Sunday, August 6, 2017

Alaskan Adventures, Vol. 6

Sunset last night was gorgeous. King Ranch/Kingdom Air Corps is the light green patch along the river.

After my last post, some of you may be wondering how the Lord is working in my heart. I merely hinted here and there that He was leading me towards missions in these far-north villages. For now, I'll just say that I'm starting to make steps in this direction.

The Wickers visiting Kingdom Air Corps :)

One of these steps was attending the SEND North Conference in Anchorage this week. It was really good to connect with the leadership and missionaries serving in Alaska and Northern Canada. Below are some excerpts from my journal of the conference.

Aug 1
Today was the first day of SEND North Conference in Anchorage. It was a really good experience for me as I start pursuing missions in northern Alaska. Spent most of the day with the Wickers, but also connected again with Brad Fox and others. Warren Janzen initiated conversation with me during the group picture and continued talking with me through lunch. I really appreciated his initiation to see where I was at and what the Lord is doing in my heart this summer.
It's definitely a different feeling here than at our Russia conferences. Perhaps because I don't know anyone, but for sure a different atmosphere. Each village is different with different cultures and different strategies/methods. I think it's easy for people to feel alone and disconnected more than other fields.
I also met Derek, who went to college with my dad. He said my dad was key for him pursuing missions through SEND.

Aug 2
Had another good day at Conference. Aaron, Tisha, and Oksana came today for the morning session. I was able to meet some more neat people like Steven who is in the media/fundraising side of things. He mentioned the need for help in that department, which I could maybe help with in addition to ministry. Video stories would be great to share with people in the lower 48 to raise awareness of village life and needs for funds.
Talked with Mark who is serving on Kodiak island. The people there are majority Russian orthodox influenced. Share many of the same struggles that we have in Russia.

Aug 3
The last day of conference was very encouraging. I appreciated the guest speaker's message about boasting in our weaknesses. His message was a huge encouragement to many in the room feeling discouraged in their ministry. He was very down-to-earth about the realities of ministry.
I talked with Don Ernst over lunch, who was really helpful. He is the director of ministry or something like that - he assigns people to locations and travels a lot to keep track of how each missionary is doing in their area. He has lots of wisdom and experience in village life in Alaska.
We played softball after lunch, and had a great time. I hit a couple homers and earned the name "slugger" from Brad Fox. Warren Janzen was also impressed and said, "After seeing the way you play softball I knew you were a SEND-er!" He was pretty impressive himself, and I hear he plays volleyball and basketball too. Would love playing with him sometime.

Overall I'm really glad I stayed for the entire conference. It was just a series of more steps of faith towards pursuing missions up north. I'm not sure what this next year will look like, but the Lord has been so faithful so far and I know He will see it through.

Please be praying for me during this time. I need wisdom and grace each day!

P.S. I finally got out fishing more today! Devlin, Tim and his dad, and I went to Bonnie Lake with a boat and caught a bunch of rainbow trout. I also caught a grayling!

My grayling!

Holding up our spoils! :)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Alaskan Adventures, Vol. 5

The long-awaited update is finally here.

I'm back to civilization after two weeks of zero communication with the outside world. My beard was getting pretty wild out there, let me tell you. Brooks Range Bible Camp was an experience like I've never had before, and I'm extremely grateful to Kingdom Air Corps for giving me the opportunity to go.

My role at the camp was to capture photos and videos to combine into a video recap of the week for the kids to take home with them. I was also able to spend time with the kids - especially when Krystal, a girl from Anaktuvuk, was taking photos for me from time to time.

I think the way I'll do this is share (at least most of) my journaling with you here. At the end of this blog you'll get to see the two videos I created for the two weeks of camp.

July 10, 2017
The long cross country flight to Northern Alaska is difficult to put into words. Once we passed by Denali National Park, we entered into true wilderness country. Forests, streams, rivers, and hills are scattered between mountain ranges far and wide for hours of bush plane flight time. Completely untouched earth but for the "winter trail" and rare cabin with its own marker on the flight chart.
I know it doesn't hold a candle to the vast, wild lands of Russia- but it does hold its own when it comes to beautiful landscapes.

"Fireweed" flowers get their name from their ability to grow in quickly after wildfires.
Benj flying the "Orange blob" Cessna 170

The flight to Nenana took us about 2.5-3 hours in our Cessna Skyhawk 172. After fueling up there, we flew to Alakakket and awaited Dwayne's report on the conditions for flying the rest of the way to camp. We met the Fox family (Brad and Madeline) who are missionaries with SEND in Alakakket. After some dinner, we hadn't heard back from Dwayne so we spent the night there in the "hall". I slept on the bench with just my fleece as a pillow.

