My hope was to arrive in Palmer by day’s end, and hope that Joe would not be angry. It all seemed impossible!

About 100 feet down that trail I stopped, and said to myself, “No, I can’t leave this vehicle here. I certainly cannot!”

On that fateful afternoon as I was walking back to the truck, I had a flash back of when I was five years old. I said, “When I get big, I want to become a minister.  On Sundays in church, I always admired the minister standing high in the pulpit. He was very impressive to me as a five year old, with his deep voice and broad stature. Generally, little boys say they want to become police officers, firefighters, soldiers, doctors, or something similar, however definitely not pastors. Soon I forgot my wish until I was 14 or 15, when I felt I should become a minister. Nevertheless, I told no one my thinking except my mother, because I did not want my friends to think I was a pious, goodie-goodie. In school, I prepared myself for the university. There I studied biology. During this time, I truly did not want to become a pastor, but as time would tell, I had no other choice! Was this to be my destiny?

I knew I could not leave my panel truck on this road, so I did what I detested. I said, “Okay God, if you want me to become a pastor I will, but only under one condition, only if you let me drive out of here within one hour.” I made a deal with God!

I continued trying to free my vehicle, but could not drive forward and now it was impossible to drive backwards! Oh yes, I could back out into the swamp and then try to turn. Of course, I knew then what would have happened! I honestly could not imagine what to do, so I just aimlessly walked forward on this very narrow path thinking and looking for some answer, which I could not expect. I walked slowly about 25 feet down this trail thinking, and half praying, when suddenly a miracle happened! I found a log, eight-inches in diameter, which had been split lengthwise and was about six feet long. I could not fathom how exactly this log could have gotten there. It was the only timber in the vicinity and cut precisely the way I needed. I took the two halves and placed them into the swamp behind the rear wheels, then said a short prayer, and hoped the wheels would not slip off the planks as I slowly backed the truck onto them and into the swamp. Now I was in the middle of the swamp with my rear tires on those two slats. Gingerly, I shifted into forward gear as not to cause a jerking movement, resulting in the wheels slipping from the slats into the swamp — so far so good! I was almost holding my breath, when suddenly something slipped and then stopped! Wow, there was no plan B for me, if the tires slipped off those split timbers. Then I drove slowly once again onto solid ground without incident! How lucky I was. Not one hour later, but 10 minutes later, I drove away. Yes, I made a big promise. I said I would become a pastor, which was definitely not my goal. Was some entity trying to communicate with me by placing that wood exactly where I could use it? Was this a coincidence?

That afternoon, Joe had two flat tires while he was driving home from his fieldwork. How often does someone have one flat tire, not to speak of two? Joe waited and waited for me to drive by at about 6 PM so I could help him. When I finally drove by at 9 PM, he was gone. The next day when he asked where I was, I told him a good, believable story, of course, not the truth!

The next Sunday after that puzzling experience, I drove to Anchorage to talk with Ralph Weeks, my pastor. After shaking his hand at the end of the church service, I wanted to tell him about my experiences. However, with so many parishioners bidding him farewell after church, I did not want to talk about such personal things. If he would ask me for lunch, then I could tell him my thoughts. Suddenly he said, “Oh, by the way, you’re invited to lunch at our house today.” I was astonished and shocked. Did this entity, I will call God, speak to me a second time, or was this also a coincidence? At lunch, once more I said nothing, because of all the dinner guests.

The summer went by fast, and I gave no more thought to my experiences. At the end of the summer, I went back to George Fox College. On Christmas, I flew home and this time I did speak with Ralph. He recommended three seminaries, but again I took no action!

It was now March 1966. Ron, my roommate, asked me what I was going to do after May graduation. I told him I did not know! I could get a master’s degree in Wildlife Management, but I was rather certain I should study theology. I did not want to become a minister, because I did not think I could write well enough. My sister had been editor of our high school paper “The Eagles Cry” and how could I compete with that? In addition, I was not sure if I was truly a Christian. Some of my ideas and thoughts were not those of some self-styled Christians. I did not want to preach something I did not believe or that was not true. Some of my ethics, principles, and religious understandings were not always parallel with others, who said their belief was the only correct one. Now, I know it is essential and good that we all have different religious philosophies.

