Members of First Baptist Church of Florence have been engaged in missions endeavors throughout their community and state for several years. But it has been at least 10 years since a group from the church traveled beyond state borders.
In February, the idea for a missions trip to Alaska came through Andy Thompson, a University of North Alabama student involved with Baptist Campus Ministries and attending FBC Florence. He shared with Scott Underwood, associate pastor of worship and students, that he would be a summer missionary at Montana Creek Baptist Church, located three hours north of Anchorage.
Alaska Baptists have a neat intersection with UNA and its BCM. Jae McKee, director of missions and church planting for the Alaska Baptist Resource Network, is a UNA graduate, and BCM is an important part of his story. (Read more here.)
Underwood and pastor Kevin Johnson began to pray and talk about the possibility of making Alaska a church missions trip destination. Underwood contacted Rendell Day, pastor of MCBC, and the two agreed on July 8–16 for the ministry in Talkeetna.
From the initial planning, Underwood had two goals for the 12-member Alabama team: that they gain a glimpse of what lies beyond their backyard — a tangible experience of the Great Commission — and that they became more aware of their spiritual gifts and talents as they served.
Timetable of connections
Upon their arrival, the team met with Day, who laid out the week’s activities, which would include ministry and sightseeing adventures.
Starting off the week was worship with members of MCBC. After the service the church family and missions team connected over a meal and time of fellowship.
Monday they worked at the Upper Susitna Food Pantry, removing everything from three shipping containers, taking inventory, organizing the items and putting everything back. LouAnne Tysdall, food pantry director, told Underwood she had not had a more willing and loving group serve.
The next day was filled with exploration as the team visited Denali National Park and Preserve.
Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, the group served local residents and church members. Working in groups, the team cut down and cleared trees, raked leaves, painted and completed other tasks.
Some worked at the home of “Ms. Shirley,” a senior adult who has been a member of MCBC for years and formerly was director of the food pantry.
The team worked together at Ms. Shirley’s, creating a French drain and putting sown pavers for a walkway.
Not only did the team create a more functional drain and walkway, they also cleaned up the yard and got the property better prepared for winter. From pulling weeds to cutting the grass, moving rocks to gathering debris, the 12 helped improve accessibility for Ms. Shirley.
On Friday everyone rode the Alaskan Railroadwhose website describes it as “a truly authentic experience that takes you through the wilds of the Indian River Valley.”
The mostly young adult team members benefited in numerous ways from the trip, Underwood said. Not only did they have several opportunities to share the gospel, they made connections with each other and those they helped.
“Serving in ministry, one of the great joys is always seeing when those you are leading have their ‘aha’ moments — the times when their faith connects to their service, and they see God at work around them, through them and in them, he said. “Seeing this team make that connection was just an amazing moment for me; knowing that what happened in each team member’s life can have a ripple effect that can spill over into every aspect of life, whether at home, school or work, to give them the encouragement to live a life ‘on mission’ daily.”
The church is praying about a partnership with MCBC and planning a return trip, and members from MBCB hope to participate in missions in the Florence area.
Eddy Garner, associational mission strategist for Colbert Lauderdale Baptist Association, who was BCM minister at UNA while McKee was a sudent, will be going to Alaska in August with two pastors and two lay leaders to see how they can partner.
Alabama Baptists entered a five-year partnership with Alaska Baptists — “Hooked on Alaska” — last May. Churches or individuals interested in learning more about the partnership can contact McKee in Alaska at firstname.lastname@example.org or Scotty Goldman, director of the office of global missions for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions at 800-264-1225, ext. 2387.
McKee will attend the Alabama Baptist State Convention November 15–17 at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, where he will report on the partnership, the need for “frontier pastors” and missions needs for the future.