40 Years in America
The Life of Adventure - Ocean Church
Tony Aparo and son Vinnie, Tom Loew and Susan in Alaska.
Father gave a speech in 1983 in which he talked about a recent trip to Kodiak, Alaska, and how he had finally found the true American couple, a man named Red and his wife Debbie. Father, Mother, Hueng Jin Nim and some brothers and sisters had been guests of this couple on a secluded island named Shuyak, northernmost of the group of islands around Kodiak. Red had impressed Father with his fishing skills and generosity.
Father described Debbie as "tiny and skinny." He said, "this particular American woman had guts. She had a vision, and she had a universal mind. She had confidence and conviction, so that even if she went bear hunting, she could knock down the bear!" Wow, imagine Father calling someone the true American couple!! Wouldn’t you want to meet them? So begins my story.... In January of 1984, all Ocean Church members had been called to New York for a 40-day workshop to be led by our new central figure, Rev. Takeru Kamiyama.
Everyone was told to bring all they owned, because it wasn’t certain where any of us would end up after the workshop finished. If memory serves correctly, there were about 100 of us, mostly brothers, nearly all American or European. Most of these guys were already crusty fisherman with three or more tuna seasons under their belt, as well as the basic church skills of fundraising and witnessing prerequisite to any member.
I was an Ocean Church "greenhorn." I’d participated in the previous tuna season in Gloucester, fresh from MFT. At the end of the summer Father had told all participants they could choose to join OC or IOWC -- I knew Ocean Church was the place for me. Growing up in Hawaii, I’d had adventure in the water, now was my chance to expand that to on the water. Meeting with then leader Mr. Daikon Ohnuki to receive my first OC assignment, I had only two requests: first, that I do something besides fundraise (I figured three years on MFT was enough) and secondly, that I could work in an OC center that had other sisters; I didn’t want to be in an all-brother situation. After hearing this, with a sincere join the all-brother OC fundraising team.
The team was in Texas when we heard of the workshop. We drove two days and nights straight through to New York, filled with anticipation at seeing summer buddies from Gloucester, meeting Mr. Kamiyama, and of course, wondering if we’d be fundraising again after the workshop!
The forty days passed so quickly ... I really have to say OC members knew how to have a good time. These were brothers and sisters who worked hard, whether it was on sea or land, and on that foundation our coming together was joyful. It was also a great learning experience. Rev. Kamiyama gave the lectures himself. We traveled from the New Yorker where we were housed, to see Father each Sunday at Belvedere. Then it was over to the White House for breakfast with Rev. Kamiyama and his family. During the forty days, we also received a special visit from Father. He spoke, mostly an admonishment, reminding us how much we’d been given (vans, boats, incredible direction from Father himself who was so close to Ocean Church), and yet how result had eluded us. It was an especially meaningful time because of the recent sacrifice of Hueng Jin Nim, which made everyone more serious to fulfill his or her newly understood responsibility.
As our workshop drew to a close in late February, there was much excitement and speculation about where we would all be headed next. There was even talk that Father himself would decide our new assignments. Rev. Kamiyama had assembled an album of our photos so Father could see us and make his decisions. There were Ocean Church centers in some nice towns like San Diego, Miami and Gloucester but of course Alaska was the destination everyone had in mind. I think most of us had been bit by the Alaska bug right along with Father. Nothing gets a fisherman more excited than stories of could walk across a bay on their backs!
Finally the big day came! Rev. Kamiyama gathered us together to learn of our new assignments. One by one, names were called off as brothers and sisters were told where they would be headed to put into practice the lessons and spirit of the last forty days we’d spent together. Many of the brothers were very eager for a shot at Kodiak. If you’re serious to fish, that is the place to be and we all knew it. I was nervous and excited. Alaska would be nice, but that was only for brothers I assumed. Finally Mr. Kamiyama started talking about Alaska.
