The last time I wrote a blog I was sitting in my dorm room six hundred miles east of here preparing for finals and the end of my first year of college. It was great to return home after the school year wrapped up and be welcomed back into the St. John and Seward communities. I recently had a second homecoming in Seward after spending two weeks in Alaska, which were amazing. This was my fifth year as a member of the Alaska Mission Team to Akiachak, Alaska. It was a true blessing to return there again with my family and a great group of friends and team members to share the love of Christ, while also being witnessed to by members of the village. During our last night in the village I found myself struggling to say goodbye to the kids, teens, and adults that I have gotten to know well during my five weeks spent there over the past years, as I know that my return to the village is unlikely in the next couple of years due to the reality of pursuing a career in science. I realized during the week that I spent in the village this year that Akiachak is one of my homes. Seward is my permanent address and Valparaiso is where I spend two-thirds of the year now, but Akiachak is also a place that I can call home now.
This year was my favorite year in Akiachak so far for several reasons. First off, the team was incredible, and very funny. We had several people that could probably be comedians if they wanted to, and some of us stayed up pretty late playing pitch and other card games. They were great ways to de-stress after busy days. I also had lots of fun at Bible camp this year. I felt fully connected to the kids this, and had my own row of elementary school aged boys to help lead and assist throughout the week. One of the boys, Tyler, helped lead the kids in “Jesus Loves Me” by strumming the tune on the guitar of one of the team members. That was an awesome moment for the team, as Tyler not only witnessed his faith, but also wanted to help teach his friends that were there at Bible camp. This is also one of the first steps towards one of the team’s goals, which is to have the adults and kids of Akiachak lead Bible camp while the team assists them. The last reason why this trip will always be memorable for me is the increased opportunity we had to witness to the young men at the basketball open gym each night. Through the use of the Book of John, different members of the team shared about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and the hope that He brings into every person’s life.
Through all of this, I realized that Akiahak is one of my homes. During my time spent in the village, I have meant wonderful people who have cared for our team and supported our mission. The children there always remember those that return to the village and excitedly call your name as you walk through the town. This year, a teenager only a few years younger than me called out to me a few minutes after we arrived in the village. I met Ira five years ago when he was just entering high school. Since then, I’ve gotten to know him fairly well and watched him grow up and mature. While we were in the village this year, Ira’s grandpa died. The team attended the funeral to support Ira, his family, and the community, which was very interesting to watch as it took place in a different language. Even though we couldn’t understand most of what was said, I felt like we were part of the community, which helps make it a home for me. Just as I am a part of the community of Seward and Valparaiso University, the mission team is a part of the community of Akiachak whether it is in the village or not. The people of Akiachak have accepted us with welcome and open arms. The warmth of their welcome and the joy of the kids have kept me coming back year after year, and it is hard to realize that I may not be able to return for a while. So I say so long for now to my home of Akiachak and I’ll see you someday again in the future. Thanks for all of you who have supported the five mission teams and I pray that you’ll consider joining the team in 2015 or later in the future.