Sitka. Was. Awesome! (Long read)
I could let that echo for awhile, and hope it sank in, but I want to take some time and memorialize the Sitka missions trip, which was so awesome for me, and share what I got out of it, how it inspired me, and what kind of experiences we had. My cousins Sara Seagraves has been all about these Alaskan missions trips since I got here. I didn’t really get it at the time but think I do now. If you have the time please read this report and enjoy the pictures.
Our missions was to perform a (Summer) Vacation Bible School for kids 4-11yo. Of course we helped wherever we could, but that was the focus. We brought suplies, costumes, work books, and songs from a “Power Hour” class at our church and were going to teach the children of Sitka about the armor of God through a Knight-in-training class. At the end of the VBS the plan was to have the kids perform their songs and memory work in costume for their parents at the church.
The preparation for the trip was pretty hard for some; since we had only 3 cars and 18 people each person got one bag to pack and a bed roll. That’s all. No laptop cases, no beach-bag-purses full of hairspray, no rolling suit bags. We had to be light and fast for the journey.
The first day we drove 11 hrs picking people up along the way. In Tok, our first stop, we rented 3 rooms and devoured a banquet table of food, then crashed. Early the next morning (6-ish) we gobbled up breakfast and hit the road again. We drove through the beautiful mountains of Canada’s Yukon, along Destruction Bay, and through valleys wide as some states. It took us another 11-12 hrs to get to Haines (out of Canada) where we spent the night with the Schreckhies’. The following morning we woke to their great hospitality and scooted off to walk onto the ferry. I was pretty surprised we left our cars. This ferry took about 5 hrs to get to Juneau, skidding through passages I didn’t think we’d fit through while making whales dodge and tourists awe.
The FerryThe Islands there are amazing to see, and the ferry’s big enough to keep you from being bored. We played games and slept, and in Juneau we met up with the Elmores. The Elmore family are some of my favorite people. I’ve known them for something like 10 years and they were as fun and as open-armed as always. I also got to meet the Nelson’s. I’d not met them before, but we have a common history with the Glovers and got along great. We stayed there and then took a 4 hour “fast ferry” that was smaller and a catamaran. After four days of travel we made it; finally we were in Sitka with the Rathbuns’.
The Sitka church!Sitka is an amazing small town on Baranof Island, dotted around by smaller islands, and blessed with beautiful purple sunsets and rainforests. The beach is full of sea-life and the road is only 14mi long. You could live your whole life in Sitka with only a bicycle and friends. The first night, after the ferry ride, we walked to McDonald’s and then passed out flyers for the VBS all the way home. This was the inspiration of our youth team, as we’d only been instructed to pass out flyers in one specific apartment complex. That was the characterization of the whole trip: A and B the C of D.Those kids were Abover and Beyond the Call of Duty in everything they were asked to do, despite being sick the whole time.
The first full day we have Sunday service, settle in, and had some time with the tourists down town. There wasn’t a cruise ship in, so most of the stores were closed, but it’s an idyllic town none the less.This church has grown from 3 people to about 30 under the tutelage of the Rathbuns’ and I’m so impressed that one of the first things I heard Chet saying was “God’s so good to let a guy like me be a part of this. It’s so new to me, and I’m sure I’m messing up, but I’m so blessed to be here.” How could God not bless an attitude like that?
The next day us guys climbed a mountain and had a prayer meeting. You can see ocean on every side, spy islands as far as you can see, watch sailboats and cruises navigate the channels, and look down on flying eagles. There’s not Moose or Black Bear on Sitka, but lots of Brown Bear. We were blessed not to see any. Chet Rathbun showed his unflinching focus and passion for the people of the area when he started making contacts on top of the mountain with other hikers. Once down and full of pain killers we started VBS and had 15 attending I think. I was picked to play the goofy Squire Nolan, who couldn’t get anything right; I think I nailed it. Everyone dressed up as knights and squires for class and the kids are learning spiritual truths about God and their relationship with Him and songs of praise. Awesome day.
