Known as the last great race on earth, the Iditarod takes mushers from all over the world on an 1,150-mile dog sled journey through the icy Alaskan tundra.
From Anchorage in south central Alaska to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast most residents in the Alaskan community gets involved as well as volunteers from the lower 49 states.
Senior international business major Tommy Wilson used his spring break to help out with this Alaskan tradition. He teamed up with Alaska Missions for an eight-day trip to Nome where he served as needed.
Wilson was impressed with the way the organization helped the city run events, which included snow-machine transports across the Bering Sea, finish-line security, custodial work, kids clubs and sports clinics for the town.
“The missionaries there are not trying to create an event and come up with something different from the Alaskan culture,” he said. “Instead, they are looking at the culture and asking themselves how can we minister to them.”
Wilson’s responsibilities included frying food for the community basketball tournament for the concession stand and working in the dog lot to take care of the mushers’ dogs after the race.
Alaska Missions seeks to create projects that are evangelistic in nature and help to break down barriers to the Gospel.
Brenda Crim, Baptist collegiate minister at the University of Alaska in Anchorage has been helping provide volunteers in Nome for five years for the Iditarod Outreach.
“We position ourselves where Alaskans gather and create servant evangelism projects,” she said. “We eventually became their (Nome’s) go-to group because of our quick response.”
Although the jobs were not glorious, by laying hay down for dogs to sleep on at 2 a.m. or mopping a gym floor, Wilson was able to share the gospel with several people.
“Our volunteers serve and share the Lord in a low-key manner, through friendship and serving. We keep returning year after year, and more doors continue to open for us,” Crim said. “This year we saw 42 decisions for Christ.”
Assistant director of the UMHB Baptist Student Ministry Jena Coulson has recently discovered the problems that Alaskans are dealing with, such as high suicide rates, alcoholism and molestation.
“The statistical information has made me aware of the deep need for healing in this land which only the Father can provide,” Coulson said.
The BSM supports Go Now missions, which sends students to Alaska for two-week summer trips to serve where ever they are needed.
On his way back to Texas, Wilson met a Nome native who recognized him from working at the concession stand.
He thanked Wilson for volunteering his time and told him how the natives were skeptical of the missionaries arriving several years ago, but now they know that they really care about the people and that the faith they are sharing is real.
“The indigenous culture for a long time after modern culture appeared, tried to resist the new lifestyle because they felt forced to change their ways. So there has always been this animosity built up, but now a lot of those walls are being torn down which is good news for missionaries,” Wilson said.