My great grandpa had an authentic Danish name: Eskild Alfred Eskildsen.
In 1904, as he was attempting to immigrate to America, the SS Norge sank in the Atlantic. Only 20% of the 800 aboard survived. Eskild should have drowned, especially since he didn’t force his way into a lifeboat and instead helped others board them and don lifebelts.
Surviving in the lifeboat was no picnic! The 19 souls endured seven days with virtually no food and hydration.
Finally on the eighth day, July 6 1904, their prayers for rescue were answered. Lifeboat #4 was spotted by the schooner Olga Pauline. Weakened so severely from thirst and hunger, they were hardly able to board the rescue boat. Once aboard they scurried to the nearest water supply like wild animals.
They were taken to the Faroe Islands and later Eskild made it back home. It took about a month just to gain enough strength to travel home.
What would you do after such a harrowing experience? Would you never go near a ship again? I wonder if I would have nightmares the rest of my life about dying of starvation, dehydration or drowning.
My great grandpa was undaunted. The next year he boarded another ship headed for America with his wife Agnes and their seven children. The youngest was my grandma Cecilia—only 6 weeks old when they left.
This time the ship made it safely to New York City. Imagine how they felt as they passed the Statue of Liberty and arrived at Ellis Island. Certainly they felt relief and excitement. Yet they also must have felt fear and uncertainty in this strange land where they could not understand or speak the language.
Eventually they made it to Michigan and to Uncle Jens Sorensen who was their immigration sponsor.
There Eskild worked in logging camps and in the iron mines.
Tragically, in 1920 Agnes died. My grandma, then in the sixth grade, had to quit school and take care of the younger children. What did Eskild do? He returned to Denmark and found a new Danish wife Anna, whom he brought back to the USA.
In 1924 they purchased a farm near Alvin, Wisconsin. But after five hard-working years, a fire destroyed all the buildings, machinery and livestock.
They returned to Michigan and rented another farm.
In 1937 Eskild died from acute appendicitis.
His family legacy included 22 children from two wives, one of them my grandma Cecilia. She gave birth to my father Claude Aaron Williams in 1926. He and mom brought me into the world in 1955.
Here are a couple more lessons I see from my heroic great grandpa’s story:
ONE: Put Fears Aside and Move Ahead
According to Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jesus’ number one prohibition is not, “Don’t lie,” or “don’t lust,” or some other commonplace sin. Instead, by far, Jesus’ number one warning is, “Don’t be afraid.”
Why might this be? Perhaps it’s because fear so often cripples us and prevents us from becoming all He wants us to become.
When paralyzed by fear we fail to reach the exciting new world God has for us.
Note to self: Overcome fear; get back in the boat and journey into the exciting future Jesus has in store for me.
TWO: Never Give Up
One of the phrases my dad (who died in 2011) shared with me often was from Winston Churchill; “Never give in–never, never, never, never!”
Thanks dad and great grandpa. What a valuable lesson you helped me apply—like when I wanted to quit playing the trombone in the 5th grade (a story for another blog).