Why would 16 people who barely know each other board a plane and fly to Alaska? If you talk to each one of them, they would tell you they felt called to go on a mission to work and minister to native Alaskan students.

Students at Alaska Christian College would not have the means to attend without donations, volunteers and mission teams traveling to the college each summer to work and give back, so these students have an opportunity to receive or continue an education.

Associate pastor Bill Coleman, at He’s Alive Church, led a group of 15 adults and one 15-year-old to Soldotna, Alaska, this summer to work on a new building for classrooms and to work on the grounds. Coleman has led 25 of the 30 mission trips he has been afforded the opportunity to serve on. He said, “He’s Alive Church has a goal of traveling to every location where we support missionaries. We are called to take the gospel to the world. Matthew 28: 18-20.”

He shared the reasons why we should go on mission trips:

» It’s an honor to serve other people in need.

» It builds community and relationships within the team.

» It brings about a singular focus on mission as you step away from your daily hectic routine.

» It helps the team see how truly blessed they are and how thankful they should be for what they have.

Several team members said that Pastor Bill can be firm, but he also has a great sense of humor. He is gifted in forming strong relationships with team members and has also been known to iron out a few kinks along the way. Typical to his good nature, Pastor Bill even performed a tribal dance with the native students at the college.

Alaska Christian College

Founded in 2001, Alaska Christian College serves Alaskan Natives and other Native American people. In the beginning, it was only a one-year college and not accredited. The first graduating class gave diplomas to 18 students. The mission is “to empower Alaskan Natives through biblically-based education and Christian formation to pursue excellence in character, learning and service as followers of Christ.”

Accredited in 2012, the two-year college now offers Associate of Arts degrees in para-professional education and Christian ministry, behavioral health, and general studies. The fully equipped dorm rooms bear names like “Denali” and “Northern Lights,” and students have access to bicycles for riding to town.

The New Hope Counseling Center on the far end of the campus offers counsel and hope to students who are struggling. The center offers faith-based counseling to the community as well.

The team — the tasks

Many of the team members signed up because they had a construction background, and others committed because they knew God would use them wherever they were needed.

Half the team had never been on a trip such as this, and many felt that a domestic mission trip was a great opportunity for their first mission experience. Mandy Martocchio was among this group, and she spent most of her week in the sewing room (aka college library). She was drawn to Alaska after hearing a missionary from the college speak at church one Sunday. Mandy even ventured out of the sewing room one day and helped the framing crew.

Mandy, along with Lori Hatley, Windy Starnes and I worked with Ofa Finau, a woman from the South Pacific who coordinated the teams in July for sewing the traditional Alaskan parkas called “kuspuks.” They are made of 100 percent cotton and resemble a hoodie. Alaskans wear the kuspuks on special occasions or for native dances to honor and remember their heritage. They were traditionally worn over clothing to protect a person from the sun or from bugs while picking berries. The kuspuks are sold at a fall fundraiser for the college to help raise tuition for the native students. Lori also gave some time to the clearing crew and stacked firewood a couple of days. She remarked, “The team was phenomenal, and everyone pitched in to do what needed to be done.”

Windy Starnes, who has no construction experience but does have an extensive photography background, became the team photographer. She walked around the campus capturing candid photos of the team serving. Windy also assisted in the sewing room and worked in the technology room. All week, she said, “Teamwork is dream work.”

Several couples traveled together on the trip. Glenn Keller and his wife, Kelly, enjoy serving on mission trips together. Glenn said, “This type of construction mission trip is in my wheelhouse.” The trip to Alaska was Glenn and Kelly’s sixth mission trip, all in the United States.

Kelly feels that going on a mission trip is about revival and giving back some of what you have received. Glenn used his construction skills to help build walls and drop ceilings. His crew also connected an old building to the new building. Kelly worked on the landscaping crew, pulling weeds and beautifying the grounds. President Keith Hamilton told the grounds crew that the campus had never looked better.

Ched and Kelly Hargett traveled with the team. It was Kelly’s first mission trip, but Ched had previously served in Guatemala. They both expressed the fact that they did not know many of the team members before they left but grew closer to everyone and gained a lot of new friends throughout the week. Kelly was literally on her knees most of the week pulling weeds while Ched helped cut down trees and split wood to clear a lot for a new storage building. The wood the team split and placed on pallets will sell for $1,680. All the proceeds will go toward tuition for students.

Belinda and Michael Threlkeld chose to work on the clearing crew, too. Belinda had never driven a Bobcat, but the men put her in the driver’s seat, and she loaded wood in a Gator all week for the men to split for firewood. Belinda said: “This was exactly where God wanted us. We worked perfectly together.” She would like to continue to do things with friends from the Alaska mission team. A few of them have already met for dinner. Michael was hands-on with a chain saw and said that one of the highlights of his trip was getting to know Chris, one of the student ambassadors from the college. Chris shared his story of hardship and homelessness with our group, but his smile portrayed his healing and thankfulness. Other student ambassadors the team enjoyed getting to know were Makayla, Danielle and Keola.