VBS- Knights of the KingdomOn the third day in Sitka we were treated by the pastor to a guided kayak tour among the islands as a group. I’d never been kayaking before, and it was awesome. You have a rudder, sit lower in the water than a canoe, and paddle easier both due to the paddle design and posture of the seat. Our group in two person kayaks cruised for two and a half hours seeing starfish, a seal, eating kelp/sea weed and exploring the caves and waves. This was my favorite part of the trip and everyone got sun-burned. Of course we had another VBS and I got to ride a stick pony named “Imagination” as Squire Nolan. These kids were really getting the lessons and that made me want to act my part even better! If they can get a hold of the truth that there’s a God that wants to protect them and that they can fight for… goodness.
On Wednesday we visited down-town Sitka. There’s so much history here, between the native struggles, the Russian occupation, and our purchase of the territory. Two of the only four Russian Colonial buildings on the continent are in Sitka. One of them is a Russian Orthodox church that remains just where it was originally. Filled with treasures and art I’m saddened that so much work was put into the building and its contents while there’s not pews or a real church helping people. We also visit a Luthern church that’s survived several fires with an organ from 1843; Byron and John are able to play it. We have another VBS class, but I duck out early and preach to the Wednesday night group about Faith, where it comes from, and what we should do with it. There’s a great response to the Word and our VBS group even gets to come up and pray with the church in the altar call.
Thursday we woke and quickly went to Totem Park. This was the only day we had any rain, I would call it a mist, and it was perfect for the setting. Exploring the paths and finding the totem poles in the rainforest full of gigantic trees with a mist on your face and a fog on the sea was mystical. We got a little lost, but it was only a mile hike so that was fine. These totem poles are huge (3 story’s tall, some of them) and ornate. Their designs intriguing and gruesome, and each with a purpose. Some memorialize deaths, others families, some were a part of a home, others a battle. There were so many questions and none of them were satisfied- it was a real adventure. This night in VBS we finished the knight costumes the kids were making, and everyone was strutting around feeling very accomplished.
Totem park: Colby and Stuart
The next day we got a real treat: we went to the Fortress of the Bear. There was an old pulp mill, that never even became operational due to catastrophe and spills, that is now used as a refuge for injured and orphaned bears. Mostly cubs are admitted and rehabilitated and then released into the wild, or, if too dependent on people to zoos. There are two bears that are 4 years old though, and massive. The Government has told the Fortress that they want the bears to stay through their whole life-cycle to prove the facility is capable of taking care of them. This made a treat for us, because we were able to see both adolescent and mature brown bears. At 9’ tall and just over 1,000lbs they are impressive animals. It was a surreal experience to be so close for so long (often if you see one it’s from a distance or just for a moment.) This same night was our VBS performance for the parents. It was great, and the event made 6 new contacts for the Rathbuns’ to follow up on. The kids did awesome! They sang 3 songs as a choir with hand motions, said their memory verses, and recited their Knight’s Oath.
"Fortress of the Bear"
In all we had 21 kids come through VBS. There are 8,986 people in the city, and they all need God. I’m glad there’s a church there that’s ready to take Christ to them, and an organization willing to support them in that. We brought youth from 5 cities across Aalska to Sitka, and there were something like 5 whole, separate other trips to other places in the Alaska/Yukon district!
This trip opened my eyes to why Sara is such a believer in domestic missions trips. It was fast, available to a lot more youth than a traditional missions trip, and made an impact on a church that needed help in a very real way. With so many new people in their church the Rathbuns didn’t have the man-power to put on a VBS without a trip like this. Because we were able to go and help they now have more awareness in the community and hopefully a larger Sunday School program. The local church was able to get some fellowship with like-faith people, and our group was stretched and grew into new responsibilities. And this happens every year.
I’m hoping that this will inspire you to make that plunge and go on a trip, or even organize a domestic missions trip near you. If you take a moment I’m sure you can think of a pastor that would love to have some help for a week, or two, in a place that will be an adventure for your youth. I promise the group will grow closer together, grow skills, and grow a greater relationship with God.
Once home you could tell the young people had been in God’s work- the service exploded from the beginning!