A few weeks ago Terri and I had the privilege of speaking at the Alaska State Evangelism Conference in Anchorage. After three planes, two layovers and more hours than we could count, we landed and were greeted by the smiling face of Jimmy Stewart (not THAT Jimmy Stewart) and -4° weather. To say the least, it was a shock to our warm weather system. Thanks to thermals and the grace of God, we made it.
Our first day in Alaska was unbelievable. We flew out of Anchorage and headed toward Mt. McKinley. We flew in a small four-seat plane, complete with skids for landing on snow. Our pilot, Danny Davidson, was the head of the Christian Pilot’s Association of Alaska. He was an excellent pilot and a great man of faith. Our host was the one and only Brenda Crim, Director of the University of Alaska Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
As we were flying we could see moose all along our flight path. Most of the time we were only about one hundred feet above the tree line. The sky was clear and the terrain was incredible. We flew over the Winter Highway which is a frozen river. All along the way we saw snow mobiles and sleds with people either carrying supplies or just out for fun. Most of the area is impossible to reach except by plane or boat or, in the winter, by snowmobile or sled.
We landed in Talkeetna, Alaska and walked into town. Most of the shops and stores were closed, but we found the “Roadhouse” which has been a place for lodging and meals for decades. While we were eating, we discovered there’s no cable or satellite in that part of Alaska (or most of Alaska for that matter). The only time people watch a TV is when they’re watching a video. There are two rental stores and a public library in Talkeetna.
I immediately got word to the church, and we sent six copies of Flywheel and Facing the Giants to them. We also sent a copy for our waitress, and she is making sure the movies get to those rental stores. In addition, we’ve sent fifty copies of each movie to Brenda and Danny to distribute along the 1,000-mile Iditarod which will run in a few weeks. Since there’s no television along the way, many of those volunteering or participating have nothing to do but watch movies. So this year all those participating will have an opportunity to watch Flywheel and Facing the Giants. Both Danny and Brenda are highly involved in ministry during this event. It may be, although this is speculation, that this is the first time a Christian film has been available at this historic event.
I’m not sure of all the reasons why we were in Alaska, but I know one reason was to get our movies into the hands of people who have never seen them. Much of Alaska cannot be reached by car. Either you fly in or boat in, but the road system is limited. Let’s pray and ask God to use what He has given us to touch people in the state of Alaska!
Sunday night Terri and I had the pleasure of being in Brenda’s home with her college leadership team. Those students were hungry to see God work. Although they are small in number, they long to be used by God. It was sad to see that the overwhelming majority of churches in Alaska have no youth or children’s ministries.
Terri and I spoke numerous times to pastors and their wives. On Tuesday afternoon, we went to a boys’ home to meet some boys who have come out of abusive situations. They were so excited to have visitors as they looked out the window, waiting for us to drive up. On Tuesday night Brenda invited me to speak to the students at the college. There was a hunger there like I rarely find in the lower 48. It’s been a long time since I’ve had students thank me so much, especially for challenging them to seek the Lord for revival.
It was so different from speaking in the south. I told Terri as we were flying home that I felt like I had flashed back to my youth when we were grateful for anything and everything. My home church was one of the few to have a youth minister. We didn’t have youth camp, Disciple Now, concerts and guest speakers. Today I’m afraid we’ve spoiled our kids in the Bible Belt. They know the cost of every new electronic device and the value of nothing eternal. We’ve let our kids make church an option. For kids in Alaska it’s a privilege and a refuge.
I found a hunger for fellowship and Bible study among those college students that made me wish we could require every student in the Bible Belt to do a tour of duty in Alaska. They would come back different, changed and much more appreciative.
I’m not limiting this to students. The churches there have very little in the way of resources. They are small and struggling. To be brutally honest, we have more happening here in one week than some of those churches see in five years. I had to ask myself, “Do I really appreciate and appropriate all God has entrusted to me? Do I really understand how blessed I am?” Do we as a church understand our privileged position? Do we take it for granted? I think often we do. God forbid that we ever think we are “rich and have need of nothing.”
I met a young man who saw Facing the Giants while serving in Iraq and another who was saved out of the Detroit gangs and had just returned from Iraq. I met girls struggling to serve the Lord who had been victims of incest. I met pastors who have little fellowship because they are in such remote regions. All of them hungry to know the Lord in a deeper way.
I’m grateful for what God taught us in Alaska. We got more from being with them than they got from listening to us. We’re back, but we’re not the same.
(copyright 2008, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.