Tommy Thompson Bio 12 The Earthquake


The Earthquake

The Great Earthquake of 1964 of course brought many changes. The news of it made headlines around the world, reaching Northern Ireland and South Africa where our families lived. Graphic pictures of the damage and casualties caused them much concern. Our home was badly shaken, so much that the foundation blocks were crushed and the house was damaged. All the utilities were shut off and rendered useless. The Gospel Hall was still usable, so we opened it to those who had lost their homes. Since the telephone lines had been knocked down, we could not reach loved ones overseas. We were surprised, then, when suddenly our telephone rang. It was Jim Graham, my brother-in-law, calling from Belfast. “Are you all right?” he asked through the crackle of static and delay of the line. “Yes, all are safe,” I replied. No sooner had those eight words been exchanged than the telephone line went dead. It remained so for several more weeks. Jim ever received a bill from his phone company for that call. More miracles? Jim brought much relief to our friends and relatives in Ulster, and to those at the Belfast Easter Conference when he told them the good news of our safety.  Much praise ascended to the Lord.

One man from Canada, brother Reilly, attending that conference, wrote a letter and addressed it to “Tommy Thompson, Missionary, Alaska.” He requested if I got his letter, please send him my address. I got the letter and replied to brother Reilly. He often wrote afterward and often enclosed a gift.

My parents in South Africa were very concerned when they heard about the earthquake. My father came to 2 Kings 4:26 in his daily reading. That verse describes Elisha instructing his servant Gehazi to inquire of the Shunammite woman, “Is it well with thee?” The Shunammite woman answered, “It is well.”

“It is well!” my father shouted to my mother. “Aggie, they are all well!” “How do you know?” my mother asked. “From God’s Word,” he said. They both bowed their heads and thanked the Lord having heard nothing from us, yet receiving assurance through God’s Word. This type of faith was passed on to me (2 Timothy 1:5). I am thankful to the Lord for such godly parents.

Many villages along the Alaskan coast were devastated either by the earthquake or the tsunami which it caused. In the days and weeks that followed, homeless villagers were brought to Anchorage and housed in schools that were not damaged too much. I was asked to supervise their welfare, and many of their needs were supplied by Christian friends of mine. However, when the Red Cross, which came from outside Alaska, found out I was also witnessing the gospel, my services were abruptly no longer needed.

I could now give time to rebuilding our home. We dumped Sadie’s broken dishes into a wheel-barrow with other debris and took it all to the dump. After our foundation was repaired and our home set back in place, we discovered that the earthquake had displaced much ground underneath the house. This encouraged the boys to make a basement. They began digging out under the house with a metal can and called me to see it. They had removed so much that we were all encouraged to dig and soon had a basement under half of the house. Brian made his bedroom down there, as well as a small study. It is just like God to leave more room after an earthquake than before, at no extra cost!

The God of miracles preserved us physically through the earthquake in spite of the dangerous experiences we all had. As the quake shook the city, a young native mother named Shirley threw herself on top of her children to save them from a collapsing ceiling. Light from God suddenly showed her that Christ had done the same thing for her, sheltering her from death. Shirley was saved still sheltering her children from danger. She attended gospel meetings and Sunday School both in Chitina and then in Anchorage. But it is God alone that gives the increase and grants salvation. Her husband was an atheist. Her faith inflamed his anger and he began abusing her. Horribly, in a fit of rage, he stabbed her through her heart. It was a sad funeral which I took. I preached the gospel to many people through her testimony.

In 1965, we got word that my dad back in South Africa, Thomas James “Jimmy” Thompson, had passed home to glory shortly after praying during a week night. I received the news in Ketchikan where I was sharing gospel meetings with my childhood friend and fellow laborer in Alaska, John Abernathy. Reading from John 11:6 I noticed “two days”, so I continued for two more nights before flying back to Anchorage. There for me was a cheque for $5,000 in a letter, more than enough for us all to fly to South Africa return. I immediately booked round-trip flights on Air France to Cape Town for all the family.

Two days afterwards the telegram office telephoned me and asked me if I wished them to read another message. “Yes,” I said. “Wrong cheque sent. Yours coming for $59. Sorry for mistake.”

I felt the blood drain from my face and my jaw slackened. FortunateIy I had not yet used the cheque to pay for the Air  tickets, so returning the money was no problem. But e tickets were booked and payment would be due shortly.

When I broke the news to Sadie, she began to laugh. “Oh, Tommy,” she said, catching her breath. “I wish you could see the look on your face!” She always saw the humour in things and knew how to lighten up when I saw the sad side.

Sadie went shopping and took the boys. I went to the Lord in prayer. “Lord, I know I need humbled,” I prayed. “But this is humiliation. What will I do?” The verse that came to my mind was Exodus 4:2 where God said to Moses, “What is that in thy hand?” I told the Lord about my car, worth $600, Brian’s piano, worth $200, the fish bowl, $50, etc. I arose fully assured the Lord would open up the way. We needed $3,000 for the tickets, but we did not have that kind of money on hand. Sure enough, no sooner had I said “Amen” when the telephone rang. “Tommy, could you get us a car for our daughter?” It was Harold Richards. Just like that, the car was sold.

A few days later, an old friend, Julius Wuerth, heard from someone that I was going to South Africa. Years earlier, I had helped Julius avoid bankruptcy. He now owned a successful automobile dealership in Anchorage. He handed me $800. “You helped me, now I am helping you!” he said. The saints in the assembly gave us a gift of $400. Soon I had all except $600.

Air France called and said it was time to pay for the tickets. The day before the tickets were to be picked up, Harold Richards called to tell me they had sold a piece of property and had decided to give me the tithe. “It’s only $600,” he said. God again provided.

The tickets in our hands now, the mailman told me if we went to the post office early on the day of our departure, before he made his rounds, he would give us the mail due that day. Brian went down to the post office and brought back the mail. One letter caught our attention and we opened it. “Here is the $59 cheque,” the letter read. “Sorry about the mistake.” The Lord also gave us our pocket money for the trip. Hallelujah!

When we arrived in Cape Town and went to my mother’s home, a sad sight met my eyes when I entered her bedroom. My dad’s empty bed, Mother ill from shock with clots in her leg. I took it upon myself to wind up her affairs when she said, “Tommy take me back to Belfast.” Again the Lord provided her fare through a legacy left me by a Miss Walker which just . covered the cost.

We all arrived safely in Belfast and kindly were allowed the use of one of the missionary homes there while I tried to find accommodation somewhere for mother. I located a wee house in Cregagh Road area, and Jim my brother in law loaned me the difference to settle the deal.

When the Lord indicated for us to return to Alaska, we had one more family member than when we had left. On June 2, 1966, Sadie gave birth to our fifth child, an only daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. We called her Bettie in honor of Sadie’s sister. Our children were now Brian, Billy, Barr)f Brent and Bettie: the five Bs.

Before leaving Belfast we settled my mother into the wee house in Cregagh Road. Albert Aiken helped me put electricity throughout the house. I also turned a little kitchen storage area into a bathroom, so we left her comfortable.