I’ve always loved adventure – going places I’ve never gone before, having new experiences, seeing sights, and meeting new people.
I’d heard about Alaska most of my life – all in a good vein, for my Dad loved adventures, too, and always wanted to visit Alaska, the “Last Frontier,” they proudly call it. Last Frontier for what? Giant mosquitoes? Uncharted wilderness? Cold weather? Great chunks of ice they call glaciers? Stunted trees?
I don’t want to knock Alaska because I had a fantastic summer there. I’d heard about Victory Bible Camp when representatives from Arctic Mission and the camp came to speak at Multnomah Bible College where I was a student. God’s quiet voice spoke to me. “You. Go.”
So I applied and went.
I had been working full time that previous year, so I had the money for airfare and supplies. I garnered prayer support, boarded the plane and was off on my great adventure. Little did I know how much my life would change from that summer’s ministry! I thought I was going to counsel children at the camp and serve God in the great, wild state of Alaska.
God chuckled. He knew that summer was more about directing my life into the paths He wanted for me than it was about anything I could do for Him.
I marveled at the snow-capped mountains that ring the city of Anchorage when the plane descended to land. A couple of ladies, missionary wives, met me at the airport, and we drove north through the picturesque Palmer valley. Everything seemed strange and foreign. The two ladies chatted like old friends (which they were!) and talked of people I didn’t know, so I had time to take in the scenery and digest the fact that I was there – a little scared, but totally excited.
The camp is about ten miles southwest of Mantanuska Glacier, situated at the foot of a very tall mountain (called Victory Peak by the missionaries), on the shore of an ice cold lake.
I loved my Alaskan adventure. First of all, no one knew me, so I wasn’t put into a “box” or pigeon hole. I felt free, for the first time in my life, to be myself. I had always been shy (people don’t believe me when I say this now), especially around boys, as I didn’t have any brothers. But now, I enjoyed talking with the guys who came as counselors and even preferred to sit at the boys’ tables for meals when I didn’t have a cabin of girls.
I loved the big outdoors – the mountains, glaciers and lakes. I loved the wild feel to everything. Yes, I loved this big Last Frontierland with all my heart.
I got to walk on a glacier, explore Fairbanks, visit Wycliffe missionaries, shop in the big city of Anchorage, tour the damage from the earthquake(it had only been three years since the earthquake that destroyed so much of Anchorage and other cities in 1964), take my first small airplane ride over the glacier, hike to the top (the very tip-top!) of Victory Peak, and be silly, funny, crazy, and wild with the other counselors as we kept charge over the children in our care.
The first two weeks were spent in counselor training classes.
I was the life guard, so I spent a fair share of my time at the lake. The year before, I’d taken a Red Cross lifesaving class, but I’d missed taking the final exam and so wasn’t certified. To solve the problem of my certification, one of the missionary ladies, who was a certified Red Cross lifeguard instructor, consented to give me my final exam. This included an actual demonstration of saving someone.
The lake posed several real problems. First of all, the water was so cold that you could get hypothermia if you stayed in too long. Secondly, there was no beach at the time, so the wading area was extremely short. It went out maybe three feet and then dropped off to a great depth.
All the counselors and staff had to take a swimming test.
This applied if you only wanted to take your kids out for a boat ride. The test was fairly simple, at least to me. It consisted of swimming out maybe 20 yards to a floating dock and then swimming back. I had cleared almost everyone on the staff when I went for my final exam. The lady and I stood on the dock and she quizzed me orally for a few minutes on life saving procedures.
About that time, a guy came down to the lake and asked if he could take the swimming test.
His name (I had just met him a few days before) was Dan Work. He was a student at LeTourneau College in Texas and hailed from Pennsylvania. He was a good looking chap, sort of serious, but funny in a quiet way. I hadn’t talked to him much, but I liked him. He was friendly, polite and seemed to really love the Lord.
I said, “Sure, I can watch you from here,” and the instructor and I continued our discussion. When he swam back toward the shore, I saw he wasn’t comfortable in the water (little did I know how hard it was for him to get in that icy water and swim out over his head!), but he was doing fine and coming in with strong strokes.
The instructor said to me, “Why don’t you demonstrate your lifesaving technique on that fellow there?” We politely asked if he would mind being our “test dummy.” He said (also being polite), “Okay. What do I have to do?”
