The first time I went to Alaska I took it for granted. We visited Anchorage, did the touristy thing. When it was finally time to go to the village we didn’t know what to expect, and we were in for a surprise. The only way to describe it is to compare it to a third-world country. The natives live in what looks like plywood shacks raised on stilts above the ground so that the above ground aluminum sewage pipes can pass underneath them throughout the village. Trash is everywhere. The dirt roads of the village are surrounded with broken down vehicles with the windows smashed out of them and the roofs ripped off. Old boats and snowmobiles fill the yards of muddy water, possibly from the sewage underneath the shacks. Wooden planks create a walkway from the dirt roads to the shacks so that you don’t get stuck in the mud. But amidst all of these seemingly hindering things to our normal way of life, the biggest satellite dish you’ve ever seen sits on the top of just about every shack in the village. Internet, tv, phone, smartphones, Facebook. They’ve got it all, unsolicited, ungoverned by their parents.
This isn’t poverty to them. This way of life is all they know. The village. It’s normal to them. Most kids, if they’re lucky, will take a trip to the “big city” of anchorage once or twice before adulthood. If they have the grades, there are opportunities for secondary boarding school or higher education, which most turn down because it’s too far away from the world that they’ve always known. For the majority of these kids, the world ends at the border of Alaska. If they can’t get there by boat, atv, or bush plane, it’s not a necessity for them and they choose to survive in their current surroundings no matter how bad their home life may be.
Some home lives are better than others. A small percentage, and I mean a sliver percent of the kids have parents who either attend their village church or have heard God’s word before. The majority only send their kids to church camp for one week a year so that they don’t have an extra mouth to feed that week. For most children and teens, Camp AN is the only glimpse of heaven that they will ever see.
Alcohol is prohibited in most villages, and we all know how well prohibition worked back in the day…
If you are wealthy enough, you can ship alcohol in from Anchorage or another city, but it’s more likely that a native family cannot accomplish this. So they make their own; Home Brew. Ask any native child under the age of 8 to spell any 2 or 3 syllable word and they can’t. But ask them how to make Home Brew and they’ll give you a step by step. They’re surrounded by it.
Alaska is number 1 in depression and suicide in the United States, mostly because the cold dark winters. Most natives are fishermen or work in the shipping industry; an industry to which both are slowed to a halt if not completely wiped out by the below freezing winters. So what else is there to do during the most depressing time of the year but sit around and drink?
Just about every child has multiple people in their family that have committed suicide. EVERY child knows someone who has committed suicide. Darkness seems to surround these villages constantly. These are my observations.
So what has changed from last year to this year?
A painful sight. I saw the same bright eyed, smiling and giggling kids from last year return to camp completely different. They came back jaded, closed off, hidden, and dark. It was as if innocence had left them and darkness had filled the void. The darkness behind 12 year old eyes is not something for the faint at heart.
What kinds of things does a child experience that makes their entire spirit change within one year?
Darkness is not an entity within itself. There wouldn’t be such a thing as darkness if it wasn’t for light. Darkness is nothing more than the word we use to explain the absence of light. Darkness cannot over take light; quite the opposite. When you flip a light switch from “on” to “off” the darkness isn’t overtaking the light; it is simply the places where the light has left. This is the same with the spiritual world. Darkness (aka. evil) can only exist where light (aka. good, God) does not dwell. Out in the village, darkness comes in the form of depression, drunkenness, beatings, molestation, suicide, and rape. Darkness seems to have claimed its territory.
You may shutter at the term “Spiritual warfare” or “Spiritual battle” if you haven’t had much experience with what they are, but out in the village and Camp AN it’s as real as it gets. In some instances you can even physically see the spiritual battle taking place with your own eyes. 1 Peter 5:8 talks about how the devil is a roaring lion seeking out who he may devour. Out at Camp AN, you experience this first hand whether you’re ready for it or not. If we don’t prepare our hearts for spiritual battle, then how will we have the light to defeat the darkness? For if we have the sword and the Holy Spirit, the darkness does not stand a chance against the light.
I watched as the speaker for teen camp Matt Gerald taught about how the armor of God (Eph 6) is our defense against the attack of the devil. What a huge concept to explain to Jr. and Sr. high school students, some of which probably don’t completely understand who Jesus is yet. Pastor Matt used the night services to talk about the armor of God and the morning services to let a specific coach or leader to share their testimony. This method was super effective. It not only reemphasized the usage of the armor of God in everyday life but it gave an opportunity for us “Gusuks” (white people) to be vulnerable with the natives and show them that we struggle with the same things that they struggle with. Whether they might not all be on the same level or scale, evil is evil and the battle for our souls is happening all the time and a firsthand account from someone they least expected to connect with was just what some of these teens needed to understand how much Jesus loves them.
As each testimony was given whether about rape, molestation, suicide, depression, self-control, lust, sex, substance abuse or anything in between, I watched eyes begin to tear up, faces covered and a feeling that some of these testimonies were hitting pretty close to home for these teens. I began to see teens hear the voice of God through His servants.
“The scars we have are not only evidence of a wound, but evidence of a healing.” – Matt Gerald.
I witnessed God turn a plague in to a source of restoration. God used the scars of his children to share what
He has done for us through Jesus Christ. The testimonies of me and my friends became the evidence of the healing and redemption of Jesus. We became the light in the darkness.
The devil did not like this. I witness first hand almost every leader on this trip undergo spiritual attack because of the good work God was doing through us. Whether sickness, thoughts of depression and suicide, thoughts of worry, pride, panic, sexual temptation; no matter the temptation we struggle with on a regular basis or have already overcome, the devil came out in full force against the people of God. The devil continued to scratch at our scabs.
Then I saw the God’s people being to allow the flip of the switch. Any time someone from our team was under attack, the light started to shine. I saw team members huddle around and lay hands on one another, rebuke the devil, and claim healing and restoration in one another. The light surrounded the darkness and drove it out. I saw turning points of faith claimed, the switch turned over to God, forgiveness and healing on the lives of my friends. I saw the hands of feet of Christ being actively used in powerful ways. Ways that I have never seen before.
Even now as I sit and reflect on all of the details surrounding the teams who were brought together by God’s crazy plan, my mind is blown. I’m completely in awe of how big God is compared to us and how perfect His plans are compared to ours. I’m not saying that I will never struggle with God’s plans vs. mine or struggle with trusting in Him. In fact, I hope I struggle. I have so much more to learn. So many more scars to earn, so many more notches in my staff to carve. What I am saying is that God’s will and timing is perfect and He guides you with His Word. Trust in His Word and in His truth. Follow Him, let Him lead. He may take you down a path surrounded by darkness, but that’s just His way of telling you to be His light.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark;
the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”