Continuing the Alaskan Missionary Tradition
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The ferry pulled into the quiet harbor with a hardware store and a bar at the end of the pier. It smelled like sea spray and fish, while the bearded men fought with fishing nets on their boats docked beside the rickety wooden gangways. A humpback whale breeched to the enjoyment of the rain coated passengers on the starboard side of the ferry, and a bald eagle who soared in search of fish was not a rare sight. Along the side of the heavily wooded mountain that met the shore, one of the distinct features of Hoonah, Alaska, is the historic green and white St. Nicholas Orthodox Church that pokes out of the pines. The church has withstood a lifetime of tough weather and the God who lives there has heard the many cries of its native inhabitants, the Tlingit people.
Just a few days prior to the arrival of our ferry, a young Tlingit man gunned down a police officer. The young Tlingit had become mentally unstable from a variety of causes, and in his delusion he opened fire from his apartment window. Since the imposition of settlers and the eradication of many native traditions, Alaskan natives have struggled to find their place in life and this struggle has resulted in many problems. The main hope is for the Orthodox faith, and ancient churches like St. Nicholas, to continue to heal some of the wounds created.
Needless to say, the air was heavy when our OCMC mission team arrived on the heels of the heartbreaking tragedy. We had been deployed, as a mission team, to restore the historic St. Nicholas church in Hoonah and, in doing so, to share and experience Christ’s love with our Alaskan brothers and sisters. Since this 2011 trip, and prior to then, there have been a variety of missions to Alaska and there are many more planned. Fr. John Parker of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, expressed similar feelings of struggle when he arrived in Old Harbor, Alaska with a group of 17 missionaries from across the U.S to offer a youth camp. Father John states, “The Russians brought them both eternal life and temporal death: death in the bottle of vodka and true life in the Orthodox Christian Gospel. To this day, these two extremes continue to coexist, in a rather silent and spiritually violent way, as I witnessed during my two-week pilgrimage and missionary journey in August to the Native Alaskans on Kodiak Island (Pemptousia).” The missionary history of Alaska is very rich and filled with many struggles, but through the continued work of OCMC and others the native people of Alaska will always feel Christ’s love.
For more ways to get involved with an OCMC mission to Alaska click here.
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