July 11, 2017
We had breakfast and coffee at the "Tribe" office building. They were so kind to feed us with pancakes and sausage! The native people are very hospitable.
We flew out after breakfast and arrived to camp at Crevice Creek just in time for lunch. Total flight time from King Ranch to the Brooks Range Camp was about 6 hours I think.
After lunch we setup all the "cabins" with tarps and bunks. There was a bit of free time so Ben & Chelsea, Josiah, Isaiah and I went to the river and I scoured for fishing spots. We didn't find any but Isaiah told me where to go next time. So many mosquitos!
After dinner we had a big group of us staff play some basketball knockout. I lost one out of four or five games.
Showered and went to bed, no darkness at all here.

July 12, 2017
Staff meetings are every morning at 8-9, then breakfast. We started sending planes out at around 10am to go pickup kids from Alakakket and Anaktuvuk. I went with the first planes to Anaktuvuk to capture the kids' excitement from the ground.
The flight over the Brooks Range mountains was incredible. Once we arrived kids swarmed the plane before we had a chance to even unbuckle from our seats. Everyone wants to be on the fist planes to Camp. I ended up staying there in the village until the last group of kids were flown to camp.
I was given a tour of the village from Devlin. He showed me their store, police department, church, museum, basketball courts (the local favorite sport), and school. After my time with Devlin I was invited over to Vera and Todd's home for lunch. She fed me sourdough pancakes, and I had a great time conversing with them. We talked about their village, Alaska, their history, and I talked with Todd about the gospel. Todd loves to hunt and fish so we had a great time talking about that. He fried up some Caribou for me to try - what a treat! It is definitely one of the best tasting game I've had. Their two grandkids (Sarah and Kailey) had fun taking my hat, playing some "magic" tricks, and playing hide and seek. They drew me a couple pictures :). Their hospitality was a blessing and they said I would be welcome there anytime I come back. If I go back, I will definitely go fishing with Todd!
The rest of the day has been a bit hectic. There are 45 kids this year! That's over 10 more than any previous year. We had a great time singing worship songs and hearing from Brad Fox for chapel. Brad is teaching chapels this week on the theme of God's power to rescue. Tonight's session was about God rescuing Israel from Egypt.

Group picture from the first week

July 13, 2017
Took pictures of games outside today. Several kids have asked to take pictures, so I've let them a bit :). Helped with dishes for breakfast and dinner to help relieve counselors and staff. One of the native girls (Krystal) who is now a counselor has been going around with my camera taking photos for me that I couldn't otherwise get. It's been great, and has given me a chance to spend time with a few of the kids.
The boys all love playing basketball. A couple of them have been having an extra hard time with staying plugged in with the group. They struggle getting along with the other kids and get upset very easily. It's sad to watch but I've tried spending time with them especially, to help out their counselors and minister to them with my time and attention. These are hard situations because you want those who do pay attention to get the most out of the week, and these kids seem a distraction to everything right and good. But do we ignore the "trouble" kids? Are they a lost cause? Or are they exactly who Christ came to save and minister to? What would He have done? He often picked out of large, religious crowds the least liked and most "distracting" people to minister to. He chooses the weak and the foolish to shame the strong and the wise of this world.

July 14, 2017
Last night and today I was able to spend more time with Keasean. He loves sports, especially basketball. He makes up rules for all kinds of games, which he always seems to win :).
I also spent some time with one of the cabins after our chapel session with Brad. I was able to direct some conversation with the Gospel and how they can put their faith in Christ. Afterwards I joined a staff prayer group for the kids and their counselors. It has been a true blessing to see God working, and to trust Him more and more with difficult situations.

July 15, 2017
Today I mostly worked on finishing the video to show this evening to the kids. It turned out really well and everyone enjoyed it. Really thankful to have Krystal taking photos for me during these times and others. She is great with portraits and gets shots I probably wouldn't be able to get.
Brad closed out chapels with practical ways the kids can continue walking with God. I really appreciate his teaching this week and his work up here the past few years. It's not an easy place to minister.
Dwayne came back tonight and everyone swarmed him for the next few hours. He did the scream run with all the kids.
I'm praying for the Lord to continue to work on my heart. I've grown to love these kids and wonder if I could be willing to take the gospel call to one of these villages, especially Anaktuvuk Pass. I've been blessed with so much more knowledge of God and His Word than these people have. I feel the responsibility to share the grace and love I've been given. Most of these kids have no one to disciple them outside of these two weeks of the year. Who will go?

