‘If only we had a boat!’
By Jenni Ragland
The Salvation Army Western Territory recently hosted its first Living Water Evangelistic Boat Tour, reminiscent of the MV William Booth boat ministry, when The Salvation Army traveled by boat from 1947-1951 to outlying regions of Southeast Alaska, delivering supplies and personnel.
The inaugural 14-member team, led by Territorial Leaders Commissioners James and Carolyn Knaggs and Alaska Divisional Leaders Majors George and Jeanne Baker, departed from Juneau with stops in Hoonah, Angoon, Kake and Petersburg. Salvationists from Anchorage, Juneau, the Mat-Su Valley, Hoonah and Sitka completed the team.
Carol Pitts, Juneau Corps soldier and owner of Orca Tours, helped bring the ministry to reality by providing the boat after she learned of the Bakers’ dream to restore the historic boat ministry.
“God has led us here in his time for very right reasons,” Commissioner James Knaggs said. “All of them may never be known this side of heaven.”
In 1947, Major Eric Newbould, then divisional commander of The Salvation Army in Alaska, had a vision for a boat ministry following his service as a chaplain in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. Sunday school children throughout the territory spent a year collecting change, and raised nearly $30,000 to purchase a boat from Alex Holden of Alaska Coastal Airlines.
While MV William Booth’s primary goal was to share the gospel, it also transported passengers to medical appointments or to visit family in other communities. Traveling to remote areas, it carried basic supplies and donations, including typewriters, an organ, movie projectors, clothing and food. The MV William Booth also moved officers and their household belongings to new appointments, before it was retired from service in 1960.
This September, the West’s ministry team met in Juneau, joining in worship with Captain Donald and Lt. Kim Warriner at the official start of the Living Water Evangelistic Tour.
Referencing John 1, Knaggs reminded attendees that we are all created by God, created for his purpose, and that he has a plan for something better in our lives. Following the meeting, one man shared with a team member plans to end his own life. Instead, God led him through the doors of The Salvation Army, where he found comfort, counsel and a purpose for living.
The Juneau Corps annual dinner celebrated the Army’s ministry in serving others, recognizing the support of James Houck, who processes roadkill moose meat for the Army’s food pantry; Nancy DeCherney, who has donated space for The Salvation Army at the weekly farmer’s market; and Fred Meyer for its continued support of The Salvation Army through the Freddy’s Coats for Kids project, and holiday and back-to-school drives. The corps recognized Priscilla Steele as Volunteer of the Year for dedicated service in running the Family Services program twice a week.
Traveling along the Alaska Marine Highway, the Living Water Evangelism Tour stopped in Hoonah as a band played on the boat’s top deck and a Salvation Army flag flew. The Salvation Army has ministered in Hoonah since 1923 and is now led by Lt. Liane Newcomb, who has offered support following a number of recent deaths in the community.
The team conducted an open-air meeting, a chili fundraiser to raise canned food for the Army’s food pantry, and an evening service. The full house shared testimonies acknowledging God’s provision and care—from a mother who received answer to her prayer to know Jesus to a widow who said the community cares for her by hunting and providing firewood.
The team also visited the workshop of the Huna Tribal House Carving Project where master carver, Gordon Greenwald, along with Owen James and Herb Sheakley, Sr., are carving the massive house screen, totems, masks, cedar boxes and other pieces for a Tlingit plank house scheduled for completion in 2015.
Throughout the tour, Baker referred to Ephesians 3:20. “We were blessed beyond what we could have imagined or hoped for,” he said. “God was with us all the way, clearing the waters, and we were met at each location by people of deep faith.”
Back on the water, the team next stopped in Angoon, a quiet fishing community of about 450 people located on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska. In 2004, the Alaska Division closed the Angoon Corps, leaving its soldiers without a corps to call home. They continued to meet for Bible study and prayer, however, and cared for the corps building, hoping it would one day reopen.
Soldier Harriet Silva, who often visits the building to pray for its reopening, ran down the gangway in full uniform, waving her Salvation Army flag. Inside the former corps, Congress banners and photos still hang on the wall and a Bible on the pulpit is open to the book of Psalms.
Silva presented the original corps flag, framed for protection, to Evangeline Howard and Liz McKluskey, family members of Angoon’s first Corps Sergeant Major, Paul James. In a gesture of good will, Major Nila Fankhauser returned an Angoon Corps banner to the community, which had been a gift to her husband, Major Larry Fankhauser, later promoted to Glory.
Knaggs shared from John 15: “You can ask me for anything in my name and I will do it!” He said in God’s time, and in accordance with his will, God honors the sincere prayers of his people. Knaggs then issued to Baker a command to reestablish the official work of The Salvation Army in Angoon as soon as possible.
“You have all warmed my heart and have blessed my soul,” Silva said. “God has never left me. It’s a new beginning to praise the Lord.”
In its fourth stop, the team docked in Kake and went to worship, led by the Kake Youth Praise Team. Commissioner Carolyn Knaggs spoke of keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, no matter the storms in life.
As it departed, the team stopped to remember Major Larry Fankhauser at one of his favorite fishing holes. As Commissioner Carolyn Knaggs opened her Bible and began sharing Scripture, a rainbow appeared out on the horizon.
Nearing Petersburg, also known as Alaska’s Little Norway, the team was greeted by a pod of roughly 10 Orca whales who swam alongside the boat for miles.
The group sang with seniors at Petersburg’s Long-Term Care Center, where the corps regularly participates in ministering to the residents, before a final meeting with the Petersburg Corps.
“We entered into this with a hope, a dream and some expectations,” said Major Jeanne Baker. “God exceeded them from the very start: in planning, providing a boat, in healing a man who had chosen to end his life, in healing the hurts of his people, corps and communities and re-igniting a greater hope and passion in the people of Alaska.”
Upon his return, Knaggs said, “I have no idea how many miles we covered, but we have stirred the southeast part of Alaska in the process. I’m expecting many good things as a result. Hallelujah!”
See more photos and video on Facebook; search for “The Living Water Evangelism Boat Tour 2012.”
But the corps never closed.
No further contact from DHQ. No stats reported. No external pastoral care.
The soldiers maintained the building on their own at their expense. The officers’ quarters were boarded up as was the small apartment used for emergency and social service purposes. Meetings and Bible studies continued for a short time, but one of the soldiers continued to come on a regular basis to the altar to pray for the return of her church, The Salvation Army.
Now, eight years later, The Salvation Army comes back to town for a visit. Things are looking up. Thirty Salvationists joined in worship for the first time in a long time. Can we officially recognize the corps again? Who will go to Angoon to serve The Lord? Is God speaking to you?
Do you see the blue building in the photo with the red shield? That’s the corps, looking for leadership. Loved ones, there’s a vacancy in Angoon.
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14 NIV).