The MV Anna Jackman

After my first year of college, I worked for a summer in Southeast Alaska as a Presbyterian Volunteer in Mission with a group of other college-age students from across the U.S. It was 1979, and my first ever mission experience. We were sent to a variety of settings and remote villages throughout the Alaska panhandle, mostly to lead Vacation Bible Schools at Presbyterian churches. My assignment was to the towns of Wrangell and Skagway, plus the Rainbow Glacier Camp near Haines as a summer camp counselor.

I wasn’t a likely candidate for this VIM program. In my application I’d written that I wasn’t a church member or church goer, and furthermore that I was skeptical about Christianity. The truth was that I’d come away from my freshman year full of incoherent thoughts, a distorted sense of self-importance, and an impulse for questioning authority. By accepting me that summer, the Presbyterian Church extended God’s grace to me in an amazing way, and I’ll always be grateful for that.MV Anna Jackman

The first part of our orientation was in Juneau, and the second part on a mission boat named the MV Anna Jackman. (MV stands for “motor vessel.”) What I remember most about our orientation was how I openly identified myself as an atheist. On the Anna Jackman, we slept in cramped bunks below deck, and I was overcome with seasickness. It was certainly worth it, however, because coastal Alaska was a paradise of sights and sounds. The friendly skipper steered up inlets alongside waterfalls, glaciers, and to areas where sea-life could be viewed up close.

The boat stopped near a stream where salmon were spawning. Throngs of fish were dying after having laid their eggs. Hiking along the stream’s edge with another volunteer, I shared with him my many doubts about the Christian religion. He patiently heard me out, seeming to get my points of view. Unfortunately I can’t recall his name. Back at the dock, prior to boarding, he turned to me and said, “Philip, I’d like to pray for you. Is that okay?”

Struck by the boldness of this gesture from one of my peers, I answered, “Sure, I guess so.” On that spot, he placed his hand on my shoulder, and thanked God for me. He prayed that somehow I’d come to know Christ through my travels and experiences, and that my life be filled with spiritual peace. At the time I didn’t realize how important that moment was for me. I didn’t become a believer in Christ right away, but I sensed that somehow God was embracing me. And my fellow volunteer’s action stayed with me, how he cut through my intellectualizing with something as simple as a heartfelt prayer. The rest of the summer in Alaska contained lots of meaningful events and encounters, but in the long run nothing made an impression like that prayer alongside the Anna Jackman.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The MV Anna Jackman

  1. Philip,
    What a fantastic story. Isn’t God wonderful in how he brought you along and then put that person in your path. I’ve been finding how the AJ was a life-changing experience for a number of people. Do you remember any of the other folks from your trip? Was Bill Zeiger the chaplain? I visited him last month in Washington.
    Sherree Funk

  2. Reblogged this on sherreesblog and commented:
    This is a wonderful testimony to the ministry of the Anna Jackman in Alaska. Thank you Philip Beisswenger!

    • Thanks, Sheree. It was your inquiry about the Anna Jackman that got me to thinking more about the experience. Sorry I don’t remember names of other students and leaders. I wander if there’s a record of Presbyterian VIM on file somewhere, maybe in Louisville or Montreat. Blessings!

  3. Jon

    I also was a VIM in 1964. We had 6 college students that summer. Three of us were on the Anna Jackman leading Vacation Bible School and three of us stayed in Haines and helped build cabins and help wth the students during church camp. At the end of 6 weeks three of us got to help the captain of the Anna Jackman pilot the Anna Jackman to Seattle for general maintenance. The total summer was a great experience.

  4. Jon

    Enjoyed your story. I was VIM in summer 1964. I worked at Haines Alaska building cabins and be a counselor at Rainbow Glacier Camp with 2 other VIM’s. It was a great summer, but what really topped it off was being able to help pilot the Anna Jackman back to Seattle for some routine maintenance. It was an experience I will never forget.

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