When I first heard about the first mission to Alaska, I wondered: what is this about? Why go to Alaska? Is this worthwhile? It didn’t involve building houses, nor serving in a “foreign” place, as I was accustomed to.
As I learned about it, and my oldest son (who had also gone to Mexico to build houses and help out at an orphanage), returned from the first trip with good reports, I began to understand the value of this mission. Five years later, having gone on the trip myself, there is no doubt in my mind that the trips to Alaska are at least as valuable, as the typical youth group mission to build houses in a developing country.
This mission is one that our youth are well-suited for: building relationships and sharing their knowledge of Jesus with their peers and younger children. The youth practice these skills every week at the Open Door and every year at MPC’s VBS. Thanks to the internet they can continue in their support of the Skagway kids throughout the year.
The on-going relationship we have established is especially valuable for the Skagway kids. As Heather has mentioned, Skagway is a small community, providing few options for activities and socializing, particularly in the summer when most kids are working full-time jobs, and also for those kids whose families live year round in Skagway. The summer is a challenge for families also because most parents are working long hours during the tourist high-season.
Many of the kids are seasonal, coming to Skagway only during the high season. When we were running around town doing the “Amazing Race”, one of my team members saw a friend from a previous summer, and shouted a greeting. A block later, I realized he had joined us as we made our way down the street. His family is from the Philippines, and they move from place to place, sometimes coming to Skagway to work in the summer. His family had recently arrived this season, but he still wasn’t sure if they would stay the whole summer or leave after a week. A number of the seasonal workers are from different countries as well as different states, and their transient life -styles make the opportunity to form meaningful relationships and our continuing commitment especially beneficial.
Our mission in Skagway also provides an opportunity for our kids to get to know these kids from different churches and different places, from Alaska and Pennsylvania to China and India. Our youth benefit in other ways as well. The kids do get to see some fabulous sights and do some great activities (either donated or discounted by the Skagway community), but the trip also involves a lot of hard work. While the work is not intense physical labor, the hours are long and skills such as teamwork, teaching, group management, leadership, and planning are very valuable and applicable to the kind of work they will likely do as adults.
If you have ever participated in VBS at MPC, you know it requires a lot of energy! In Skagway it requires even more, as there are a lot of high energy kids in a small spaces with few resources. Our youth were responsible for 50 young children with minimal help from adults. They were also the primary planners and leaders for the Youth Group meetings we had every night, where they made special efforts to engage and relate to the Skagway kids. They did such a good job that as the week progressed Skagway’s Pastor made the ending time later and later. Every day the kids participated in meetings, where we reviewed the previous activities and planned for the next, similar to what happens in many work settings. The kids also were responsible for KP and other cleaning duties on a daily basis.
Not only was I impressed with what the kids learned and accomplished on this trip, but also it was amazing to see how Heather led the group, how everything from VBS to travel plans and activities were well-organized, and how she met unexpected bumps with creativity and grace. But best of all, it was to watch her working with the kids; caring, challenging and inspiring them all (including those who are kids at heart, like me).