“Anyone who doesn’t want to go to Hell, come down to the front of the church!”
This tactic was just as appalling to me then as it is now. Sure, it will often get people to “make a decision” and maybe get baptized, but it ignores the need for relationship with the Creator. This was a quote from the last night at the previous church, from a guest preacher. After this I waited for a Mr. Miller, who I hadn’t yet met, to transport me to my home for the next two weeks.
He was a pleasant older man with an equally pleasant wife. They set me up in their home, to work with Immanuel Baptist Church. Phil would be joining me the next day, to teach a backyard Bible club. Despite his prophecy, Phil and I hadn’t had any problems yet, and my hopes were that he was no prophet. The next morning, in a light rain, I began walking around the neighborhood looking for interested kids with nothing better to do on a summer day. The first boy I found said that he would go ask his mom; he came back to explain, “my mom says we already go to church, and there’s only one Bible anyway.”
“Can I go talk to her with you?” I jogged as he rode his bike to the small home, and once I explained the Bible we were teaching, she granted permission. Within minutes the third grader found several friends and my hopes were rising. We started the first class, but about halfway through the class some Fifth graders showed up – looking like they were going to bust the whole thing up. Jeremy was a white guy with longish hair and a Huck Finn mannerism, and John was a stout Asian boy. They stepped into our group and participated happily. We moved inside because of the June chill – upper 40’s. The next day we learned that John did not have a Bible, so I gave him one. The next day Phil was sick and missed, so I handled the barrage of questions from John the fifth grader. We struggled through the Trinity being similar to an egg, with the shell, the white, and the yolk all being the same egg (theologians – don’t bother me here – it helped) and he seemed to treasure his new Bible.
The next morning, Phil assured me that he would do his part and catch up, and then took a nap. At class, John gained an understanding of what it is to be a Christian, but was still struggling. As I understand God, even in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, He stretches, but He does not force, as a response to force is not voluntary love. And what He wants is our voluntary love. So I did not push.
I received a letter from M that day, and worried about its contents as I took a hike. I found moose droppings but no moose, and I looked forward to the evening class, as John had said he wanted to be early to talk to me. Unknowingly, John was giving me the encouragement I needed to put my heart into my work for the summer. That evening we invited the kids in the class to come to Immanuel Church the next week for Vacation Bible School. I was determined to find transportation for them.
One thing that struck me as an interesting side note was that I expected to find a lot of environmentalists in Alaska. I did not. Not where I was, anyway. What I found instead was people who lived off the land. Where I expected to find people who would never kill a bear (environmentalist) I found people who killed bears for food. They were interested in the the welfare of the bear population, but they also actually used the meat. Thus I learned the difference between an environmentalist (hands-off!) and a conservationist (maintain the asset!) It was an interesting distinction, and to my surprise, I found more of the latter than the former in Alaska. The same pattern applied to fishing or even drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. These people still needed those assets, and were therefore interested in being stewards of them, but couldn’t afford to avoid the occasional harvest.
Without going into the details, Phil was kicked out of the Millers’ house for being disrespectful. It was quite a storm, and Phil not only predicted it, but caused it. Once he was gone, the house was more pleasant, as the Millers and I got along quite well. Mrs. Rice, the State Director, re-homed him somewhere, and I wasn’t sure whether he would join me again in Whittier – my next stop, or if he might be deported, so to speak. Whatever.
The next week was Vacation Bible School at Immanuel. I thought that the highlight of the week was mountain biking through the wooded trails of downtown Anchorage and finding a family of moose, but on June 26 of 1992, I prayed with the same fifth grader John from the Bible Club, to accept Christ and be a Christian. At this point he was a little brother to me, and he affirmed that I was in Alaska for a reason.
Later that night, Joe Seale would pick me up to take me to Whittier, on the coast, to work at the Seaman’s Mission.