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.