II met Toni and Buck at a sandwich shop, where all three of us lamented being stranded at the Anchorage, Alaska, airport. They wore the tired, ragged look of people who had spent the past four days at the airport. I sat across from them as they finished the last of the soup they were sharing, the whiff of alcohol escaping with every bite. I had nothing to complain about with my two-hour delay compared to their long ordeal of getting back home to Saint Mary’s village in bush Alaska.
Over time, lamenting turned to inquiry as they asked about me. They thought I was a teacher, then a health care worker. I told them I was heading to Dillingham for our church camp meeting. They looked at me blankly. I shared that I had just moved to Alaska to work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. My job was to build awareness of the challenges that native Alaskans face and to provide support for the Artic Mission Adventure program. I could tell my message fell on deaf ears.
While Buck assured me that they were religious, Toni’s face fell, her countenance darkening once she found out that I was a “church person.” With her head still bowed, Toni whispered that church people didn't come around very often in Saint Mary’s. I felt shallow, a green do-gooder who was clearly disconnected from these people.
I looked at them with as much love as I could muster and said, “Life is so hard, isn’t it?” Toni lifted her head and looked deep into my eyes. I told them that we’re put on this earth to love each other like Christ loved us. He didn’t judge anyone. He found those who needed encouragement and accepted them, put His arms around them, and held them. I told them that’s what I believe, that’s what my church believes, and that’s why I’m here—to share what Christ has done in my life. As tears streamed down their faces, Toni said, “I want to know more.”
Suddenly, a woman’s voice came over the airport intercom announcing that my flight was boarding. As I stared into the eyes of the couple in front of me, dark with the hopelessness and despair familiar to many Alaskans, I felt helpless. Alaska has more than 230 villages, but our Arctic Mission volunteers are present in only a handful of them. And the village of Saint Mary’s isn’t one of them.
I asked if I could pray with Toni and Buck and reached for their hands. I asked God to reach down and hold these precious souls, to love them and direct them in the way that He would have them go. As Toni wiped her tears, we said our goodbyes, and I headed to the gate.
From my window seat on the plane, Toni’s words kept ringing in my ears: “I want to know more.” My mind traveled to Acts 16:9: “That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’” (NLT). My interaction with Toni and Buck was a present-day plea to go and preach, teach, and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ to bush Alaska.
Please pray for the people of Alaska and the Alaska Conference’s Arctic Missions program. To learn more, visit the Arctic Mission Adventure website, arcticmissionadventure.org, or their Facebook page at facebook.com/ArcticMissionAdventure.
1 Names have been changed.
2 A region in Alaska not connected to the North American road network or the state's ferry system.