Alaska Project 2010 Update

Alaska webRodney Sawyer, field director for the ECC of Alaska, says that bush villages often are geographically isolated and suffer unemployment rates that can reach 80 percent. Many villagers must live off the land, hunting and farming for their food. Living conditions for pastors can be harsh; some live in poor, unhealthy conditions.

The Northwest Conference has the privilege to partner with our sister churches in Shaktoolik and Unalakleet, Alaska, to assist and encourage their ministry efforts and lend a hand with building projects. Last summer we sent three work teams to Unalakleet to repair and rehab the parsonage where Pastor Joel Oyoumick lives with his family.

This summer, two teams went to rehab the church in Shaktoolik, and one team returned to Unalakleet to finish work on the parsonage. Following are the reflections of one of the July 17-27 team members who visited Shaktoolik this past month.

Reflections on the Alaska Mission Trip – July 17-27, 2010

The wind had increased all morning and now in the early afternoon our jackets felt good and our baseball hats were pulled low as the threatening rain encouraged us to work at top speed. This was our second day on top of the Shaktoolik church roof. The old layer of roofing was all removed and the second half of the ice and water shield was almost completed. The white caps on each wave of Norton’s Bay—100 yards to the west—promised more wind and rain as we quickly glanced at each other and decided it was time to get off the roof. God’s plan for us that day was clear; we were in for a “Blow.”

Our work crew of eight had traveled from Minnesota to “The Bush” of Alaska to upgrade the Shaktoolik church building, encourage the native Covenanters and serve the Lord. Little did we know that God’s plan included harsh weather, late supplies, limited visibility and restricted travel.

Our “Mission Trip” at times felt more like the TV show “Survivor.” But those harsh facts were totally surpassed by the genuine friendliness and hospitality of the residents. Our plan was to give, but in the end we received so much more that we shed tears as God showered us with multiple blessings through the people of the village.

The Team …

  • worked together through the challenges,
  • had excellent attitudes,
  • appreciated the support of locals Gary Bekaolok and Palmer Sagoonick who helped us out immensely,
  • repeatedly received expressions of gratitude for our willingness to work on the church,
  • was delighted to see vacation Bible school program go from four kids the first night to 17 the second night,
  • received no injuries,
  • really cherished our one calm, warm day,
  • was pleasantly surprised that sleeping accommodations in the parsonage were much better than expected and we ate a great variety of good food.

Memories from the trip:

  • one village family brought us 20 snow crabs for supper one night,
  • the village store had one large container of ice cream just for Glen Mehrkens,
  • those who went fishing caught some very large salmon,
  • our replacement group arrived on schedule and we were able to fly out on time allowing everyone to make the flight home connections,
  • we enjoyed two great Sunday services with the villagers,
  • the villagers sing with much gusto and emotions,
  • Palmer repeatedly expressed how encouraged he was to see the improvement to the church,
  • we experienced how tough the simple things can be in the bush of Alaska,
  • and appreciated how weather plays a huge factor in village life.

God is working in Alaska and we were able to be a small part of His mission.

Jon, Tim, Dave, Brad, Dale, Rick, Glen and Bob.

Written by Bob Bangtson of First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN