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The community of Fairbanks Alaska has many people in need, and this group really worked hard to meet those needs!

After a long day of travel on Saturday, the group was at the church bright and early on Sunday for Breakfast and a pre-church prayer walk.  On our prayer walk, we encountered a few homeless people, but the group was not used to this type of ministry, and they shied away from interacting with these people.  We knew then that we were really going to have to work with this group to get them comfortable with ministering to people on prayer walks and other street ministries.

 

We attended church at the host church, First Presbyterian Church Fairbanks, and then gathered for a quick lunch.  After lunch, we spent some time filling out the Holy Spirit Scavenger hunt sheets.  It was our hope that this activity would give the group confidence to engage with people in street ministry because it would give them a tangible way to see that God had called them to meet and talk with specific people.

 

Once we completed our scavenger hunt sheets, we spent some time getting to know the natives (By natives, I mean the host church’s youth group).  It was great to see the group from Wisconsin and the local group from Alaska join together for some fellowship and games.  Following that, we went out to help an aging church member clear downed branches and trees from her yard.  The group really thrived on the physical labor!

 

 

 

 

We had some time left before dinner, so we stopped by a local park (Pioneer Park, make sure you check it out if you’re ever in Fairbanks).

 

 

We split into teams and headed out to try out our Holy Spirit scavenger hunt, and see who God wanted us to meet.  There were some amazing opportunities where people fit 3 or 4 of the criteria on the scavenger hunt sheets, but unfortunately, the group was still too timid to engage and talk with these people.

It is my prayer that even though they did not have the experience of ministering to some of the people on their lists, seeing some of the items on their lists fulfilled might prove to them that God can and does speak to them individually.

 

In debrief that night many people expressed their uncomfortableness with the idea of talking to strangers.  Their group leaders expressed similar views, and reinforced this feeling by telling the group that it is okay to “live their faith, rather than share their faith”.  This was a disappointing development, but God brought us all to Alaska and placed us together for a reason, and His purposes will be achieved!

 

 

Shifting tactics, we spent most of Monday working at the Fairbanks rescue mission helping them to prepare for a large garage sale which would help raise money for them to pay a large insurance bill that they needed to pay in order to continue operations.  The team worked tirelessly to clear the room where we were going to host the garage sale, and sort and display the items for sale.  The kids had loads of fun trying on the various clothing items for sale, and doing little fashion shows.

 

The group had planned an evening trip to the nearby town of North Pole for a little site seeing.  So we joined them and checked out what North Pole had to offer.  It is pretty touristy, but they had some great souvenir options, and if you’re a big Christmas fan, this is the place for you.

 

 

Tuesday morning saw us at the Fairbanks Pioneer home.  They had many opportunities for the group to serve as well as to spend time with the residents.  On the physical side of things, the group weeded and watered outdoor gardens, vacuumed, and cleaned up the breakfast dishes.  On the interaction side of things, the group painted the nails of the ladies in the home and spent some time playing balloon volleyball with a small group of residents (good cardio for the residents).  It was incredibly impactful for the group to get to know some of the residents and hear their stories.

 

Tuesday afternoon we went to go help another church member clear out a property in his neighborhood that had become a haven for drug dealers and users.  The property had accumulated a large amount of garbage including an entire grocery store worth of old metal shelving, a very heavy 50-gallon drum of something, and a large tractor tire, still on the wheel.  The group worked incredibly hard in the afternoon sun to clear all organic garbage from the area so that the tree workers could come in the following day and “trim up” the foliage.  What this means, is clearing out the brush and smaller trees, and trimming any branches from the larger trees 6 feet high, so that the area no longer offered any concealment.  The kids had a great time driving back and forth from the site to the dump in our rented jeep with the windows down and the music blasting!

Wednesday we volunteered at the Fairbanks food bank.  The group packed boxes of food that are distributed monthly to families in need.  Over the course of Wednesday and a couple of hours on Friday morning, the group packed 21 pallets which accounted for over 32,000 lbs of food, and fed 432 families.

 

 

Wednesday afternoon we spent time performing intentional acts of kindness.  The group made gift bags with a drink, some chocolates, a granola bar, and an encouraging message.  After decorating the paper bags with art and more words of encouragement, the group split into its three teams.  One team went back to the Pioneer home we had been to earlier in the week and gave their bags to the nurses and caretakers.  One group went back to the property we had cleared on Tuesday and gave their bags to the tree workers.  And the third group visited the police and fire stations to hand out their bags to first responders.  All three outings were successful, and the people of Fairbanks were encouraged.

Thursday was the group’s free day and they went to Denali National Park to see the amazing natural beauty of Alaska.  Amanda and I took the time off to visit various potential ministry partners around Fairbanks to get ideas for future trips to Alaska.  We got some great ideas for future trips, which I will make use of on my next trip to Fairbanks in August.

Friday is technically the travel home day, but the team bought their tickets for Saturday because of availability, so we went back to the food bank on Friday and finished packing the pallets that we weren’t able to finish on Wednesday.  Then they put us to work on a beautification project of the Food Bank’s new warehouse.  The kids worked hard all day, and the group leaders treated them to Sonic slushies before dinner.  Then after dinner, we cleaned all of the areas of the church that we had used, and the group took me to the airport.

Overall, the trip did not go the way that we wanted it to.  The group was far more interested in service projects than connecting with the people they were there to serve.  However, they got a lot of work done, and from reading the kid’s reviews, they all learned something from the experience.  Serving the communities that short-term projects take place in is important, but my primary focus is the spiritual growth of the team.  So, even though the trip itself was not quite what I had hoped for, the spiritual growth evidenced in the kid’s reviews of the trip was really encouraging.

More importantly, this was a good experience for me.  My first trip was with a team that was hyper-focused on personal connection and evangelism.  It was good for me to have an experience with a team that is more focused on service projects.  I expect, now that I have experienced the two extremes, the rest of my groups will fall somewhere in the middle, and because of my early experiences, I will be better prepared to lead those more moderate groups.