To Be a Light as the Lights Go Out

It is early morning, and I am sitting at the kitchen table in the parsonage in Savoonga. This little Eskimo village of 300 lies at the east end of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea about 35 miles off the coast of Siberia.

It is still many hours before the sun will rise, and the village is finally quiet. This visit has reminded me why I love these Eskimo people, for they are a remarkably intelligent race, so gentle spirited, kind and generous, always ready for a laugh.

This village hangs suspended between two cultures, caught in a vicious generational time warp. The old subsistence way of life is dying, and the island has nothing to offer the younger generation but twisted visions of a Hollywood society and video game entertainment. They graduate from high school with no prospects of a future, no anticipation of a career, or even a hope of returning to the old ways.

Yesterday morning as the sun arose about 11 o'clock, the village was astir. It was a rare and beautiful day, and walrus had been spotted many miles south of the village. The hunters left in anticipation of some additional food for the winter, and some of the young men left with them for the joy of the hunt. For the rest of the four hours of light, the village is alive with families and children.

But later as midnight draws close, the quiet, unhurried climate of the village begins to change. Many of the younger generation spent the day asleep, and now while many of the people in the village are preparing for bed, the young people are ready to party. All night the village is a constant roar of snow machines, four-wheelers, and the sounds of revelry. The village elders are watching the destruction of their future but have no tools to deal with the terrible problems.

Suicide is rampant, especially among the teenagers. Murders and drunken fights are common. Every family here has been touched by the devastation of alcohol and drugs. The government has abdicated it’s responsibility to help shape the culture and only offers temporary fixes that do little good.

As the village slowly and imperceptibly disintegrates into anarchy, the integrity of a few Christian families stands as a beacon of light on a dark stormy night. That light in this village is made up of faithful Adventist families who stand true to principle. Yet without local church leadership, even these families are succumbing to the pressures of the society they live in.

In Alaska, we need spiritual leadership. This is as much a mission field as the darkest corner of the world. Here is where you—dedicated, missionary-minded church members—can step in and make a difference.

In a number of Alaskan villages, we have nice churches with a few faithful native church members trying to keep the churches alive. Each church was built with a parsonage beside it that now stands empty, perhaps waiting for you. We need the young and the old, willing spiritual leaders that will give a year or two of their time and energy to make a difference. Are you that person?

Perhaps you are a graduating teacher that would be willing to teach in a village public school, or a retired person willing to pastor the local church. That great pioneer of personal sacrifice, Stephen Haskell, once said, “It is when sacrifices that cost something are called for that the heart is tested.” Why not ask God what He would like you to do. Call me at (907) 346-1004. Let's talk about how you can help.

March 01, 2005 / Editorial