The excitement level in the room jumped a few notches. Mr. Kamiyama spoke of the potential of the rich waters there, some of the best fishing grounds in the world.... Then he announced who would be going. The first was David Loew who would be returning as the OC leader in Kodiak. Also his brother Tom, who had come down to NY with him to check out OC during our workshop and who then decided to join OC. A French brother, Jean- Francois Franquelin, was also chosen. Then Mr. Kamiyama turned to me, "Susan, Father has chosen you to go to Alaska." I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!
"You have an important mission there. Father said you have to become better than Debbie." Of course I knew who he was talking about, but I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about. Me, better than Debbie? How could I do that? I had about two months’ experience of sitting around on a Good Go in the hot Gloucester sun waiting for a tuna to bite; what did I know about running boats, catching fish and surviving in Alaska? Did Father pick the right sister? A confusion and doubt developed alongside the elation of hearing my destination, a doubt that lasted through the next few weeks of preparation to my arrival and first months in Kodiak.
We arrived in Kodiak in March. It was too cold to use the open-style Good Gos. As for all the witnessing, street preaching and fundraising we’d just been practicing in New York...well, I soon came to understand that in Kodiak we didn’t fundraise and didn’t witness. Our business maintained a delicate relationship with the town and community and no one wanted to jeopardize it. It seemed there was nothing to do! At the time, our fish company and fishing fleet were still new and developing. We occasionally had fish in the plant and during those times, I would don rain gear and gloves along with other employees as we washed and sorted fish. Pretty boring really, definitely not the fulfillment of my Alaska dream. In desperation, I and the two other OC brothers new to Kodiak decided we’d get a head start on the season by prepping the boats early. However, when we tried waxing and polishing the fiberglass, the wax would freeze before we could get it off. Pretty miserable, we three grew grumpier and more unhappy each day.
Finally rescue arrived. David told us that a trip had been arranged and we were invited. Red and Debbie had invited some people, including some members from our company, ISA, to come up to their cabin for some early season halibut fishing. We’d be tagging along with the captain and crew of the Mar del Sud for the journey to Shuyak.
At last, here was my chance to meet the famous Debbie, the woman whom Father himself said had "the kind of woman’s spirit that impelled the westward-bound Americans toward their new horizon." I was scared, breathless almost, like a long-time fan finally given the chance to meet her idol, as we began the trip out of Kodiak on a sunny afternoon.
There were about a dozen of us altogether. The Mar del Sud’s captain, his girlfriend, daughter and crew, us three new Ocean Church recruits, and a few other members including Tony and Chiyo Apparo, who’d brought their one-year-old son Vinnie. The captain took us on a slow, spectacular route weaving in and out of the myriad islands and bays that make up the group around Kodiak. Tall thick pines grew right to the water’s edge. We watched for deer on the shore, and for puffins, dolphins and otter in the water around us. After steaming overnight, we finally arrived at Red and Debbie’s. Red and Debbie had been together for several years. They loved the freedom the wilderness offered and settled on Shuyak Island, 50 miles north of Kodiak. Only one other family lived nearby, and they were reachable only by boat. Red and Debbie had carved their homestead right out of the wilderness. They had brought in supplies and building materials via their fishing boat from Kodiak. Their log cabin was filled with furniture Red had cut and built himself from the surrounding trees on the island. The walls were decorated with his traps, rifles and skins of some of the fox and otter he trapped and tanned. They had a plastic greenhouse where they grew their own vegetables during the short but sun-intense summer.
Guest quarters were located in a conveniently abandoned 70' fishing boat hauled up on shore near their cabin. That’s where we slept. With little need for outside company, the island itself provided all their staples, meat in the form of deer, fish from the sea ... Red showed off his collection of compound bows. He said that after a while he felt using a gun wasn’t giving the animals a sporting chance, so he had switched to bow hunting. As Debbie showed me and Chiyo around, she announced proudly in the small dining room, "This is where Rev. Moon and his wife sat," as she explained about Father and Mother’s visit. Red had taken Father out to one of his favorite halibut spots, the same place he’d be taking us the next day.
