What do you think of when you think about Alaska? Beautiful scenery? Amazing wildlife? Quirky reality shows? I confess that I tune in for all things Alaska. I'm a fanatic! My love affair with our largest state began in 2007 with a mission trip to the Anchorage area. During that trip, I saw first-hand the extremes that define Alaska.
Surrounded by the most breathtaking scenery in the world, you might think that living in Alaska would be a dream come-true, but reality can be more of a nightmare. Many Alaskans struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and poverty. These factors contribute to one of the highest suicide rates in the country. They are surrounded by an abundance of natural resources, but a scarcity of spiritual ones.
Ministry is difficult. 27% of Alaskans consider themselves atheists, compared to 16% of Americans in the lower 48. 56% of Americans say that religion is important in their lives, while only 31% of Alaskans place great importance on religion. These attitudes make Alaska the state with the lowest rate of church attendance in the nation. So how do you reach people who won't go to church? Go to them! I recently went with a group from Hocutt to partner with Graceworks, a ministry that has a heart to reach Alaskans through park and neighborhood ministry. Through resources and structure that Graceworks provides, ministry teams like ours go into strategic areas to share our faith through Bible stories, arts and crafts, games and park parties. Ministry in Alaska is less about going to church, and more about building relationships.
Each time I go, I am touched by the children that I work with. Just like anywhere else, they are the ones who are the heartbreak and hope of their environment and upbringing. Many of them are starved for attention, structure, and sometimes food. It's amazing what God can accomplish through kool-aid, play-dough, and peanut butter sandwiches!
Alaskans are tough people. They have to be to live in such a harsh environment. They are independent, self-sufficient, and distrustful of outside interference. So, why go if ministry is that difficult? Because, "In His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." ( I Peter 1:3b) What a gift of hope we have! We want to share that message of hope to:
- Children who crave attention and love.
- Adults and teenagers who feel trapped in a life of addiction, depression or rebellion.
- Communities who feel neglected by local government, and look for ways to provide enriching programs for their children.
- Local churches who don't have the people or resources to effectively evangelize and do outreach in surrounding neighborhoods.
- Individuals who need the gospel, prayer, or just encouragement to keep seeking Him.
Mission trips give you the time and opportunity to share the answer to peoples' needs- salvation- the reminder of how precious that is, makes the experience sometimes more beneficial to us than anyone else we came in contact with.