July 24, 2017
I wasn't disciplined enough to keep a journal for the second week of camp. But I will try to at least mention highlights.

On our day off (Monday) between weeks a group of us hiked up Gunsight Mountain. It was the most bushwhacking I've ever done! We are truly in Alaska wilderness backcountry.We crossed rivers, did balancing acts through the swampy tundras, stumbled through trees, and charged through bushes trying to not trip over ourselves while fending off the constant onslaught of mosquitos. We were thankful to not run into any bears in the thick bush. The view from the top was awesome! Worth the hard work. We planted a flag at the top which we all signed. Pilots were able to see it from the air later! We decided to take a different path down which turned into a long adventurous trek. We all ended very wet and dirty from hiking through the marshes around some lakes.

Crossing the Allen River

Enjoying the views on the hike up

Ormun atop dead tree that only lived a few minutes after this picture was taken

Finally past the trees and brush, on to the peak!

Views are starting to get good

View from the top, you can see the runway at camp on the left side - it points right to the four lakes

Absolutely stunning views of the John River and surrounding mountains.

Our beautiful little flag we planted at the peak, signed by everyone. It was later seen by pilots flying by on the way to Anaktuvuk.
Our happy hiking group! (Left to right: Caitlin, Ormun, Lena, Tanya, Drew, me)

For my mom :)

Hard to make out (I only had my phone!) but there is a grizzly and her cub in the more open trees. Kinda a brown blob just above and right of the center of this photo.

One of the lakes we went by on our hike out.

Panorama version of the above photo.

The teen week was much different. Much more relaxed in ways, yet more serious/deep for chapels and conversations with the kids. Basketball was a good connection point for me with several of them. I really appreciate how Nate Weimer preached the chapels. He boldly presented the gospel on day one and moved right into teaching about how the Spirit works in our lives. He taught on many aspects of how Christians ought to grow and become more like Christ. He presented a lot of ideas but did a great job of communicating the key concepts in a way they could easily grasp and take home. It was easy to see his heart for these kids, echoing our hearts for them to grow and become leaders in their villages.

I was able to join a couple of the cabin times again, and helped direct conversations a bit. Other times I joined the staff prayer times, which were really good. We were always blessed to lay our requests before the Lord and see our prayers answered so consistently. We once lifted up a specific cabin and heard the next morning that they had a long really good talk with their kids.

Gorgeous sunset, gorgeous plane, how can you go wrong?

Beautiful rainbow during sunset.

Sunsets in Brooks Range were INCREDIBLE!

Panorama view of the sun going down behind the mountains.

I have felt more and more burdened for these guys and their people. There were several guys that seemed genuinely interested in growing more.

Thanks for reading, caring, and praying for me during my time here in Alaska.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Alaskan Adventures, Vol. 4

Not too much to share this week, but wanted to share a bit from July 4th and my upcoming trip to the Brooks Range Bible Camp.

July 4th at Glacier View in Matanuska Valley is quite possibly the most unique celebration in the country. The surrounding views can't be beat. You get Kingdom Air Corps to do flyovers in formation with 5 bush planes. A very redneck parade of beat-up cars (they'll come in later) and Alaskan style rigs. A conservative message and Christian prayer. Lots of food. And launching those beat-up cars off a big cliff. What a day!

Planes lining up for takeoff. Dwayne in the lead with the awesome retro-style Cessna 180.

Just after takeoff, looking back at King Ranch with Matanuska River winding up towards our destination.

Ben Lula piloting the Cessna 150 on the opposite side of the formation from me.

Joe Gerwig piloting the Cessna 182 in the center of the formation.

Dwayne at the head of the pack.

Great views over the river.

Joe peeling off during the "Missing Man" formation, to honor our fallen military troops.

Dwayne in the booth before his prayer for the celebrations.

Quite the crowd, quite the view!

Some nicely decked out vehicles.

Some Alaskan-redneck-style vehicles. :)

Like I said, literally launching cars off cliffs.

And crashing down the hillside.

Pretty decent view. :)

Later that night back at Kingdom Air Corps, we had a fireworks show in broad daylight. Not something you always hear about, but it was a great show!

This week Dwayne had me and Teresa Dehmel working on individualized thank-you cards for those who have donated airplanes and such to the ministry. It has been a fun project, and it's been good to put to use some design & layout skills. I've really enjoyed getting to know Craig & Teresa Dehmel this week through that project and the cabin extension project with Craig.

