In the early 1930's, a great challenge faced the emerging church in British Columbia. With over 12,000 kilometers of the Pacific coastline as the parish, it became a challenge of how to take the Gospel to the many isolated families and Native peoples living along the coastline. There were no roads to reach these souls; there was only one way – water! How was the PAOC to solve this challenge?
It was decided at the BC District Conference in 1939 that churches be asked to meet this great need through special designated finances. Through the help of the local churches who saw the vision of reaching souls and the International Office in Toronto, a 32-food fish packer vessel was purchased. Alternations were made with the addition of living quarters and by 1940, the first "Gospel Light" was launched.
A second vessel was later purchased, with a third vessel called "Speed The Light" added to the fleet. A 17-foot boat was purchased for Alert Bay and renamed the "Glad Tidings". At Pander Harbour, another 17-foot boat was used by Walter Ackroyd and his wife in 1943. Eventually there were 5 Gospel Boats, including the "Gospel Light II" acquired in 1973 after a devastating fire destroyed the first boat. This was not an easy ministry, yet it continued along the BC coast into the late 1970's.
Accounts of the many adventures of these pioneers have been carefully preserved in the pages of the early issues of the Pentecostal Testimony. Here is one of those reports by Rev. P Jones, BC District Superintendent. Heroism was the operative word for these men and women who guided these boats through difficult waters:
"The island waters along the BC coast are treacherous. Many a boat has floundered on these stormy seas. The Gospel Boat navigators have fought many a battle against riptides, sloppy seas, high winds and blanket fogs. They have been mercilessly thrown around by mighty, rolling seas, trying to make port. Their boats were comparatively small, their equipment was not of the best, and their living quarters were cramped. Yet while there was one lost soul to be rescued, the men and women who manned the Gospel Boats would pull out to sea."
These pioneers in the Gospel Boat Ministry were Frank and Mabel Harford, the first "Skipper" of the Gospel Light I and John Elwood and Mary Shannon. They brought the Gospel to the many isolated fishing folk, lighthouse keeper, loggers, native and coastal peoples on a regular basis. At Alert Bay, John and Elizabeth Nygaard ministered in the surrounding areas establishing many congregations along the way. Some of the other "Skippers" were Robert and Evelyn Starrett, Ingemar and Audrie Tingstad, Herbert and Gladys Deardon and Marjory and Bryon Personeus. Rev. Fehr was also involved with the Gospel Ship ministry in those early years. As a result of the heroic efforts of these men and women, churches were established at Gibson's Landing, Powell River, Alert Bay, Port Hardy, Coal Harbour, Quatsino, Fort Rupert, Bella Coola and Bella Bella.
The sighting of the Gospel Boat on the horizon caused great rejoicing from the inhabitants of the regions being visited at the time. Now the spiritual lives of their families and their communities could be refined and renewed because of the faithfulness of the "skippers" of the Gospel boats. In these early years, British Columbia could easily have been named an "Access Restricted Nation"!!! Maybe not as we understand it today, but the dangers and the restrictions placed upon these brave men and women then is no different from today. And like today, the call to evangelize was strong and could not be ignored.