I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over Me . . . —John 14:30
I recently returned from my fifth trip serving with GraceWorks Alaska, one of the most worthwhile ministries I know. So many have cheerfully asked, “How was Alaska?” I have struggled to find words.
A few days before I left, I learned an Anchorage 19-year-old woman I led to Christ four years ago was murdered in a six-person conspiracy. She was mildly cognitively impaired and trusted the wrong people, including the person she considered her best friend. Her family and the community are devastated. The only comfort is she had placed her trust in Christ, who has wiped away her every tear.
I served three of my previous four years in her community, but this year I was placed in another area. The week before we arrived, a 12-year-old boy was accused of murder across the street from the park to which we were assigned. Kids as young as 6 years old ran back and forth unsupervised through the police tape to and from the park each day.
Poverty, addiction and gangs take a serious toll on the people of Anchorage, and children pay the highest price. For many, their parents work so hard to provide for their families that the end result is neglect. Children run free in a Peter Pan society. They become prey to gangs, violence and drugs at an early age. Children who are supposed to be enjoying the innocence and joys of their childhoods are instead becoming embittered and hardened by life’s hard realities.
It’s hard to see. No amount of natural beauty can soften the blow. A latchkey kid myself from age 5, I felt some measure of their pain, though even my childhood experiences probably pale by comparison.
But there are bright spots. From our first day, kids—including Somali kids—ran to greet our van. They were hungry for attention and a diversion. Some of them were simply hungry. We fed them, spent time with them, and met them where they were. I believe they felt God’s love for them through us. I hope they did.
Then I met a lovely lady named Dawn who hosts a Bible study each week for about 20 neighborhood girls. My heart rejoiced. I prayed with her and asked the Lord to raise up a man to work with neighborhood boys, who are the most vulnerable to gang recruitment. I asked the Lord to raise up a church partner for that community so those kids can be perpetually bathed in the presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s people continually serve them.
The night of our block party, it was a Somali girl who recited Isaiah 9:6 by heart over the microphone. What a wonderful thing to hear a Muslim child list names of Jesus: “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Counselor, Prince of Peace.” The light is beginning to break through the darkness.
But there’s a long way to go. I’ve described our work as a slow dripping into a very large bucket. We saw no immediate results, but the effects are cumulative. As Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
May God continue to give the growth. May He bless the work of GraceWorks, its volunteers and people like Dawn. And may His name become famous among the children of Alaska, who desperately need the hope only He can provide.