The Lord Directs Tires of the Godly

"What did you have to do in Anchorage?"  

That is one of the most difficult questions for us to answer.  Last weekend we made the 200 mile one way trip to town.  Did we go to stuff our truck with groceries and other necessities (e.g chicken feed, toilet paper, etc.)?  Or was it to preach and lead Bible Study at Anchorage Lutheran church?  Maybe we went to take the kids to a movie.  (Amani, our seven year old, had never been in a movie theater before.  She really enjoyed "Monsters, Inc." in Three D.)  Or maybe we went because there were several people from our home community that were in the hospital?  My kids seemed to think that picking up pizza's at Pizza Hut was a special treat, but that only lasted a few minutes. I spent much more time visiting friends that have moved into town from Copper Center.  We bought a case of paper towels and styrofoam cups for church that we had to tie on the top of our truck bed cover.  We also attended an Epiphany party at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.  I almost forgot, we had 6 dentist appointments and an eye exam.  All of that was packed into three days and two and a half nights--we got home at about 2:30 AM the third night. 

As I look back over this list, I think the best answer to why we went to Anchorage is that is what people in rural Alaska do.  We go to town to do a host of things that we can't do at home.  Many things are available near home, if you want to pay for them, but we don't. So every trip to town is jam packed with shopping, visiting, and meetings.  

As I was driving home, chatting with my wife while the kids slept, a dark shape appeared in the middle of the road. I hit my brakes and felt us start to slide.  I swerved.  Kalae woke up and saw, "nothing but moose butt!" I have hit a moose before and I remembered the feeling as I braced for impact.  At the last moment, we slid within inches just to the left of the bewildered beast.  Instinctively, I let off the gas and steered into my 60 mph slide.  I envisioned us laying upside down or at least buried in snow in the bar pit on this lonely stretch of road in the middle of the night.  The truck responded to my steering and within a couple seconds we were again happily riding down the road toward home.  I glanced at the thermometer.  It was 3 degrees.  It would not have been fun to be stuck in that weather.  

Some may say, "You were lucky."  Some may say, "You did a nice piece of driving." Some may say, "You should have been driving slower."  We said, "Thank you, Lord!"  It was a good reminder that the Lord watches over us day and night.  To paraphrase Psalm 37: 23-24 

The Lord directs the tires of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they slide, they will never crash,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Brr!

It was minus 44 this morning.  I am sort of getting used to this.  Since I returned from Asia on November 21, it has not reached above 25 below.  The weather station keeps promising it will warm up in a few days.  Last week, they said it would be warmer today.  Now they are saying it will get to zero on Saturday.  Zero is shorts weather!

The cold didn't stop over 70 people from our community joining us last Sunday for our community Christmas drama.  My wife, Kim, worked with the kids and a few adults to put together a fun drama that we called a Christmas kick-off.  It told the Christmas story in a light and engaging way.  

Events like this are really important as we try to bring Christians together with non Christians in a relaxed environment.  Then as relationships grow people can share their faith.  Most people that come to faith or renew their faith do so because a friend or family member has shared the Gospel with them.

AMC works very hard to put Christians in places where they can form relationships with non Christians.  While one time mission events where a volunteer from outside Alaska comes and does a Bible School or hammer and nail project can help support the ministry, ChristmasPlay2012amanithey do not have the same impact as the volunteers who return year after year and continue to communicate with their Alaskan friends in between events.  These long term volunteers model Christian love, forgiveness, and care.  In the context of that love, people are open to listen to what the volunteer has to say about Jesus.  

Please pray for us as we continue to build relationships that point people to Jesus. Stay warm!  

How Far For One Person?