Sunday will be a day of preparation (packing for me) for Brooks Range Bible Camp. Pray for all the planning and execution of this trip to go well! There's a bit involved with taking 8 planes 400 miles into the arctic wilderness. Kingdom Air Corps finances this trip too, so pray for the Lord to provide for the ministry. Below are some pictures of where we will be going (I'm pretty sure).

Zoomed out view of our location in Brooks Range.

Perspective with Kingdom Air Corps' location compared to Brooks Range Camp.

Airstrip at Crevice Creek!
Here's a Google Maps so you can see where I'll be:

I'm pretty excited! The first week I'll be tasked with taking photos & video and putting together a video to share with the kids at the end of the week. I will likely be out of communication until we return from the two-week trip.

I appreciate your prayers! Pray for the hearts of these kids and their families. They need leaders to continue the gospel mission in their villages.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Alaskan Adventures, Vol. 3

It's my third Sunday here already! Lots has happened in the last week, and I could probably post enough photos and videos in this update to break my blog. So I'll try to share the best ones with you.

On Monday, June 26 I was blessed to hop in on a flight of a lifetime. A television network media director from Wales had Kingdom Air Corps fly him over the Knick and Matanuska glaciers. He is on a holiday (vacation) and enjoys capturing photos/video for personal use.

The flight was truly one of the most thrilling, epic things I've ever done (and I think I've had some pretty good ones so far). Flying right through mountain passes and over glaciers is a unique experience to say the least. These pictures don't do it justice.

Beautiful views of the rivers and valleys

Gotta love the composition opportunities from the air!

Closeup of glacial river.

Flying low around the mountain bend.

Closeup of glacier cracks.

"Road to Freezer"?

Neat look at the Knick Glacier

Looking back towards our photographer passenger.

Pooled up "gatorade" water on iceberg.

For scale, note the small red plane in the upper left portion of the frame.

My favorite shot of the glacier details.

For my mom, strings of pink flowers scattered across the silty ground.

Cool view up a canyon on our way to Matanuska Glacier.

One of many glacier-covered mountains in the Matanuska range.

Rows of glacier-covered mountains.

Flying right over that pass on the left!

Black & White shot of more mountains.

Anyone else see the face on the mountain?

Lots of ice coming through that pass!

My favorite shot of the day, and favorite from Alaska so far. Love how the clouds hung over the mountains like that. Gorgeous sky too!

I'll call these "Moody Mountains"

More glacier pools.

Tuesday and Wednesday I did some bush trimming and raking around the property. Then Dwayne returned from his trip to Yakutsk, Russia on Thursday morning. I was able to meet with him that morning to go over his ideas for new promo videos and website changes. I was also tasked with compiling his photos and videos from his trip into a video to show at church on Sunday. It's great to have Dwayne back; I love watching him be so intentional and involved in everybody's life and ministry. His passion for the gospel and people is contagious.

Saturday morning we had a brief overview of Brooks Range Bible Camp coming up on June 10 (our departure date). After that Dwayne and four other pilots ran a practice of flying in formations to prep for July 4th. Every year, during the July 4 festivities at the glacier nearby, Kingdom Air Corps does a flyover in formation. I got to be in the rear plane to capture some of their formations; it's pretty cool!

Also on Saturday, Josiah (my roommate here) and I went with Ben & Chelsea on a trip to Hatcher's Pass. It's an old mining town up in the mountains with some broken down buildings and cool stuff like that. Josiah and I mostly glanced at the buildings and headed straight for a nearby peak. The view was so worth it!

I forget the name of this lake, but it was cool - a bit of ice still on it!

Old mining shack on the way up the trail.

Josiah and me at the top of the peak!

Old engine in the mining town.

Later we went to a pilot trainee's house for dinner. It was a blessing to meet his family. We sang songs after dinner and then played some Alaskan volleyball. Alaskan volleyball is basically volleyball with a lot of mosquitos thrown at you constantly. Keeps you on your toes :). We had a blast!

Dwayne's presentation at church on Sunday went well, and we had a great worship night at Kingdom Air Corps that night. Dwayne closed by sharing more stories and encouragement to keep on serving for the gospel. God is using Dwayne in many ways in so many people's lives on a daily basis. He has a great way of encouraging and seriously challenging your life at the same time.

Yesterday (Monday) I started helping the construction guys with a different building. We are putting an addition (bedroom) on a cabin for a long-term staff family here. Today I got up early to help finish put up all the drywall inside. Then I was literally dragged away by Josiah on a 4-wheeler to be taken up to the pilots' formation flight briefing. We took off for a noon flyover for the July 4 celebration. I might share some shots from that flight and the following festivities in my next update.

Thank you all for your prayers! I appreciate your support and service to the Lord.

God bless.