What it means to serve: Volunteering Changes You

We received this great and uplifting letter today from a volunteer team who traveled to Alaska.


This was the 14th year for my Team partner, Wanda Thoreson, and myself returning to the village of Ft. Yukon, AK, for Bible School.  We are so privileged to be able to each year return to this village as it now becomes returning "home" to the people here and we have grown to love them, both kids and adults, as members of our family.  They welcome us home as well and when the last day arrives and we leave them it becomes harder and harder to do!   But we thank our God this is so.

alaska village volunteer group lutheran indian ministries

For the 4th year our other Team partner, Pam Medlin, was with us.  We are thankful for the warm partnership we have and the common goal we share of showing Jesus' love for His people of Ft. Yukon.  It is a good feeling we have of working together in that manner.

Our theme for this year was FROG - "Fully Rely On God!"   We shared Bible stories of some people who did just that:  Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego; Daniel; David and Goliath, as well as sharing how we, too, can fully rely on God. 

We had them learning songs and Bible passage, doing skits, and making crafts.  On the last day, which was Sunday, the kids came to the morning worship service at St. Stephen's Church where they shared with the congregation what they had done during the week - sang their songs, shared a skit and Bible verse, etc.  We were privileged to witness a baptism that day, too.  

Following the service, a community potluck dinner was held for everyone.  This is an excellent time to fellowship and a time where both the kids and adults are handed out gifts sent by parishioners of our churches back home.  It is a joy to watch them pick out the gifts they choose, see their smiling faces, and then realize how grateful they are for all of it.

One half of the week, we had a team of "construction workers" from North Carolina who were working on getting St. Stephen's Mission House back "in shape" so it could once again be lived in by the priest who comes in once a month to serve them. No doubt, we as a team may once again be able to stay there, and perhaps they may rent it out.  Whatever the outcome, this team did a fabulous job of "restoring" it.  We also enjoyed a lot the salmon given us for our meals - it has been a good year for them to get salmon readied for the winter months.  Nothing better than eating this fish!   

Our VBS enrollment was down this year due to the fact that there was a week-long camp sponsored by the Tribal Council held this same week.  Kids from 10 years of age and up could attend - it was 6 Miles from Ft. Yukon on the Porcupine River where the kids stayed the entire week!   We were taken over there to see it the Sunday before our school began and were very pleased with what we saw!  Plus the schedule and topics for the week were excellent - trying to deal with many of the issues that are in need of addressing with these kids.  Their presenters were ones very much aware of the issues.  So, unfortunately, it was the same week, but we liked what we saw was happening.  In the end, we had 26 kids enrolled in our school and since we do not get into the "numbers game," we were thankful for our school and theirs, too!  God was in both we know.  We also can say we had NO discipline issues at all - this is great!!

As we were leaving on Sunday afternoon back to Fairbanks, we gathered in a circle in prayer with several others and one of them prayed that we would return IN THE WINTER and hold a Bible School at that time, promising to keep us warm!!!   Really???   (Who knows??)

Reality is that we place our lives in His hands and where He leads we shall follow.  It has really been amazing how many years He has lead us back to Ft. Yukon.  We shall continue to, hopefully, keep "in touch" with what and where He leads.  It has been incredible these past 14 years - (plus a couple others before) and we have every reason to believe He will guide on.


Ft. Yukon VBS Team:
Wanda Thoreson, Zimmerman, MN
Pam Medlin, Catawba, NC
JoAnn Nielsen, Lindstrom, MN 

(Written by JoAnn Nielsen)

Over and over we hear the same story, volunteering changes your life.

I only had one night with the “teens” because they went on a school camping trip. That was time I was really looking forward to because it is a crucial time in ones life and decisions made will start impacting the path a person will continue to take. We had one boy who came everyday to both Bible school and teen night, and on teen night, he started calling the others to come and they just kept showing up. Being from a small community myself, I know how much actions affect peers and how much of an impact a positive role model can have on the younger kids in the community. How important it is to reach these kids with love, hope and encouragement before they get so deep that they don’t see a good way out; it is possible, but much harder to come out of. 

