Volunteer Gayle Poland shares her experiences in Alaska as a member of a vacation Bible school team in two villages. We are grateful for all our volunteers serving to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our Alaska Native children.
If success of a mission trip is measured by sharing God’s love and Word to many who are rarely exposed to the Word, by renewing relationships, by fostering new friendships and by overcoming numerous obstacles, then the Alaska vacation Bible school (VBS) mission trip this summer was beyond successful!
Kobuk, the first of two villages where we spent one week each, is located in the Northwest Arctic Borough, approximately 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is on the banks of the Kobuk River. Allakaket, the second village, is more centrally located near the Arctic Circle on the Koyukuk River. Both villages have a population of 120-plus residents.
VBS in Kobuk
Prior to going to Kobuk, we had been alerted that there was an ex-convict on the loose, that he may harm us and that many children might not be allowed to attend VBS because of the dangers involved. The choice was ours, they said. After prayerful consideration, we decided to go ahead with our plans, trusting God’s protection.
We arrived in Kobuk and discovered there was no electricity in the building where we were to hold VBS. But the Good Lord, who works in mysterious ways, provided awesome sunlight until 2 o'clock in the morning each day! Melanie and I worked with kids well into the evening hours. We wound up having two VBS sessions each day from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
Since the village is compact, most of the children walked to and from VBS on their own. In the evening, they wanted to stay and stay and stay. We finally told them that we would turn into pumpkins at 10 p.m.
A record number of children attended VBS this summer in Kobuk. All 32 children were attentive, participated well, and enjoyed the songs, lessons and crafts.
Our VBS theme was “Celebrate!” We had the children decorate the room with balloons. Each session, we celebrated something awesome about God: His love, forgiveness, Jesus’ resurrection and His presence in our lives.
One day the kids made puppets and demonstrated God’s forgiveness in a puppet show they designed. They enjoyed singing the old songs we grew up with, including “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Several times the older girls sang “Jesus Loves Me” in their Inupiaq language. Seeing the kids getting into the Word and getting excited about VBS can’t be described.
VBS in Allakaket
After worship service in Fairbanks Saturday night, Bonnie Smith, a volunteer from northern Minnesota, and I prepared for our scheduled flight into Allakaket early Sunday. Excited to get into the village, Bonnie and I were about to board the bush plane when we received a call from our contact in Allakaket, who told us, “Do not come into the village. The smoke [from wildfires] is too bad. Elderly people with health problems have been air-lifted out, and we’ve ordered masks for the children.”
Great! Now what? Bonnie told us that her flight from Minneapolis to Fairbanks was full of firefighters. We could not even rent a car in Fairbanks because the cars had all been assigned to firefighters.
After two days, we called Allakaket. The conditions improved and it was okay to fly in. We flew out on Tuesday, set up for VBS with the same theme we had in Kobuk, and blew up more balloons. Longer time periods were scheduled each day for VBS since we had to double-up on the lessons.
24 Athabascan children attended VBS in Allakaket. They, too, got into God’s Word and were excited about the lessons and crafts. Most of them remembered Bonnie and me from the last two summers.
Because this village is very spread out, the nearest homes to the tribal office and community center are nearly a mile away. The kids didn’t hang out or spend as much down time with us as the kids in Kobuk did. It was a whole different setup, but a very rewarding one. We were able to visit with a lot of people around the village as they came and went from the tribal office.
This mission trip was unique, challenging and a blessing. I was able to see the Lord work in unique ways. I can’t wait to return next summer to renew bonds with the kids and our wonderful Alaska Natives friends.
Download PDFs of Gayle's complete two-part story: