Articles, Features

Church Planting in the Last Frontier

Alaska. The Last Frontier. The Land of the Midnight Sun. These are just a few of the phrases used to describe my home state.  In 1959, Alaska officially became a state in the United States of America after being purchased from the Russians in 1867 for less than 2 cents an acre. Labeled as “Seward’s Folly” after U.S. Secretary of State William Seward as many of the purchases critics thought that it was a waste of valuable money; however, when gold was discovered in the late 1800’s and in the late 1960’s oil was discovered it put the state on the map.

Shortly after WWII, my mother, uncle, and grandparents drove their Ford Model-T from California to Alaska, back when the Alaskan-Canada highway (ALCAN) was nothing more than just a tank trail made to outfit the military installations in the territory against the Japanese during WWII. They made their way to Anchor Point, a small town about 200 miles south of Anchorage, where my grandparents built a homestead and where my family owns land to this day. Shortly after moving they became the founding members of the Anchor Point Church of Christ.

The Church in Alaska

Growing up in the Churches of Christ in Alaska was a rich experience for me, however, I have seen first hand the great devastation that autonomy, lack of commitment, and devaluation of The Great Commission can do inside a fellowship that prides itself on being the “one true church.” God’s light of hope is greatly dimmed in the land of the midnight sun at this time, and the only hope for this “Great Land” is for a church of sold-out disciples to be planted there!

In 2006 my wife and I were the second generations to drive from California to Alaska to make our own homestead back in my home state. Shortly after, in 2009 we saw the devastation that can occur when a church leaves its foundational principles (the Bible) and begins to serve its own needs and the needs of men in their selfishly ambitious plans.

Shortly after moving “back home” my wife and I began to see the glaring cracks in the foundation of the International Church of Christ congregation in Anchorage. Cracks that many saw but no one said anything or did anything about. One day my wife and I were asked to go on staff, and in an effort to be unified with the lead couple; asked them some questions about discipling and their connections to other churches. What we were met with was nothing short of demonic attack fueled by jealousy and fear. Unfortunately, the rest is history. There is now an autonomous church that was once part of the ICOC family there; what once was a church of over 500, now is less than half its peak size. Its focus is no longer making disciples but building a legacy to the leaders. When a leader starts to build a monument to their own dreams and desires and not God’s; things never go well (1 Samuel 15).

Alaska’s Unique Flavor

Alaska is a very beautiful place but is also a dark place; not just because of the dark winters, but most of Alaska is remote, harsh and extreme, both in its temperatures and in its lifestyle. Alaska is a land that not just encourages a sense of isolation, but many who move there are looking for an escape in the remoteness of the land. Alaskans are known for their prideful autonomy and individualism. In many ways, Alaska is still developing a culture in the United States, and if the 2008 presidential election was any indication (remember Sarah Palin?), its citizens are slow to adhere to national political trends and laws; however, there are some bright spots in this land.

Alaska has three main campuses; The University of Alaska system has campuses in Anchorage (University of Alaska Anchorage), Fairbanks (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and Juneau (University of Alaska Southeast). Anchorage is also home to one major private university; Alaska Pacific University. Hailed as one of the best climates for college students in 2017, the state and federal funds going to the state’s higher education has increased year over year by over 20%. With over 40% of the states college students moving outside the state for college, this increase will help more of Alaska’s college-age kids stay in the state and will also attract more students from around the United States and elsewhere. Worst case, the 40% that do move away have an opportunity to influence their respective schools for the better.

One of the best reasons to live in the state of Alaska is that you actually get paid to live there. Well, actually that’s partly true; here is a profit sharing program for being an Alaska resident called the Alaska State Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). Many years ago, the state of Alaska set up an investment account that all of the revenues that come from the sale of oil that is exported from the state are held. This account accrues interest and that interest, every year, is divided between all the residents of the state. For some personal perspective, while a resident, the smallest amount I received was less than $500, while the largest amount that I received was almost $2,600. While there is a movement in the government that would like to limit the Alaska PFD in order to keep more of the monies to offset rising governmental costs and lowering revenues from other sources of state income, there will always be a PFD for Alaska residents. This PFD has an amazing opportunity to help aid in raising missions funds and building churches all around the world. There is nothing better than “free” money and a wonderful place to use it to advance God’s kingdom in the state and all over the world!

Alaska’s Growing Cold

The harsh reality is that Alaska is slowly becoming cold, not just by temperature, but with rising costs for basic utilities, many of the more remote places are being abandoned for the big city and jobs are becoming more and more scarce. This creates some alarming trends in crime and violence among the inhabitants of some of Alaska’s largest cities where statistics are readily available. According to a USA Today study, Alaska has been among the top 5 most dangerous states to live in since 2013, and these statistics are just the ones that are reported; in the remote villages where drug and alcohol abuse is rampant, many crimes do not even get reported.

Alaska has one of the highest crime rates in the United States with 603 violent crimes per 100,000 people compared to the national average of under 340. This includes 80 rapes compared to a national average of under 30. Tony West, the 2012 Associate Attorney General of Alaska told The Washington Post in a 2012 article; “Unfortunately, there are places in rural Alaska that if a woman is raped or a child is beaten, that victim might not get any help whatsoever,” This same article says; “Native Alaskans make up 61 percent of sexual assault victims in the state even though they make up just 15 percent of the population.” While all crimes seem to be in a steady decline according to a 2015 study by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, violent crimes are trending higher with a huge spike in homicides between 2014 and 2015. According to this same study, in 2015 therewere632reportedrapes, forarateof85.7rapesper100,000residents.

By the year 2017, the baseline population projection for the State of Alaska is 734,000
people, which represents an approximate increase of 5.1% over the 2010 census. By
the year 2020, the population is expected to reach 811,000 (10.9%). By the year 2035
the population of Alaska is estimated to reach 863,000 inhabitants, a percentage
an increase of 25.2 over the current population. It is estimated that only 6% to 8% of Alaskans attend a Bible-based church. Over 80% of Alaskan villages do not have a “Bible-based” church presence of any kind. These statistics are not that odd when you consider that, according to a Pew Research Study, Alaska ranked 44th out of 50ofthe most religiously inclined states in the United States. Sadly, according to this study, 41% of Alaskans say religion is important to their lives, 49% say that they pray daily and 55% say that they believe in God with absolute certainty, however, their lives don’t support these numbers.

Alaska Needs Jesus

With the statistics of crime and substance abuse, Alaska needs Jesus! There is no law, no rule, no statute, nothing that man can do to curb the tide of these trends. Only Jesus and his disciples can make any dent in changing the face of this state! In John 18:12 Jesus says; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”Jesus is the only one who can bring light to the dark winters of this amazing state, and as Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 5:14; “[We] are the light of the world…” and as a church of Sold Out disciples in the last frontier, it will be our job to bring that light, the true light of Jesus, to the land of the midnight sun!

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