Many of these kids were yearning for something to fill some empty space in their lives. We had that message of hope, peace and love through Christ. I think it was David that was telling me that so many of these people know Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins but don’t know the love of Christ. That’s what we were there for—to share the love of Christ and make it visible. John 20:29 came to mind, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I have always thought of myself being one of those who has not seen, but I have seen the love of Christ in my life. The same is not necessarily true of the people I met in Tanana. 

point hope vbs alaska volunteer group lutheran indian ministries

It was a moving experience watching how God’s love was affecting these kids. The last day I was there exemplifies this. We did not originally plan to have Bible school, but with flood preparation we though it would help the parents by getting the kids out of the house. Come to find out that right in the middle of Bible school, martial arts started. This is something the kids look forward to every week. A couple kids had a dilemma; do I go to Bible school or marital arts? There were a few that made up their mind no problem and told their friends to “Come to Bible school today! Come to Bible school today!” That day of Bible school was our highest attendance (while I was there)!

I really can’t explain what a rewarding experience this has been. It reminds me of my days in elementary school and we would have 2 captains for teams and everyone else would stand in a group waiting to be called on, hoping to be on the “good” team. Well, God chose me for His team and it doesn’t get any better than that!! The Bible verse that comes to mind when thinking about this trip is John 15:16 which says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

In closing, I ask you to pray about his and listen to God. Is He calling you? The thoughts that run through my mind are what I would give to live in Fairbanks with these villages at my fingertips! But I can say I was very blessed with the opportunity to go to Tanana and hope to return sooner rather than later. 

A Narrative of Alaska

JUNE 14, 2017 / 2 COMMENTS

Psalm 139 declares, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Every moment and chapter has been divinely authored. His hand penned the story of the universe, and it pens the story of each of our lives. The stories He writes intersect, and in the intersections, we discover beauty, brokenness, love, and grace.

For 10 days in May, my story intersected with a small Alaskan village just north of the Arctic Circle. From one noncontiguous state to another we travelled, unable to fathom the narrative of the journey ahead.

We adventured through Anchorage and happened on Whittier, glaciers, bald eagles, and snowy mountains. We flew over Denali, landing in Fairbanks.

Just one more flight awaited, but before we climbed into our tiny plane to travel hundreds of miles over the Alaskan wilderness, we spent evenings sitting in a ‘sacred circle’ pondering Scripture and the mission ahead. We shared chapters of our stories, and we sang.

“God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. God loves you, and there’s nothing you can say. God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do to earn; it just won’t go away.”

With the tune still in our heads and hearts ready to share its words, we accounted for each pound in our Navajo Panther and flew off the grid. Two hours later, we landed in Kiana, Alaska, population 371.

alaska village volunteer group lutheran indian ministries

We unloaded our weeks worth of supplies and wandered through the village in awe of its mountain landscapes reflecting in the Kobuk River and tales of moose and caribou. But amidst the majesty stood desperation: shattered windows, discarded machine parts, and a people hurting from the effects of alcoholism, suicide, abuse, and unspoken traumas passed down from generation to generation.

Our wanderings took us to the little mint green church just below our cabin where we would come and go from all week. We opened the doors ready to worship. Most of the chairs sat empty, and no pastor was present. The piano stood out of tune and unplayed. By all appearances, it was barren, but Spirit pulsated through its simple sanctuary.

Gina, one of our team members, brought life to the piano. We were greeted with welcome songs and vignettes of village life. Inupiaq and English rang out in prayer to the Author of Life.

“Where two or more are gathered I am there,” He promises. All week, He was there working His healing story in this small community.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, children ran through the doors eager for Vacation Bible School. They waited with wide eyes for “Goliath” to come, pretending to be David with craft creations in hand. They laughed, smiled, and shouted, singing the “Hippo” song at all speeds. They excitedly raised their hands to open Easter eggs, helping tell the story of Jesus’ great love for us. In a whirlwind of crafts, games, Jesus time, snacks, and conversation, we saw the days He had ordained unfold.

