Barring summer 2020, The Master’s University annually sends students on missionary trips all around the world in a program called Global Outreach. One “GO Team” this year traveled to Alaska.
During their summer trip, the team went to three places in Alaska: Anchorage, Nenana and Kokrine Hills. Kokrine Hills was where they had the biggest effect, especially toward the local Native American youth.
According to Sarah Bush, one of the leaders of the Alaska GO team, “the villages (that the kids came from) are usually really dark places where there is a lot of depression and suicide … they don’t have a lot of strong believers.”
Kokrine Hills is a Bible camp resting along the Yukon River, deep in the backcountry of Alaska, where there were no roads to get there. The only ways there were either by boat or by flying in on a bush plane, which is the route the GO team took.
Although the camp wasn’t very big, there were a few dozen kids from villages along the Yukon river at the camp and a few cabins for them to stay. Most of the kids already knew each other well, whether it was because they were relatives, lived in the same village or from previous camp visits.
The team took care of the camp and the kids, acting as chaperones and biblical counselors throughout their two weeks there. Two members of the team would lead a group of kids in their own cabin and would lead them in worship, play games with the kids and help guide them through any issues that they’ve been struggling with.
Victor DeMayo, the other leader of the GO team, said that “you could tell a lot of them are close with one another. It did take a little bit to get to know them, but they were really reserved and really kind.”
When the kids talked about their villages back home, they mentioned how they were tight-knit communities where everyone helped each other out and that they lived pretty rustic lives. Most of them lived in trailers and had more modern clothes.
However, they also talked about a lot of the darker aspects of living in these villages. Many of them had family issues to the point that during their trip, some of the kids emotionally broke down because they were worried about their problems at home.
“There’s a lot of corruption, a lot of substance abuse and physical abuse of all forms … It’s a very entrapping environment because you can’t just get on the road and drive somewhere that is somewhere,” said David Douglass, recounting what some of the kids told him. “You’re just kind of stuck.”
All of this came to a head a month before the GO team traveled there, when one of the yearly members of the Kokrine Hills summercamp committed suicide. When the kids heard the news, they took it hard and needed a few days to process it.
“A good amount of the campers were trying to cover up how sad they were about it for a few days, and then one night it just hit,” said DeMayo. “They were all weeping … but that was good for them.”
The GO team acted as spiritual guides to remind them that their faith in Christ would help them through these times. However, the team also acted as emotional support to guide them through their grief over their lost friend and were able to help them come to terms with it.
“Even though they knew they had hope in Jesus, they needed someone to help them through it, something they couldn’t get at home,” Bush said. “The fact that we weren’t there because we had to be, but because we wanted to be, really helped.”
When the trip to Kokrine Hills was over, many of the kids were sad to see the team leave and the feeling was mutual. Some of the members of the team kept in touch with the kids, some of them making calls and others texting each other.
The team felt that they made a positive influence on the campers while they were there, not only instilling in them a hunger for the Bible, but also by providing them emotional support that some of them couldn’t get anywhere else.
“There’s a lot of romance to going to foreign lands where Scripture is illegal and proclaiming the gospel and that’s obviously amazing,” Douglass said. “But we also need people to go to places that are just as spiritually dark because they don’t have the gospel.”
Members of the team will always recommend meeting the kids there and making a difference in their lives. They will also recommend going on a GO trip or missionary trip of any kind.
However, as Bush also said, “there’s a space for global missions, but it’s important to live out the gospel right where you are … you can share the gospel that you’re with every day.”