The Privileged Life: A Legacy of Faith

Arnold Williams (at far right) and his fellow American servicemen in the SeaBees with a top-secret mission at Cold Bay Alaska during World War II

(Continued from Nov. 11 blog, “The Privileged Life: Honoring Veterans”) 

“But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children….” Psalm 103:17

What’s your “legacy of faith”?

My father-in-law Arnold Williams left us his lifelong testimony of God’s faithfulness to him…including a remarkable experience during World War II in working closely with Russians during a top-secret mission called “Project Hula” at a remote base in Cold Bay, Alaska. Serving in the Navy Seabees, Arnold did laundry for Russian navy crews during a lend-lease transfer of U.S. ships being pressed into Russian service late in the war.

The base had a congregational chapel, but there had been no services. Arnold and several others decided to have their own Christian worship service. After the first Sunday gathering, about 25 to 30 of the Russian military men came to ask what the Americans were doing there. 

“I took out my translation guide, and said, ‘We are here to worship Iisus Khristos [Jesus Christ],’ in their Russian language. About two-thirds of them ran away like they were scared to death. The Russian authorities would have killed them if they found out the Russian sailors were Christians.” 

Still, a few of the young Russian men stayed to worship with Arnold and other Americans. One of them made an impression on Arnold. After a while, when the young Russian didn’t show up again, Arnold asked the others about his whereabouts and was simply told that the young man was dead. Arnold was convinced the Russian was murdered—essentially martyred—for faith in Christ.

“I was walking up the beach, saw where they had thrown a uniform away, and recognized that it was his. His things were just scattered there on the beach where they killed him and buried him in a shallow grave.” Arnold picked up parts of the uniform to take home—a Russian dagger, Cossack hat, and other pieces with military ranking. Also among those effects was a small, blue clothbound New Testament in Russian, printed in 1917 just prior to the Russian Revolution and the country’s conversion to communism. 

“I never forgot that young man,” Arnold said. “Despite our language difficulties, I realized that he was a Christian because of his life and his devotion to Christ. I know one day I’ll meet him in Paradise.”

The feverish pace of decommissioning/recommissioning ships continued from April 1 through the rest of the spring and summer at Cold Bay. Then came the atomic bombs. Suddenly, the entire direction of the war shifted in light of the awful, devastating power of this new American weapon. 

“When the atomic bomb fell in Japan, and it scared the Russians,” Arnold said. Soviet-American relations at Cold Bay seemed to improve considerably as the commanding officers on both sides accelerated the transfer operations to help the Russians with their invasion plans. 

Japan finally surrendered to the Allies on Sept. 2. The build-up of Soviet-American forces for an Allied invasion of Japan—secretly code-named “Operation Downfall” and scheduled for Nov. 1—was now canceled. The war was over. Cold Bay officially shut down on Sept. 30, and Arnold returned home…with his Russian friend’s effects. 

Despite the end of the war, the Alaskan operation was to remain secret for a number of decades until declassification late in the 20th century, its “D-Day” type invasion plan from the northern Pacific still unknown today to most of the world. Arnold wouldn’t talk about it until much later in life. 

            Arnold came back to West Virginia, went back to college, and became a Methodist preacher who shared the good news about Jesus Christ all across Applachia. During a break-in at one of his churches, the Russian uniform, hat, and other relics were stolen. Only the New Testament was left behind.

            Arnold was particularly excited when my husband and I went to Siberia in 1999 to adopt our son, Alex. He prayed fervently for his Russian grandson, and we arrived home in the U.S. safely despite political tensions that year.

            Arnold died in 2009 at the age of 90, having spent the majority of his life telling others about the gospel of Jesus Christ…the same Iisus Khristos his Russian comrade had worshipped. Arnold left behind a wonderful legacy of prayer, faith, and love…along with a tattered Russian Bible. Our children are privileged to have a strong heritage of faith, from both sides of our family going back several generations.

What’s your inheritance of faith? Did you have parents and ancestors who were among the faithful who prayed regularly for you? What will be your legacy of faith? What words of wisdom, character, and belief will you pass along to those you love now?

Pray about these things, and start leaving messages behind for those who will follow you. Let these loved ones know how much they mean to you and what you would like for them to know about your own journey of faith. Make your legacy real!

Lord of all mankind, Father of our families, bless our children and loved ones who will come behind us in life’s journey. Grant us the diligence now to bequeath our vision to them, and give them grace to follow in our footsteps. Inspire new faith in them, that they may pass along the good news about Jesus Christ to others following them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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he 1917 pre-revolution Russian New Testament that Williams found among the slain Russian friend’s effects 
Fort Randall airstrips at Cold Bay, Alaska, in 1945 Credit: U.S. Army Air Force photo
Rev. Arnold Williams in later life

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