A few weeks back I went to Soldotna and participated in a week of intensive ministry training geared toward missionaries in bush villages in Alaska. I wasn’t sure what to expect and left feeling like I had been presented with an overwhelming amount of material to ingest. We discussed important things like native culture, the history of the church in Alaska, spiritual warfare, and how to build boundaries in ministry. However, I felt as though I was prepared to grow more deeply in my walk with the Lord. I made connections with other vocational missionaries whose stories of God’s faithfulness through their mistakes that gave me hope.
I was blessed and encouraged by women who barely know me, but love me and have continued to invest time in and be vulnerable with me. I value my relationships with these women and know that I want to be that kind of model of humility and honesty for others. Not to mention that one of them made it her mission to makes sure that I got ice cream every day that I was on the road system. Don’t worry, the mission was successful.
Last week I had the honor and privilege of being Village Bible Church’s VBS missionary. The theme this year was Amazing Wonders Aviation and seeing God’s power over nature, circumstances, sin, death and life. Seeing as many of the “amazing wonders” that the kids would be learning about will be practically in my backyard in Alaska and I will have to fly everywhere I go, it only seemed natural to the VBS coordinator to have me be the missionary focus of the week. I was able to share each day with the 350 children about what Alaska looks like, the people of Alaska, what my daily life will be like in Port Alsworth, and the ministry of the Tanalian Leadership Center. It was a so fun talking with them and answering questions. At times I felt like a celebrity, which was really odd.
The boys and girls had a competition to see who could raise more money to help send me to Alaska and I was blown away by their generosity and excitement to give. I was overwhelmed and grateful to accept their gift of over $1,100 throughout the week.
On Friday it was evident that some of the pre-school and kindergarten age children were still a bit confused as to why I was going to Alaska, other than to see cool animals. I was able to really share what it means to serve God and why my heart is drawn to serve Him there.
A send off luncheon was given for me on Sunday and I was able to share more in depth with more than 100 people from my home church about what God is doing in my life, what TLC has done in the lives of others, and why I am so passionate about that ministry. It was a true gift and blessing to see the response of so many people. I was surprised to see a friend from when I lived in Minnesota. I hadn’t seen her in over 15 years and it was a joy to see her! The whole week was so wonderful and I truly realized on Sunday just how truly fortunate I am to have my church family. It’s not perfect, but we’re a family and God has blessed us with His grace over the years. Thank you Village Bible Church for being one of my greatest blessings in life.
Today was a wonderful day. I started it earlier than I would have liked, but God soon gave me a heart check. I was reminded what a privilege it is to serve the Lord, to be in His house, and be surrounded by His children. I have the honor of serving a Short-term Missions Leadership Team and we are reviewing the trips from this year and reworking the philosophy and structure of this ministry at Village. What a joy it is to search Scripture, pray together, seek God’s guidance, and train up others to support missions or go to the field. I was grumbling initially about getting up early, but soon was excited to serve.
The message this morning was on Mark 1. We looked at Jesus’ baptism and I was overwhelmed with the concept of Christ identifying with sinners like me through that act. (John’s baptism was general a sign of repentance and people would usually confess sins after coming out of the water. Imagine Jesus, the perfect Messiah of the world, identifying Himself with us through those humble means.) We then had a powerful call to action. Our pastors invited anyone who had not been baptized before to do so. Right then and there. On the spot. At the leading of the Holy Spirit. Nine people were baptized during the first service. I was tearing up at the stories and just moved by the Holy Spirit. I was in awe of His work in their lives. In my life. God is a life changer. He is Messiah. He is Savior and healer of the broken. It was one of the most encouraging mornings of worship I have been a part of, yet it made me feel so small. I am part of something larger than I think I ever realized. Ten more people were baptized during the second service and more will be baptized next week. God is moving and working. I am more than stoked to be a part of it!
Last night, right after I got home from a visit with my family, my phone rang. It was my friend Joy whom I haven’t seen in probably seven years. She and I grew up together and my siblings and I share our grandmother with her family. I hadn’t talked with Joy in a long time, but think of her and her family often. She said that her six-year-old daughter, Melanie, had a project to do for Awana and wanted to talk with me. I never expected the conversation that followed, but was encouraged, honored and humbled by it.
Joy said that she had been talking with my grandma and had remembered her saying that I was planning on heading to Alaska as a missionary and when this project came up they immediately thought of me. Joy told me that Melanie supposed to interview a missionary and then she was going to commit to pray for that missionary daily. I was stunned. I had just received my official acceptance and approval from the board on Saturday, and here it is Tuesday night and I have people asking if they can pray for me daily. What a gift from God! I was speechless and in awe of the goodness of God.
Melanie proceeded to ask where I live now, where I am headed, and how I am going to tell people about Jesus once I’m there. We chatted a little about life and it was so good to catch up with Joy again and to talk with Melanie at all. Joy said that when Melanie commits to something she follows through. So as of yesterday, I have my first official prayer team member. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am. God blesses us in amazing ways and the way He ordains all things is a mystery and I am grateful that it’s His work and not mine!
It’s incredibly difficult to sum up nine weeks in the bush of Alaska in a blog post. It’s hard to even sum it up in an hour of conversation. It’s almost as if this entire summer has been a dream and is now only a memory to hold onto. There are so many aspects of the trip that I could talk about and so many funny and entertaining experiences. As much as I love Alaska and the adventures that I had what draws me to that place is not just the “Alaskan experience” that I love dearly. What draws me to that place is the need. The need that the village children have to know that they are loved. That there is hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am broken for the children in the villages who live in darkness and don’t understand hope. I am torn for the kids who cling to hope while their families are ravaged by alcoholism, abuse, and drugs. My heart burdened for the kids and families Port Alsworth, Dillingham, Naknek, King Salmon, Koliganek, Igiugig, Egegik, Kokhanok, New Stuyahok, Nondalton, Pedro Bay, Iliamna, Manokotak and the list could go on. I am forever changed by the conversations I had with campers, staff and locals this summer in Port Alsworth, Alaska. This summer I don’t know if I changed any lives, but mine was wracked with a new and deeper love for the bush culture of Alaska and its people.
God, be the piercing light in the darkness of these villages. Use the campers to shine Your light and change the Bristol Bay Region for Your glory.
Eagerness to be elsewhere is gripping my heart and my mind. Lately it seems at though my focus has been on going and the getting to Alaska. I was reading a book on short-term missions last night and I was struck by the fact that I need to putting more value on the preparation time than I have been.
God wants to do so much through us but if we’re constantly focused on what’s next and what we’ll be doing some other time, or some of other place, we miss out on something pretty spectacular. I am missing out on God’s presence and work in my life now. I am so caught up in future ministry that I am missing my ministry role here.
I desire to want to be here. now. used by God. where I am. not constantly looking ahead. but seeing with God’s eyes. the opportunities I have now. that I will never have again.
Sunday was the third training meeting out of five for all the short-term mission teams at Village Bible Church. It has been so encouraging to be preparing with 35 other people to do the Lord’s work this summer. But what is so much more encouraging is knowing the God is using so many more people than that on a daily basis to do His work. We are not just preparing to “do missions” this summer, but through this preparation time we are strengthening our faith, preparing our hearts, and renewing our minds for living lives of purpose and mission for Christ on a daily basis.
I am thankful for a group of people that is memorizing Scripture together, praying together, encouraging on another, and stepping out in faith together. Some of these people I didn’t know before February, but we are all part of God’s family and I know God is going to do some awesome things this summer. In fact He’s already doing so pretty awesome things.