Friday, September 21, 2007

Sheldon Jackson College—Transform or Close? (Part 1)

Dahlia of the day: Summer’s End.

Sheldon Jackson College has been a part of my life since 1974. The Presbyterian mission boat, Anna Jackman, was having engine problems. I had traveled to Southeast Alaska with a group of high school students from Central Washington Presbytery. An engine developed major problems the second day we were on the boat. What were we to do? Our leaders decided it would be good for us to travel by ferry to Sitka and visit Sheldon Jackson College—a Presbyterian-related college. Who would have guessed that God would use an engine failure to connect a tall, skinny high school student and a Presbyterian College in Alaska!

A year later I would return to the Anna Jackman with the youth group from my home church. We visited small villages and logging camps—leading worship services, putting on concerts and playing with the young kids. As a part of that mission trip we spent a week volunteering at Sheldon Jackson College (SJ). Part of my task was building the fence around the fish hatchery that would open in just a few weeks. After our week on the Anna Jackman our mission team headed south. The Alaska Airlines jet made a stop in Sitka—where I departed for my stint a SJ. I was two weeks early so they had arranged for me to work at the college. That first night, alone in a strange place, I was drafted by the hatchery manager to help him empty a salmon trap – there were so many fish in the trap that they would not survive the night. It was a perfect way for a kid from the Lower 48 to begin his stint in Alaska!

When school started I found out that the college didn’t have a chaplain—they were still searching for one. I went to that first Chapel service—there were a few faculty, staff and students present. No music. No teaching. I ran back to the dorm and grabbed my guitar and study notes. For several weeks I used my personal study notes for our Chapel service. Who would have guessed that many years later I would return to SJ as the Chaplain!

Through the years I have seen the best and the worst of SJ. SJ was a 2-year college when I attended as a student. Near the end of my second year the Holy Spirit caused a revival on campus. Many students gave their lives to Christ. That was a blessing and a challenge! Many of those students were from small villages. Most of those students had serious drinking and drug problems. One of those students was assigned to be my roommate as a “last chance” to stay in school. He had broken the rules so many times while drunk that they were ready to send him home. He wanted to draw closer to Christ. He wanted to stop drinking. Alcohol is a formidable foe! My roommate had been an alcoholic since his early teens. We sat in our room—praying and crying. He was sent home in less than two weeks due to another major infraction while drunk. The best and the worst of SJ. I remember the guy who encountered Jesus while spending Christmas vacation in a small tent near Whitehorse, Canada. Butch could not afford to fly home for Christmas. He packed up his camping gear and headed for Canada for the Christmas break. He came back on fire for Jesus! I remember countless others who gave their lives to Christ as a result of the SJ experience. I also remember our dorm “dad” taking over half of our dorm out to the bar and getting them drunk as a skunk! I remember faulty so hateful to the Christian faith that it was almost impossible for a Christian to get an “A” in class. I remember the staff person who organized a “satanic” gathering at the campfire circle on Halloween (he didn’t mean for it to be a “real” satanic gathering). I remember the dorm “mom” who was sleeping with college students. I remember the faculty member who had a “relationship” with a student that was getting her degree in the program he oversaw. Yes, I saw the best and the worst of SJ!

Alyssa and Forrest were quite young when we moved to SJ (I believe that Alyssa was in first grade and Forrest was still in preschool). My kids have many fond memories of their years on campus:

· Jumping off a small cliff into the soft branches of a hemlock tree and gradually riding the branches down to the ground.

· Eating “Eskimo ice cream” -- traditionally made from seal oil, berries and sugar. Our Yupik friends would usually use Crisco since it was difficult for them to kill a seal while at SJ.

· Catching hundreds of herring late at night (that was when the herring were running that year) to be used for bait that summer.

· Feeding the friendly wild river otter the frozen herring from our freezer.

· Trying to catch salmon with their bare hands in the ocean in front of the college.

· Selling Christmas ornaments made from sand dollars and cookes to the cruise ship passengers.

· Our son catching a 55 pound halibut that was longer than he was tall!

It was with very mixed emotions that I read Sheldon Jackson would not be opening its doors as a college in the coming year. Next week’s blog will take a closer look a Sheldon Jackson College—its past and future.


At 8:21 PM , Blogger Quil Nie said...

Dear Rev Williamson

I don't know if these old posts like this one and the Aug 2006 relay comments to you, so I have sent this email to your Graham Evergreeen Church email, too.

This is one of those things that God brings to mind, as I have no other explanation.

I am writing because of your blog mentioning the Anna Jackman, SE Alaska Mission boat. (Google found you)

Long story, short: I, too, went to 'camp' one summer on the Anna Jackman. Unfortunately, it was more like sightseeing than the service oriented experience you describe, but it might have been early on in the use of the boat for such purposes.

I was between my Soph and Jr years at Waitsburg HS (near Walla Walla). My family has a long Presbyterian heritage, and you reminded me that Presby Women used to support that mission. I slept a couple nights in the loft of the Chapel by the Lake outside Juneau, because my travel arrangements delivered me a couple days early.

The previous week's campers included the Chapel's Pastor's son, and since a few of that bunch were not able to leave immediately, we made a small group to accompany him, sight-seeing the Mendenhall Glacier and water skiing on a plywood board in Auke Bay, I think.

My turn on the boat was very self-absorbed. Being a singleton, I too, like you (though it sounds like your first trip had a couple others from your home church), was filling out a larger group all from one youth group. It happened to be either from Ellensburg or Yakima, but in 1968 or 1969. We had daily 'Christian' activities, devotional time, but as I said. We were sight-seers, not interacting with any of the locals or churches on the route.

I was looking for the name of the Pastor of that Chapel. No Presby sight that I can find has archives or lists of past ministers or ministries. Anyway, it was interesting to read your accounts.

Charlie Baker
PS If you have been in Graham long, you may have known Becky Anderson who came from the Twin C-cities, down your way to Quilcene, where I live now. I am sure we share other coincidences ...

At 5:06 PM , Blogger Sherree G. Funk said...

My Uncle, Jack Anderson was the pastor on the anna Jackman from 1960-1967. I am writing a book on the history of the boat. Would love to talk with you or with the person in the last comment. Im trying to collect stories from people who spent time on the boat. BTW, the boat is in excellent condition - I was just on it for a Discovery voyage in Prince William Sound.
Sherree Funk


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home