After that talk with Ron, I went into my room, and thought and thought and thought. I really did not know what I should do with my life. I knew however, I had to make a decision soon. I was not certain what role Jesus played in history. Though I had those strange experiences, I said, Jesus was only a good and helpful man. Period!! Nothing more than that! Jesus was not God! “I will be a biologist, and not a minister!” My decision was final! However, what about my promise? As soon as I made my conclusions, I had the worst feeling I have ever had. I felt as if everything had been torn out of me. It was a darkness, which was so black, and empty, I cannot describe it. I had never experienced hell. This was hell for me, and I hope I never experience it again.

Now I was confused. I really did not know the meaning of Jesus. The darkness and emptiness in me was so horrible, that I could not go on living this way without changing my convictions. This experience left such an impression on me, that I realized Jesus was more than just a good and helpful man. However, who and what was he? I assumed he was God, but I could not understand that with my intellect.

As a science and biology student, I observed many facts that were visible and provable. In student days, I needed to visualize and be able to prove ideas in order to make them valid. For me to believe Jesus was God, I would require physical proof. This I did not receive. Finally, after many life experiences, I now understand reality includes both tangible and intangible evidences. Life is composed of both physical and non-physical truths.

That experience of darkness and emptiness was so powerful, I kneeled at my bedside, which I had never done, and prayed as hard as I could, “God forgive me for my non-belief and take away this dreadful feeling.” I repeated my promise to become a pastor. By now, I knew God spoke to me a third time and it was not a coincidence. This time I obeyed Him. A few weeks before my spring graduation, I wrote to three seminaries, and then after graduation, went home to Anchorage for the summer.

During that summer of 1966, once more I worked for ADF&G, this year as a Fishery Technician for Sport Fisheries Division. My employment took me to the Fire Lake Fish Hatchery, about 20 miles north of Anchorage on the Palmer Highway. Some of my work included general hatchery care, counting and measuring several salmon species, and taking water samples from Fire Lake. Spawning salmon, fertilizing their eggs and raising the fry in incubating tanks were also part of my responsibilities. Once we flew in an H-21 helicopter and planted fish into one of the nearby lakes dropping them into the lake from about 100 feet above the water. This was one of my summer’s highlights. Today the hatchery no longer exists.

This employment was preparing me for a permanent position at the hatchery and would have been a stimulating job. However, at the same time, I was assuming acceptance at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

On Friday morning August 9, I received a telephone call at the hatchery. Gordon Oxtoby, the SFTS president said I could begin my studies the following Monday. Monday morning, August 12, I flew to San Anselmo and began my studies.

Though I am still very interested in Biology, I am happy I responded positively to my calling.

I had no other choice!

 

8 comments

  1. Carolyn French says:

    Good for you Tom ! You listened to your heart and that “still small voice”.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jan Petri-Haines says:

    Tom — loved this and the mystical angle you wrote so well. Terrific
    Jan

  3. Craig Vetter says:

    Well, I congratulate you. Being God’s man is one of the most wonderful and respectable thing a man can do. Thanks

    Craig

    • Tom says:

      Thank you Craig, I but I don’t need to be congratulated. I only did what I thought I had to do. I am a normal human like everyone else, who told his story. We all have valuable stories to tell, but not always appreciate the same.

  4. Connie Walker says:

    Tom, What an interesting story. Are you now a practicing minister?

    • Tom says:

      Connie,
      I was a pastor in Switzerland 30 years, retiring in 2005. To make a long short, after early retirement I work several years in a church in Sang Nam a suburb of Seoul and Mokpo, S. Korea. Though I worked mainly in these two churches I have spoken throughout S. Korea.
      Now Mary and I live in Gümligen a suburb or Bern, Switzerland.

  5. Rich Andrews says:

    I hear that!

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