A 71-year old northern priest who survived a night outside this week in a -43 C winter storm said his experience was meant as a lesson in divine love.
The Rev. Moses Kakekaspan, priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Fort Severn, Ont., a remote community on Hudson Bay, was recovering late this week from hypothermia and frostbite.
On the night of Tuesday, January 26, Kakekaspan had run into difficulties while attempting to return home by snowmobile from Peawanuck, another small community 186 km away.
When reached by the Anglican Journal Friday, January 29, a jovial Kakekaspan did not seem greatly shaken by his experience.
“I’m OK. I’m OK. The good Lord looked after me,” he said, laughing as he recalled the experience. “I spent the night with no fire-had to start walking to keep alive, keep myself from freezing!”
He never felt afraid that night, he said, because the sense that God was near kept him from losing his head.
“I know my Lord. He was guiding me, I can feel it,” he said. “I know. If I was afraid, if I was worried, I could have got lost, but I had that feeling that he’s there with me. I didn’t let myself lose my trail.”
Kakekaspan had left Peawanuck at about 4 p.m., in order to make it into Fort Severn by 10 that night-despite an ominous premonition.
“I dreamed before I started my journey I was going to run into difficulties with my machine,” Kakekaspan said.
As he made his way west, falling snow began to obscure the snowmobile trail-and then his headlight blew out. Kakekaspan had a spare headlight-but that blew out, too. The underlying problem, he discovered, was that his sled’s voltage regulator wasn’t working. He had also brought a flashlight with him, but with snow coming on very thickly, visibility became a serious problem.
The temperature that night reached -33C, with a wind chill factor of -43 C.
Kakekaspan had told Canadian Rangers in Peawanuck about his plans, and at 10:30 p.m. they called his wife, Thelma, in Fort Severn to see if he had made it home yet. When they learned he had not, they organized a search party. Rangers from Fort Severn headed out toward Peawanuck, hoping to run into him. About halfway there, they found snowmobile tread marks and footprints, suggesting he had been stopping his vehicle periodically to look for the trail. The marks suggested he had turned his sled around and started to head back to Peawanuck.
It turns out this was the case. Kakekaspan says he never actually lost the trail, but it was becoming more and more difficult to make it out as the snow accumulated. At about 4 a.m., he says, he started to head back. Then he ran out of gas.
There was no choice but to abandon his snowmobile and try to make it on foot. At least at this point, he says, the snowfall had abated and the moon was lighting his way.
Meanwhile, another Canadian Rangers search party headed toward Fort Severn from Peawanuck. They found Kakekaspan at roughly 7 a.m., about 20 km from Peawanuck. He was suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, and the rangers took him to a nurses’ station in the community. He was released Wednesday, January 27.
Kakekaspan said he understands his experience as a kind of communication from God to make manifest his omnipresence, the need for faith and the power of his love.
“God is everywhere. He’s touching us,” he says. “We need to be born again and meet our Lord when he comes. That’s the main purpose of that journey…The purpose is for the Lord, to be honest with you. It’s a blessing that everybody sees.”
Kakekaspan seemed more eager Friday to talk about the role God had played in his life than to focus on the details of his night in the snowstorm. It was in 1977, he says, that he was first called by God.
“The Lord called me to his mission,” he said. “I told him, ‘I don’t have no education. I can’t even read my own language, the syllabics,’ and he said, ‘You’re not the one who’s going to speak! The word will be provided!’
“Praise the Lord!” Kakekaspan said with a laugh.
As a day job, he worked with the Ministry of Transportation, working on runway and road construction until he retired in 2004, when he says he heard the voice of God again.
“I was sitting in my office when the Lord told me he had a new road for me to build. A new road to salvation that goes to heaven!” he said, again laughing. “That’s why I’m on a mission with my Lord.”
Editor’s Note: A correction has been made to this story. Hudson Bay was misspelled as Hudson’s Bay.