She said, “Just swim out a little ways. Ginger will save you. Just pretend to be drowning.”
He didn’t look too happy about the idea, but he obediently began swimming further out.
I knew I had to do this right and impress the instructor to get my certification. I launched myself from the dock (feet first, you don’t dive in head first), and swam with powerful strokes to where Dan was struggling through the water, his head low, his body almost perpendicular, his strokes weak.
I dived below the surface about three feet away from him and swam underwater to him. Turned him around, came up, still holding onto him, and swung my right arm around his chest. Then I began swimming back to the shore, doing the side stroke. The lake was a little choppy, but I wasn’t going to be deterred. I had to pass the test, and I thought I was doing pretty good.
Dan was struggling as water sploshed up into his nose.
He didn’t like that – in fact, he didn’t like anything about the experience except, possibly, being held tightly by this girl he’d just met. When he struggled, I tightened my grip. I wasn’t going to let him go! Gamely we continued on, Dan doing more thrashing about as we went, me hanging on tighter and tighter. I think by that time, he was muttering or groaning or trying to say something. In fact, I think it was something like, “Let me go! Let me go! Please let me go!”
But nothing would stop me.
I was going to save this man if it was the last thing I did! He was choking when we got to where we could stand up. I helped him out of the water. He didn’t say much – just grabbed his towel and left. The instructor told me I’d passed the test, too, so I was happy.
I didn’t think much about it until later.
You see, Dan Work became very special to me. We were friends at camp, and I knew he liked me a lot when we parted. He went back to college in Texas, and I went to Portland, Oregon to finish at Multnomah. We began a letter-writing courtship that ended in September of 1969 when he was going to British Columbia as a missionary and stopped by my house in Elk, Washington to propose to me. The rest is history.
It was then that I heard the full story from his viewpoint of my “rescue.”
He didn’t have to pretend to be in trouble that day in the lake, he really was in trouble! He truly thought he was going to drown. I was so irritatingly confident and intent on passing my test that I wasn’t aware of the depths of his torment. I told him, laughingly, that I forgot to mention before I rescued him that the way to signal the person who’s practicing on you if you really want them to stop is to pinch them on their leg. Well, he wouldn’t have done that, anyway, not even if he’d known.
But I got him to shore, a little water-logged and stressed, but all in one piece, and he’s never let me live it down – that I nearly drowned him. And, yes, that was the ONLY time he ventured into that cold water!
God certainly has a sense of humor.
He led Dan and I together (he from Pennsylvania and me from Washington), helped us get to know each other better by pairing us up in a bizarre incident at the lake, and led us to get married in British Columbia, Canada. Then He called us both to be missionaries to the First Nations people. We have had 45 years in the ministry as pastor and wife in 8 churches. Along the way we’ve had three kids, six grand-kids, 4 dogs, a horse, numerous cats, a couple of hamsters, and lots of fun and adventures.
Three Things I’ve learned from my adventure in Alaska:
1) Don’t under-estimate God’s ability to direct your paths.
He can move you into the place He wants you to go with the right person He wants you to be with. God has an infinite number of ways to direct your paths, and He gets very creative about it! Are you facing some life-changing decisions right now? As long as you are dedicated to God and His service, He will faithfully direct your paths. Even if you have to go into an icy cold lake to find it!
2) Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
You will be surprised at the way God will give you peace, wisdom, love and the ability to do the task. You grow by change, by tackling something new. Try it. You won’t be sorry. You might end up with a new friend, a new outlook on life, a new love.
3) Try to be sensitive to the feelings of the people you are with, even when you want to succeed.
I wasn’t. I allowed my goal to get ahead of how others felt and wanted to make a good impression and succeed in my goal. But if we plunge ahead and don’t pay attention to the needs of others, we definitely will not be successful. Dan could have thoroughly disliked me, and I would have never known 45 years of an extremely wonderful marriage to a great guy.
How do I sum this up?
Avoid cold water. Don’t use your prospective husband as a test dummy. Go on as many adventures as you can. And most of all: commit your way to God and trust Him. He can and will direct you, even if it’s up the mountain, into the lake, or over that next hill.
I hope you enjoyed my story. How did you meet your spouse? Have a funny story about it? Write and comment. I’d love to hear them.