The Evangel Visits Old Harbor

The Evangel unloading supplies off Old Harbor, next to a seiner. Red and black were the Kadiak Fisheries colors.

Our eventual arrival at Old Harbor seems almost anticlimactic after our long and bouncy ride. The village looks so peaceful and picturesque, spread out along a narrow ledge of shore beneath one of those steep, rounded green mountains so typical of these islands. After we drop anchor, we busy ourselves with the bailing of the skiff, and then head to shore to make the rounds. One does not come barging in and set up religious shop. The witnessing is mostly in the form of visiting old friends, sharing a cup of "chai" (plain tea in the local Russian vernacular) and just being there. The formal "services" and programs for the children will wait until tomorrow. This village has a missionary already living there, a rarity around Kodiak Island. A World War II Quonset hut has been reassembled in the center of the village (on a previous trip, Dad had a hand in building the foundation), and it serves as a makeshift chapel. Although no priest is on hand, at the south end of town, a small Russian Orthodox Church reminds all residents just what religion they are.

Norman and Joyce are not interested in changing anyone's religion, but of helping people know more about the Jesus they already believe in (but hardly know about). The local missionary is from a different church, but there is no competition; Mom and Dad's arrival is more like the arrival of reinforcements here. The services they will hold will be hosted in the little chapel, and joined by the host missionary. In some villages, with some other missionaries, alas, this is not the case; the Smiths always try to avoid any sectarian shoving matches. Normally, the more sectarian you are, the shorter your stay in the already extremely sectarian environment of the local villages. When the others get discouraged and leave, Norman and Joyce will still be around. In the meantime, I have kid business. I have been in these villages often enough to know which houses are friendly and which ones have kids who will start messing with me as soon as the adults turn their backs. I find some good playmates, and spend my time playing tag in and around an overturned boat hull down by the beach while the adults do their adult things.

The Evangel at anchor off Old Harbor, taken from partway up the mountain above the village. The red-roofed building is the schoolhouse.

The following day, we set up a Vacation Bible School in the little Quonset hut chapel. We show the filmstrips, sing the songs, recite the verses and play lots of games. After lunch, we come back to the chapel for more, and then we all take a hike up the steep mountain that rises behind the village. From the top, Dad takes a few pictures, catching a group of kids playing in a tiny patch of remaining snow. The sun is shining brightly and the colors around and below us are almost violently intense. The kids are suddenly distracted by the fact that one of them has spotted a Kodiak bear in the shallow valley behind us. We and the bear beat polite retreats in opposite directions. With such an incentive, our trip down the mountain is amazingly quick. (Dad once had a rifle given to him, but he just stored it in the coat closet of the Evangel for awhile and never used it.)

Kids from Old Harbor (and three dogs) play in a patch of snow high above the village

A Kodiak bear sniffs the air in the meadow above Old Harbor

The Smith family goes back to the boat for supper and a bit of a rest before loading more materials for the evening service into the skiff and heading back to shore. Dad has the portable record player, and sticks the speaker out the door of the little chapel to announce the service. Not nearly as formal or solemnly religious as the bells and incense of the Orthodox services, but quite a few people show up nonetheless, perhaps drawn by the novelty of hearing an organ and chimes record for the first time! The host missionary gets up, has a few kind words for Mom and Dad, and preaches about something I don't recall; I always seem to have an easier time understanding things when Dad speaks. Then Dad sings "Now I Belong to Jesus", mostly as a solo, and lets the words speak for themselves. Somebody prays, and Dad leads the liturgical benediction, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. And may the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from another, Amen!"

Dad listens intently in the little Protestant chapel in Old Harbor (notice the filmstrip projector!)

There are still several hours of sunshine left for playing. I try to get into a game with some kids, but by the time the adults are done chatting I'm more than ready to go home to the boat. Soon I will crawl into my sleeping bag (even if it is a little damp in one place from where the water sloshed in around the windows earlier). Hot cocoa and the gentle lapping of the waves in the bay take the place of throbbing engine sounds as an effective sleep-inducement, and I get yet another great night's sleep on the Evangel. In the morning we'll have another children's program before weighing anchor and heading down the island again. Once the services and programs are over, even the reluctant ones are happy to talk and joke with us. Mom and Dad will leave some Gospel literature and encouragement with the local missionary, and say a friendly goodbye to all. Until next trip.

Old Harbor composite photo, from the south looking north, in the early 1950s.

Old Harbor in the summer of 1966 after being destroyed in the Tidal Wave and rebuilt. Only the village church and the school survived the tsunami.

A spectacular mountain valley above Old Harbor. Photo taken in the early 1950s.

Part Three: The Evangel at Kaguyak and Shearwater

Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: This article and website is 2005 Timothy L. Smith, Tanignak Productions, 14282 Tuolumne Court, Fontana, California, 92336 (909) 428 3472. Images unless otherwise listed are from the collection of Rev. Norman L. Smith or the Timothy L. Smith collection. This material may be used for non-commercial purposes, with attribution. Please email me with any specific requests. You are welcome to link to this site.

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