Alaska. The name has always had some kind of hold on me. When I was a boy I can remember looking at pictures of snow-covered mountains and glaciers and polar bears and endless forests—always thinking that this was somewhere I should see. I thought that the ‘Last Frontier’ sounded like the place for a young man with an adventurous spirit. I could imagine hiking through the woods and being stunned by each new vista that opened. I could imagine the cold, clear water of the rivers and alpine lakes. I could taste the seafood and fish.
I can recall how the contruction of the Alaskan Pipeline promised good paying jobs and hard conditions. I did not have enough money to get there, but it sounded like something I would love to do. I had friends who talked about heading north for the money.
When my brother was stationed outside of Anchorage he always wanted me to come up to visit. He regaled me with stories of fishing and the mountains and what a wonderful place this was. Again, I wanted to be there, but the budget hardly allowed me enough money for gas to get to work, much less airfare to that remote and wonderful place. As much as I wanted to go, there was no practical way to make it happen.
Last year my wife came in the door one evening and announced that she was sending me to Alaska as our anniversary present. This came out of nowhere! This was about the last thing that I would have expected.
She told me that a good friend of ours was heading to Alaska on a mission trip and wanted me to go. It was only about a month away—not much time to plan. But the sound of Alaska rang in my ears and soul again. Could it finally be time to go?
I prayed about it, thought about it, counted up my spare change, looked at the calendar, made some calls for more details. In other words, as much as it sounded ideal, there was still a practical side of getting there and being there. As it had always been with me, this was something of a dream. We tend to be unsure of ourselves when it appears that a dream might actually be coming true. We pinch ourselves to see if we are awake and if this is real.
But we decided that it was, indeed, real. Forms were filled out and finally transmitted to the mission organization. Airfare was booked. Bags were packed. In what felt like a whirlwind, I found myself on my way to Alaska. Flights were rerouted, connections were made, the day drew long, and the sun shone through the clouds as we made our way to Ketchikan, the Gateway to Alaska.
Alaska was what I thought—a land of rugged beauty. There were trees everywhere. There was rain in good supply. There were mountains that shot straight up from the sea. There were boats and planes and water and wind. It was cool and wet like one would expect of a rainforest. The days were long and the sunsets spectacular. I was only in the southest section of the state, but it made an impression.
Of course, this was a mission trip, which means working with a team. I had met some of our team in the Seattle airport. I met more at the ferry terminal across the channel from the airport. I met more when we arrived at Craig, Alaska, our home for the week. From our different places and perspectives we all gathered.
The people I encountered made as much of an impression as the landscape. I was struck by how hardy people have to be to survive in such conditions. People have learned to get along with simple things and to make do with fewer things than we take for granted in the lower 48 states. People were open and kind and generous.
The team was a joy. We shared meals and sleeping spaces and the two bathrooms that were available to us. We talked about where we were seeing God show up in the midst of basketball and Vacation Bible School. We laughed and cried together. We became friends with one another. We shared both tearful and happy farewells.
Alaska is still calling my name. I am back on mission now and want to return many more times to see what the largest state has to offer. I know that I want to see more and more of this incredible place of raw beauty. I want to see the glaciers at Glacier Bay. I want to see Denali on a clear day. I want to watch the bears at Katmai. I want to hike in the wilds. I want to see the Northern Lights. I feel like I have had only the appetizer at this point.
But the people connected with all of this also call to me. I am seeing them again. We are sharing some stories and laughs. We will be praying together. I will get to thank them in person for the encouragement and appreciation that I have received from them. I will have the chance to see others who are coming to Alaska for the first time. I am excited to experience the adventure of Alaskan life again with these folks who have called me by name. Yes, the place has always called to me, but now the people call me as well.