Our trip out the next morning didn’t prove quite as fruitful as Father’s. Within a couple hours we got rained on, hailed on and snowed on. We tried several areas, but as it continued to get colder, with no "slabs" showing up on the fish finder, Red decided to call it a day. We headed home to some delicious hot stew and lots of good company.
Debbie holds Vinnie during a visit to Shuyak
I remember being shocked when I first met Debbie. She was so small! Petite to the point of delicate, yet she could drive a boat, gut a fish, fix a broken pump, do whatever was needed! She was very pretty in a natural way, no makeup or stylish haircut necessary. How could I be like her? I was big and clumsy and unsure what I was doing on a boat at all. She could cook up a big meal with her own homegrown vegetables and preserved meat without batting an eyelash.... I’d been eating at McDonald’s for the previous three years.... I felt jealous of this romantic, ideal home they had created for themselves. Father, how could I possibly be like her? I grew depressed as the weekend went along.
On our last night together, God gave me an answer to my questions. All of us were lounging around the living room, watching one-year-old Vinnie, a real cutie, who had been the center of attention several times. Red was playing with him, when Vinnie’s dad said, "So hey Red, when are you and Debbie going to have some children of your own?" Debbie’s immediate response was, "Red, don’t you listen to Tony; he’s talking dirty again!"
She explained that they didn’t want children because of the miserable state of the world and it being no place to raise a child. It hit me like a bolt of lightening. That was it! That’s how I could be better than Debbie! Here this incredible couple had created a virtual heaven for themselves, the picture of American ingenuity and the pioneer spirit -- living off the land, recycling and conscientiously using materials in a way that would give something back to the earth, simple and free with no worries about fashion, education or any of the other stuff people back in the "real world" of the lower 48 get bogged down in.
Here they had it all except for, I now realized, someone to pass it on to and to share it with. I knew better; Father had taught me that all I had or was given in this life, my experience, my dreams, my hopes (heck, even my breasts and hips!) were all ultimately given to me for another, not just my husband, but my children. The life I led would be a legacy to offer them, a foundation for them to stand on and as blessed children, to use to do great things for the nation and the world. I knew this and she didn’t know it. That’s how I could be better. The fishing stuff, the boating, I could learn given enough time and experience, but the hardest lesson to learn, the value of our lives, the preciousness of our next generation, I already knew! I left Shuyak Island a different person than when I’d arrived -- still not knowing the feel of the rod with a giant halibut on the end of the line, but with the confidence that I had been given the most important foundation, that the passing of time would provide the experience and the knowledge to fill in all the little details.
Several years later, around 1987, Red died when his boat went down in a storm during a late-season fishing trip. Debbie was on board also. The crew had donned survival suits and grabbed an EPIRB when they realized the boat was going down, but the zipper on Red’s suit broke and he developed hypothermia and drowned. Debbie and the other crew members survived.
The last time I was up in Kodiak I met Debbie there. She had moved back to town and opened a small gift shop. Life in Shuyak on her own wasn’t a possibility. I felt so sad. Not only had she lost her man, but she had no son or daughter who may have looked like him, to keep his memory more strongly alive.
My impressions while leaving Shuyak regarding my own course proved true. I worked aboard the 88' Green Hope for a winter season of bottom trawling: mending net, standing wheel watches, cooking up lots of food, "oiling and wiping" in the engine room, hauling and shoveling tons of fresh fish. I spent a total of ten summer salmon seasons on the beaches of Egegik in Bristol Bay buying fish and learning the ropes of set, net and driftnet fishing as well. In 1992 I received my Master Captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Much more important than all that, however, was the precious gift I received in 1995 when True Parents blessed me to my husband Djamel. We have two children now and I dream of the day I can share my love for Alaska, the ocean and adventure with them. Thank you, True Parents!
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