Whenever we gathered, there was fervor. A fervor in the hearts of the women of the church for their community and young people. A fervor of story sharing around a table of caribou, muktuk, and sheefish. The fervor that occurs when gathered in His name.

Soon, the hellos turned to goodbyes, and we prayed the fervor of His Spirit might continue among the people, not knowing when or if our stories would intersect again. Before we knew it, we’d landed back in Fairbanks, then Anchorage, and lastly Honolulu. Now, we share the stories of those days and continue to ponder His penmanship and plans.

We never know exactly where we are in this ethereal narrative. Some chapters pass by fleetingly, while others are retold time and time again. No matter what, His presence is always there, intersecting in each moment in ways we often don’t even see and transforming our hearts to tell His story.

Whether in Kiana or on Oahu, the lessons we taught and learned again for ourselves hold true. God keeps His promises. He is strong to save. He is Emmanuel, God with us. His love never fails. Yesterday, today, and forever those themes tell the story of all creation.


Reflections on Rural Alaska: A Volunteer Diary

Reflections on Rural Alaska: A Volunteer Diary

The village was still asleep when our plane landed and we loaded up our gear. I stood on the edge of the airstrip looking at the mountains and river and quiet houses around me.

I suppose my story is not unique from anyone else’s.

Every missionary has their story of falling in love with the people and the heartbreak of when they must leave.

4 Things You Can Do To Help With the Native American Suicide Epidemic

In the past year, two separate native populations have called a state of emergency for their community relating to a seemingly uncontrollable suicide epidemic: last year, Pine Ridge in South Dakota and recently, Cross Lake in Manitoba.

There is no question that suicide among native populations is a major problem. Native American teens experience the highest rate of suicide of any other population in the US.

Here, at Lutheran Indian Ministries, we take this problem very seriously, because we work with it daily in the native community. In fact, our own Rick McCafferty, in Anchorage, Alaska, and Rick and Linda Martin, in Manitoba, both specialize in healing wounds of the heart through Biblically based counseling and deal with suicide attempts and victims' families almost daily. We strive to bring native people into a relationship with Christ while also working on personal, emotional healing.

But, what can I do about it? I'm just one person.


Below are four ways that you can help:

1. Educate yourself

Suicide doesn't just show up for no good reason. Between poverty and unemployment, generations of family abuse and addiction, and historical and cultural mistreatment, there is no shortage of reasons why suicide hits the Native American population with such a great force.

The more you know about the bigger picture, the history as well as the current events, the better you will be prepared to help with the underlying causes of suicide and make an impact.

2. Connect with a non-profit already doing the work

Lutheran Indian Ministries works closely with nine specific native nations, as well as many rural communities and a native campus ministry. (And we're really nice people... wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

By working with an already established organization, you eliminate the hassle of the administrative side of ministry and can focus on the hands-on, face-to-face work.

Find out more about our volunteer process or read about past volunteer experiences.

3. Or, if you like to be in charge, connect with a local tribal council

Just because Cross Lake and Pine Ridge made the news, doesn't mean other groups aren't also struggling. Depression and suicide are rampant on nearly all reservations, as well as poverty, unemployment, and addiction.

Look up your closest reservation or tribal group and ask them what they need. They are in the thick of it, and they will know best exactly what they need and where their weaknesses lie. But be aware, if this is the route you want to take, it isn't a one-time event. Fixing the cultural and systemic issues within reservation life will take a lifetime of work.

4. Pray

Prayer is our most powerful tool. 

No matter what we do or how hard we work, without God's blessing, it's destined to fall short.

At Lutheran Indian Ministries, we realize that we have to work on the problems of this world to affect change, but more importantly, we know that this world is temporary. We share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a people that desperately needs his hope and his light in a dark world.

Our ultimate goal is to celebrate with all nations in heaven, and if we can end a suicide epidemic in the mean time, then we're helping His Kingdom on earth as well.