How do you capture a man so large that he was able to touch most of the hearts and minds of the people of Homer?
So was the challenge bestowed on Martha Ellen Anderson during a conversation with Homer’s mystic, free-wheeling spirit, Brother Asaiah Bates. Anderson, who by then was one of Bates’ dear friends, told him someone should write his life story.
“Yes,” he replied. “You.”
What followed was a six-year journey, as Anderson interviewed countless people, researched the bounty of letters to the editor from Bates, and even traveled to his childhood home in North Carolina to talk with his sister about his early years.
The result is “Brother Asaiah, As Remembered by Martha Ellen Anderson and Friends,” that starts, appropriately, with a preface by another Alaska deep thinker, the late former governor, Jay Hammond.
“Attempting to capture the essence of Brother Asaiah seems akin to trying to catch a moonbeam in a mason jar,” Hammond wrote. “A glint or two from off its glassy sides may reflect fragments of this simple/complex soul, but his vibrant free-wheeling spirit prevents one from screwing down the lid.”
Hammond noted the impact Brother Asaiah had on the community of Homer, which has long been known for its divisiveness.
“Toss into a blender one part Eastern mystic, two parts Old Testament prophet, three parts wounded warrior, four parts aging flower child and from the mix at least the essence of the man emerges,” Hammond said. “In this book, author Martha Ellen Anderson commendably keeps the speed control a notch or two below ‘puree.’”
Anderson begins her tribute to “Bro,” as she called him, with a note as to her own connection with Brother Asaiah, and the conversation that started it all.
“If you belong in these pages and are not here, please know that these pages are just a shadow of what they are trying to reflect. You had the real thing,” she wrote. “If you are new to our community, welcome. Meet the man who epitomized, who lived, expressed and inspired our community soul.”
Anderson’s first chapter deals not with Brother Asaiah’s early years,
but rather with a scene that some would say epitomized the man’s
nature, as well as his inner struggles. In 1990, a dispute erupted over
the placement of a war memorial on the Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and
Love Park on Pioneer Avenue in the center of town. Brother Asaiah
opposed it, saying he did not want anything in the park relating to
“He wanted to honor an alternative to war that he had discovered after
his own war life,” Anderson wrote. “He wanted to celebrate the
wholesome wonders of brotherly love. It was to be a peace park.”
Brother Asaiah, then Claude Bates, joined the military service as a
young man, and was honorably discharged after World War II ended for
his part in the war as a gunner on B-24 bombing missions. He fought in
the Philippines, Bismarck Archipelago, Northern Solomons, Eastern
Mandates and New Guinea. It was an experience that forever changed his
life, as he first struggled with his part in the killing of others, and
later with the idea of war itself.
It was, he said, his outward defense of the military’s actions that
ultimately led him to turn over a new leaf. Bates got into a bar fight
after someone spoke negatively of the military, and was taken to jail
“About dawn a warm light soaked into me; it melted my heavy shell, my
fear-hate-survival protection. Something warm and soft moved through my
body, one layer after another, unwinding the hard knot inside. It
exposed what I so desperately tried to hide. I understand better today,
but in that cell was the nebulous beginning of what I now known,”
Brother Asaiah said.
Back in the city council chambers in Homer, Brother Asaiah was faced
with those expressing equally powerful anger at his apparent disrespect
for the veterans.
Sue Case said Brother Asaiah was visibly saddened by the assault.
“He felt so bad that people’s feelings were hurt,” she said in the
book. “He loved the veterans, and he understood them, for he was one of
them. Two sides of him were pulling in opposite directions. He
understood the pull, the drama of war. He also understood something
that others did not understand, and that was how to deal with his own
In response to one man’s angry outburst, Brother Asaiah did not change
his position, but said simply, “Will you please tell that man that I
Anderson not only sifted through some 300 letters to the editor to
grasp the inner workings of Homer’s cosmic man, she also drove across
North America to visit Brother Asaiah’s half sister Pearl in the town
where the two were born, Pilot Mountain, North Carolina.
There, she said she found a story of a childhood that was both sad and
supportive at the same time. When Brother Asaiah was six, their mother
got tuberculosis of the bones and was n o longer able to care for the
children. They went to live on their uncles farm.
Anderson said while Brother Asaiah was obviously impacted by the
absence of his mother (he never knew his father), he lived close to the
earth and was cared for by his family.
Pearle told Anderson, however, that her brother always seemed to be
searching for something more, and was very intelligent as a child.
Years spent at a Baptist orphanage, however, were not as fondly
remembered by Brother Asaiah, where he remembered being beaten and
subjected to cruelty.
Brother Asaiah’s story continued as he went to war, an experience that
left him searching for for the rest of his life. After his bar room
brawl, he got out of jail and saw a clip in the newpaper about Krishna
Venta talking about reincarnation.
“I didn’t know anything about reincarnation, but I went,” Asaiah told Anderson.
Krishna Venta, founder of the Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Love Foundation
of the World Commune, provided Brother Asaiah with a new path in life.
“He understood all the war-mainac things I had done that plagued my
conscience,” Brother Asaiah later said. “He so kindly described a
better way — a love for all. He said that joy and peace was in the
simple life of service, not in material abundance, but in soul
“He didn’t try to save me or convert me, but he did. Intuitively he
knew where I was coming from. He looked right through me, and told me
things about my life that only someone with telepathic powers could
know. He said I was reborn, with a new name, and the killer boy was no
“It was then that I began to understand real power, spiritual power.
This was the turning point of my life. This was when I began
consciously to be the me I was meant to be.”
Brother Asaiah began his new life as a member of the fellowship,
soliciting donations, and providing service to the community north of
A member of the fellowship, John Nazarian, was one of those Anderson
interviewed for the book. By 1962, when Nazarian came to know him,
Brother Asaiah was “the backbone” of the WKFL Fountain of the World. It
would be a few years more before he came to Homer, but already, the
seeds of the selfless, community oriented Brother Asaiah Homer came to
know later were planted.
Next week, the journey into Brother
Asaiah’s life continues with his arrival in Alaska, as told in a
recently released book by Martha Ellen Anderson titled “Brother Asaiah,
As Remembered by Martha Ellen Anderson and Friends.”
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