News - Calling: "Go North!"

Calling: "Go North!"

Kaity Teer '10

Anna Bortel ChurchSchoolteacher Anna (Bortel ’47) Church felt God's call to the Alaska Territory so compelling that, in obedience, she traveled north in her '51 Chevy, a single woman with no prospect of a job. Anna passed away in December 2014, but her account of saying “yes” and “yes” again in response to God's call live on in her published stories.

This account originally appeared in the Summer 2014 RECORD entitled “Risky Business: Saying Yes to Adventure!”

3700 Miles

Sixty years ago, the desire to serve in the Alaska Territory consumed schoolteacher Eskimo childAnna Bortel ’47. She knew it as the Lord’s call, but the prospect meant driving more than 3,700 miles from her home in Ohio to Valdez, Alaska, where college friends had invited her to assist with planting a church. Her father cautioned against the 2,000 mile drive on the rough Alaska-Canadian Highway. “I’d rather see you cross the ocean to serve in Africa,” he said. Her mother warned her to watch out for bears.

Even as her unconventional journey challenged expectations for a young single woman in 1954, Anna’s calling bolstered her. She taught a friend to drive, and together the women ventured north, where Anna soon taught students ranging from kindergarten to high school.

"I loved it . . . I wanted to do it"

“I loved it!” Anna now recalls. “I wanted to do it.” Later, she felt drawn further north to Tanana, an Athabascan village on the Yukon River. Anna sold her car and shipped her belongings by river barge to Tanana, where her students included Naomi Gaede, the physician’s daughter.

Anna Church and schoolchildrenCurious about teaching in a remote Nunamiut village, Anna accompanied Dr. Elmer Gaede’s medical team to Anaktuvuk Pass, well above the Arctic Circle and accessible only by airplane. The village had no school, and the few children who attended boarding school were homesick and unhappy.

Anaktuvuk Pass

Called north again, Anna moved to Anaktuvuk Pass, with its infrequent supply Anna Church sod hutairplanes and 50-below temperatures. She paid $200 for a sod house and held classes in the small Presbyterian log chapel. Though she faced dangerous weather and isolation, she found purpose in her work. “My days and nights were busy, and I love it. I knew that I was serving where God wanted me to serve, and with that knowledge, I experienced great joy.”

Anna collaborated with her former student and writer Naomi Gaede-Penner to gather her stories of pioneer teaching into a book, A is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory, which was published in 2011.

– An excerpt from "North!" by Kaity Teer ’10, The RECORD, Summer 2014

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This story was published on September 30, 2016

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