Last weekend, I drove over 300 miles to visit a lady with Alzhiemer's in a nursing home. In the same town I was able to visit a young man who used to attend our youth group but is now in prison. I was able to make the trip because it was my turn to preach in two tiny congregations on the Kenai Peninsula. Total Sunday morning attendance at the two places was 9 people. By the time I get home, I wll have travelled over 600 miles to visit and preach to 11 people. Is it worth it? To be honest, I also had meetings this week in Anchorage so 400 of those miles were getting me back and forth to Anchorage. Still, the incredibly vast distances and small populations of Alaska make our ministry unique and challenging. It is very different that in the midwest where most churches have 700 or so Lutheran churches in a 150 mile radius of their Lutheran congregation. Mt. Drum Lutheran Church in Copper Center's closest Lutheran (Missouri Synod) neighbor is in Palmer--150 miles away. So how far should we go for one person? How much trouble should we go to make sure that people in isolated communities hear the Gospel? I think the answer lies in the Gospel itself. God created the universe. It is bigger than most of us can even imagine. Our closest star, apart from the sun is 4 light years away. Scientists say that the edge of observable universe is 46 billion light years from Earth. Still that God travelled into our little speck of rock and became a human because he loves us and wanted us to live with him forever. In the light of God's willingness to do that for us, travelling 300 miles for 11 people seems a pretty insignificant sacrifice. So we pray that the God who loves each and every person and is not limited by distance will supply all of our needs to share the Good News of Jesus in every community in Alaska.

How About It?

"Hi, This is Todd Roeske with Alaska Mission for Christ.  I am looking for lay ministers to lead worship and preach at Cooper Landing and Sterling. You are a trained lay minister and I want to know if you would be willing to drive down some weekend this Fall."  I ask these men to drive between 130 and 180 miles each way in their own cars. I offer these men no money for gas or food. They lead two services for groups of up to 10 to 15 believers.  From the world's stand point, it doesn't make any sense.  It is not cost effective.  Yet, I get a lot more "yes-es" than "no-s".  Since the pastor that was serving these two small groups of believers retired last Summer, we have only had one Sunday we could not find a volunteer to lead services for these folks.  Lay Ministers are incredible, committed, selfless Christians who know that they are called to serve in places that otherwise would not be served.  

We know that we will not be able to cover these congregations forever with weekly lay ministers, but we also know the Lord will not leave his people unattended.  I have already talked to several people who are thinking of coming to Alaska to serve these congregations for 3 months or more.  None have made a final commitment, but I have seen that the LORD is working on people's hearts.  

Alaska is a challenging place because of the vast distances, the small population and the harsh weather.  Yet our Lord is up to the challenge and he is providing his word for those who need it in places like Cooper Landing and Sterling.  

Mt Drum Medical Exchange

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A few months back, I was working with a family that had a cancer patient that was in need of a hospital bed.  The bed would take several days to get to his house from Anchorage.  A few days later, the man died.  They had bought the bed but only used it one or two days.  As I was talking to one of the nurses as the local Christian Medical Clinic, I found out that there are a lot of people that have used medical equipment that they no longer need.  This nurse was willing to store the equipment and share it with those in need, but she did not have a place to store it.  After several conversations with the CEO of the clinic, we decided to start a program that would allow us to store used medical equipment and then get the equipment to people in need.  

Enter the volunteer work team from Peace Lutheran Church in Antigo, Wisconsin.  They came to Alaska willing to serve and do what is needed to help us in our ministry in the Copper Valley.  So we set them to work to revamp, modify, and upgrade a shed on the Crossroad Medical Clinic property.  They did a beautiful job and paid for all of the renovations. This shed will be leased to Mt. Drum Lutheran Church and we will use it to house our new Medical Exchange program.  

These are the sorts of cooperative efforts that Alaska Mission for Christ loves to do.  A work team works together with local Christians to help meet a community need.  Through meeting that need, we proclaim the love of Christ.  

What is Going On Here

What is going on here?

Lutheran volunteers helping at a pentecostal gathering.  

A Lutheran Licensed Deacon providing worship for 16 years in an Episcopal Church Building to people that call themselves Episcopals.  

Lutheran Vacation Bible Schools being run in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Orthodox churches.  

Alaska Mission for Christ does not do things the way they have always been done.  The context of Alaska is different.  Small communities do not want and cannot support several churches in a community.  Often times communities identify with a certain denomination.  This may or may not reflect the community's theological understanding.  More often it is a reflection of the history of the village.