Two other guys on the trip were Erick Cardell and Jamie Collins. Despite their quiet demeanor, their construction skills were impeccable. Erick is an electrician by trade, so he ran wiring for a small kitchenette in the new dorm building and repaired lights throughout the campus. The staffers at the college tried to keep him another week. Jamie was paired with a 16-year-old from Illinois from another team on campus. They hung drywall most of the week. Jamie mentioned that one of the pastors said: “You have to take yourself out of your everyday role and focus on the people you are helping. This takes the focus off of yourself.”

Another pair who traveled with our team to Alaska was Tammy Stone and her 15-year-old son, Nick. Neither had ever been on a mission trip. Tammy served on the lawn crew, helping with landscaping, weeding and beautifying the grounds. Tammy said, “The highlight of my trip was seeing God work in my son, Nick, and hearing Keith Hamilton, the college president, share the journey of how the college was started.” Nick helped build a foundation for a new hallway to connect two buildings and worked on a wall for a new building. He was concerned about fitting in since he was the youngest on the team. After the trip, Nick said, “It doesn’t matter what age you are; if God sends you, you will fit in.” If you ask Nick what the highlight of his trip was, he would say, “Receiving the Golden Hammer and the last God moments in the chapel.”

Mentoring at its best

Glenn Keller and the other men presented a “Golden Hammer” to Nick. The men had signed it and had written the Scripture reference 1st Timothy 4:12 on the handle: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” Everyone was in tears. It was a beautiful portrayal of mentoring Nick throughout the week. Glenn noted that on his past mission trips, he was usually one of the younger ones and learned from the older men. This trip gave him the opportunity to mentor and teach Nick, along with the help of the other men. Nick had never had the opportunity to work on a construction project before this one.

Every team has a member who keeps you laughing until your stomach hurts. Dale Baker was the guy who made every day fun. From his attempts to crochet on the three-hour van ride from Anchorage to Soldotna to the video watching him put on hip waders to fish, he kept the team in stitches. There is a serious side to Dale, though. He worked on the demo crew that knocked a wall down between buildings and helped install a ceiling. Dale recently received a degree in psychology from Liberty University in Virginia and has a heart for people with addictions and who are struggling with depression. Stats show that Alaska has a high rate of drinking, drug addictions and suicide. God has brought him through some tough times and has allowed him to be trained to help others.

Outings for the team

Most evenings included an outing to somewhere close by. One evening, we were invited to the college president’s home for ice cream. Hamilton shared stories and miracles of how the college received donations and grants to meet the needs of projects at the college. The team took a boat tour in Resurrection Bay to see marine wildlife and ate native Alaskan salmon on Fox Island. The women rode bikes, and some fished with the men. Daily moose sightings prompted mad dashes outside with phones and cameras poised to capture snapshots and videos. Another memorable photo op happened as Kelly Keller was walking by the small chapel on campus. Sunlight beamed right at the chapel door. Kelly truly considered this a God sighting and said, “When I saw the path of sunlight at the chapel, I felt like it was confirmation that I was supposed to be on this trip.”

‘God moments’

Nightly group meetings were a time of devotion and sharing of “God moments.” One night as I presented a “Jars of Clay” devotion, each team member opened up to share feelings from the depths of their hearts. It was truly a special time. The team met in the little chapel on campus for their very last night of God moments. Two people sat on the floor because only 14 chairs fit in the little room.

“These trips are like a microwave for relationships,” Coleman said. “Bonds are built quickly. The team camaraderie was great. Most of the time the mission takes precedence over personality and preference.” He added that when people catch a heart for missions and serving, they usually do not leave it on the mission field. They bring it back to their own community mission field.

This is already proving to be true. Team member Glenn Keller organized a workday for the men of He’s Alive Church in early August. They cleaned up the grounds on the outside and tackled a punch list of small repairs inside the building.

The women on the Alaska Team held a sewing day Saturday, Aug. 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and made “kuspuks” to send to the college for the fall fundraiser. Some took fabric home to make even more kuspuks. Their goal is to mail more than one dozen of them to the college by mid-October for the fundraiser.

If you are interested in sewing a kuspuk or making a donation toward this project, email info@hesalivechurch.org or call the He’s Alive Church office at 980-781-4920. This is a great way to get connected with Alaska Christian College without going on a mission trip.

“We became family on this trip. It was like an extension of the church,” team members said.

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Ann C. Wayne is a freelance writer based in Concord.

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