For example, Delta Christian Center, a pentecostal group, has been serving the people of Mentasta on and off for the last 10 or more years.  The people in the village identify with that group, but are not opposed to others coming in and teaching the Gospel.  One group of Lutheran volunteers, has connected with the Delta Christian Center and does a Vacation Bible School program with the children in the village the same week that the Delta Christian Center is doing a program for the adults.  Do we agree with everything that Delta Christian Center teaches?  No.  Do they agree with everything that we teach?  Probably not.  Still, we all know that the people of Mentasta need Jesus.  By coordinating with Delta Christian Center, we have a voice in the village and can share our Lutheran understanding of the Gospel.  

In Tanacross, there is an Episcopal Church.  It has been in the village for 100 years. (See below for the press release on the anniversary celebration.)  For some years, the Episcopal church has not been able to have a regular worship leader for the community.

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Enter Licensed Deacon, Bruce Grossmann.  Bruce has been serving the community for the last 16 years with God's Word and Sacrament.  Bruce is unashamedly Lutheran and leads Lutheran Worship.  The building is still Epsicopal.  Occasionally (every couple of years), the Epscopal Bishop visits the community and Bruce steps aside and lets him lead his own services for those who are interested.  Still, for the last 16 years, the people of Tanacross have been under solid Lutheran preaching.

Many communities in Alaska have no Lutheran Church.  We would never be able to plant a Lutheran Church in a village of 100 people that consider themselves Orthodox or Presbyterian without causing much division and wounding the cause of the Gospel.  Planting a new church in a small community would not be an expression of love.  Still, we believe that Jesus has called us to boldly proclaim Jesus in Law and Gospel.  We do that by coordinating with our brothers and sisters in other denominations to run Vacation Bible Schools and Sports Camps.   Humbly, we learn as we interact with Christians from differing faith backgrounds.  Humbly, we also share our own convictions and understanding.  In the end, Christ is proclaimed and the Gospel goes forward.

News Release- Tanacross 100th Anniversary

AMC has been working in Tanacross for the last 18 years.  Read the press release about their 100th Anniversary below.

St. Timothy’s Church in Tanacross to Celebrate 100th Anniversary Sunday July 15

By Bruce Grossmann, Licensed Deacon

July 2, 2012

St. Timothy’s Church, Tanacross, invites the community to their Service of Thanksgiving & Praise on Sunday, July 15, at 11:00 a.m. A potluck meal will follow the service. The morning service for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost also marks the official start of St. Timothy’s celebration of its 100th Anniversary, with various events planned throughout 2012.

The service will be officiated by Bishop Mark Lattime of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska and include singing of hymns and musical selections from the seasons of the church year. After the service, weather permitting, a boat will be provided to ferry guests across the river to the old church. A potluck meal will be held in the Tanacross Community Hall, featuring traditional Alaska dishes, salads and desserts. Coffee, tea and other beverages will be provided. It would be appreciated if those attending the potluck meal bring a dish. For more information call Betty Denny at 883-5157.

St. Timothy’s Church was begun a century ago in the native village of Tanana Crossing on the north bank of the Tanana River 200 miles upstream from the town of Fairbanks. Located eight miles overland from the old village at Lake Mansfield, Bishop Rowe of the Episcopal Church established the mission during an exciting period of church evangelism in the Tanana River Valley of Alaska’s interior. In the summer of 1912 the first log mission building was adapted from a trading post established earlier at the village and a school room was later added. Following a fire that destroyed the building, a new church building was constructed in 1955 and witnessed the installation of Deacon David Paul on Ascension Sunday, May 30, 1957, Alaska’s first Athabascan ordained deacon.

The community saw a flurry of activity during World War II when the Tanacross Army Airfield was established and the Alaska Highway construction provided for road travel to Fairbanks, Anchorage and Canada. The village was relocated to the south side of the Tanana River in the early ‘70’s. Today’s present church structure was built with volunteer labor led by Kenny Thomas Sr. and his son Kirby using donated building materials and other community help. Dedicated in 1981, St. Timothy’s continues to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the people of the upper Tanana River, their friends and guests.

St. Timothy’s Church worships each week in word and sacrament at 11 a.m. and is looking to expand its outreach through Sunday school and adult Bible classes. A vacation Bible school session will be sponsored by the Alaska Mission for Christ of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod July 16-20 and all children are invited to participate with their families. For more information, stop by the church and visit with its members or feel free to call (907) 895-1910 anytime.

Hold On For the Ride

Do you know the feeling of riding on a roller coaster as you slowly climb the first big hill?  You know that in a few seconds you will be hurtling down the other side flipped upside down and ripped around corners.  Then before you know it the ride is over.  

I feel like we are on that upward ride as we get ready for our Alaska Summer.  Things have been busy but not crazy.  Starting next week they start to go a lot faster.  I will be in town (Anchorage) for three days for a funeral.  Then the next Monday we start our VBS.  The week after I will be in Cordova to scope out church planting opportunities and needs. Then more VBS's and work camps and more.  In August we will be outside (that is what Alaskans call any place but Alaska) for Kim's nephew's wedding and to preach at a church in Fort Wayne and another in Chicago.  Then it will be moose season and the Summer will be over.

Summer gets crazy but it is filled with great opportunities to build relationships with people and to point them to Jesus.  Everything that we do is in hopes that God will use our relationships with people in Alaska to bring others to know Him.  We are willing to put up with a little craziness if it results in more Alaskans sharing the love that we have in Jesus.  Please pray for our hectic Summer that it will bear much fruit as we make a bold witness for Jesus in Alaska.

Out of Our Control

As I sit and look out my window at a May snowstorm, I am reminded of how little control we have over the weather.  No matter how much I want the weather to be warm and sunny, my desires do not make a bit of difference.  

The same is true of working with people.  No matter how much I want to help someone to get over their addiction, get healed from their disease, or get reconciled in their personal relationships, those are not things I can control.  Ministry is not about fixing people.  That is God's work.  Our work is to love people, pray for them, and point them to Jesus.  God can use our love as part of the healing, but ultimately the healing is in God's hands.  

This Summer, Alaska Mission for Christ will have over 400 volunteers sharing the Good News of Jesus in over 50 communities.  Each one of those people will love someone here in Alaska.  I am confident that God will use that love to make a difference in the lives of many children and adults, but ultimately the One who will bring healing and life to Alaska is Jesus.  

Please pray with us that Jesus will impact Alaska this Summer through the work of Alaska Mission for Christ!

Why We Dance!

On Saturday before Easter, I attended the funeral Potlatch of a wonderful Christian man, named Johnny Goodlataw.  Johnny was an inspiration.  He was a true believer in Jesus Christ, who loved his culture and taught it to anyone who would listen.  

Some early missionaries in Alaska and other places tried to eradicate the potlatch.  They saw it as a pagan ceremony that led people to evil.  I am happy that they didn't succeed.  Now Native Christians celebrate their faith while keeping their funeral traditions.  

One traditional part of the potlatch ceremony is to dance with Indian drums. The dances start with sad, "Cry Songs" and then move toward celebration type songs.  The idea is that you meet the family in their grieving and then move with them toward joy and celebration.  

In some ways this reminds me of Christian worship in Lutheran Tradition.  We begin with the sadness of confession and then move toward the praise and celebration that we have because we have been forgiven.  

After the first set of dancing, I went over and talked with Elder, Kenny Thomas, from Tanacross.  Kenny said, "You are learning to Indian Dance."

"I am trying."  I replied. 

"That is good."  Kenny said.  "We dance to help encourage the family.  They are very sad so we come and we dance to help them have something else to think about.  We are not like you white people.  We love each other very much.  So when someone dies, people come from very far away to show our love for them.  I think that is what God has given us to do.  He has given us the gift to dance and so we use it to help make others happy."  

I knew that Kenny had come from over three hours away to attend this potlatch.  "Yes,"  I agreed.  "We white people can learn from that."  

God has blessed Native people with an understanding of community and how to encourage one another from which all people can learn.  

I hope that some of you will consider coming to Alaska to help us share the love of Jesus this Summer or in a future summer .  As you are here you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel.  I like that way of phrasing it.  We share the Gospel because as we give of the blessings God has given us, God also blesses us from the blessings that he has given others.  Indian dancing is a blessing to me.  

Picture of Traditional Atna Dancing

Picture of Traditional Atna Dancing

Birthday for an Elder

 

Over 200 people were crammed into the Gulkana Community Hall.  White paper was rolled on the floor between rows of chairs.  Traditional food, including moosehead soup and fry bread, was served.  There were speeches and traditional native dancing.  All these things are typical of the Athabascan funeral meetings called, "Potlatch".  This time, however, it was not a funeral potlatch.  It was a birthday party in honor of 98 year old Traditional Chief, Ben Neely.

 Ben is an incredible man.  He has been a Christian leader in the Athna community for many years.  Whenever he speaks, he reminds us that we must trust in the Lord.  I first met Ben about 5 years ago outside of the Gakona Post Office.  Ben asked who I was and why I am in Alaska. I told him that I am here to tell people about the love of Jesus.  Ben said, "Praise the Lord."  Since then, every time I see him, Ben breaks out in a big smile and says again, "Praise the Lord!"  Ben has lead his people with his words and with his life in a way that points the whole community toward the need to stay connected with Jesus.  Thank God for leaders such as Ben. 

My prayer is that the Lord will raise up many more men and women like Ben.  In order for their to be a bold witness for Jesus in every community in Alaska, there need to be resident Christian leaders, both native and non native that live and speak in such a way that people can come to know the love of Jesus. 

Sustainable Ministry

Yesterday, I heard that the Pastor in the Copper Center Community Church resigned. He resigned because the church could not afford to support him and his family.  This is a problem throughout rural Alaska.  There is a huge need for the Gospel, but the traditional model of a congregation supporting a pastor on local resources is a difficult thing to sustain.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with David Sternbeck.  David is planning to come to Alaska through Lutheran Indian Ministries in partnership with the Northwest District, Zion Lutheran Church in Fairbanks, Denali Lutheran Church, and Alaska Mission for Christ.  David's goal is to discover native men that can be trained for Word and Sacrament Ministry in Alaska.  He believes there are many Native men that are interested in becoming Lutheran pastors.  The problem is how do we support these new pastors once they have been trained.  Rural Alaska does not have the financial resources to support full time pastors.

Before I came to Alaska, I spent 12 years in rural Philippines. The issues there are similar.  We have approached it in various ways.  First, we did not expect Pastors to be full time pastors.  Every pastor has a farm or other income that supports his ministry.  Secondly, we taught stewardship.  God's people can support ministry among themselves when they understand that God desires them to support this ministry joyfully and generously.  Thirdly,  we looked for ways to help increase the income of the community through Agricultural development. 

I think a similar approach is needed in Alaska.  We should not expect to have full time paid clergy.  Second, we should encourage the local community to be involved in stewardship.  Thirdly, we should seek ways to help the community of faith to grow in their economic capacity. 

Doing those things is not easy, but we are not called to do easy ministry.  We are called to serve a God who is all powerful and can do what seem impossible. 

Winter Ministry

Alaska Mission for Christ has a lot of ministry in the Summer.  We have Vacation Bible School Programs,  Sports Camps,  Boat ministry,  Hammer and Nail Projects, Special Community Events and much more.  Most of our 400 plus volunteers come to Alaska in the Summer.  But our summer ministry is just one part of what we do. 

In the winter, when it is dark, snowy, and cold, Alaska Mission for Christ continues to reach out with the Gospel.  That can be anything from Licensed Deacon, Bruce Grossmann providing weekly worship services in the village of Tanacross to Mt Drum travelling twice a month to Chitina to visit with adults and run a Sunday School program for the children of the community.  Sometimes winter outreach means travelling out at night to help pull someone out of the snowy ditch.  Other times it means listening on the phone with a person who is struggling to heal from an addiction. 

There is plenty to do in Alaska in the winter.  Please pray for us as we continue to try to make a bold witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Alaska all year round.