There are so, very many stories I could share from our time in the village of Gambell, Alaska on the remote island of St. Lawrence (nearer to Russia) this past year, but most of them are not mine to share publically. They belong to the precious people we went there to love up on. In person I would be happy to share more, but I am extremely careful to only air things publically that provide hope and encouragement to the native people.
Because this is my last installment I want to say that we had an amazing time again this year, but it’s not an easy trip and there were hardships. There was even an hour of sheer terror in which God faithfully reached down and revealed himself in a mighty way by turning my paralyzing fear into courage in the face of danger. He brought in other amazing locals to provide protection and selfless support. I want those beautiful faces to be the face of Siberian Yupiks the world sees. None of us should be defined by our weakest counterparts, and those weakest counterparts need to feel safe reaching out to us too. That’s why we are there, and why we plan to go back this summer.
In Part one of this three part series, I wrote a wee smidge about my roll on our team this year. We decided that rather than hire a local missions organization to fly in all of the food for us again, we could more cheaply fly in our own food from home. Because of Stephen’s diamond status with Delta, we all flew in on his itinerary giving us 3 checked bags each. Then we required everyone on our team to fly with one small bag so we could fill their larger carry-ons with supplies as well.
Even with the ability to fly with dozens of bags, coolers and tubs, Stephen and I still had to strategically calculate to the absolute weight limits, how much food we should buy and how to pack it without adding weight. Sandwiches were planned with precise detail, even measuring out the exact amount of mayo we could ration for each slice. Then we weighed and multiplied for the exact number of sandwiches we could ration out to each person. Serving sizes for dinner were calculated to allow for adequate portions after a hard day’s work, but there would be no space for serving more than what was sufficient. In fact, I had to deliberately seek God for rest from anxiety that I had not packed nearly enough food for our hard working team members to feel satisfied. 14 people had to get by on 4 tubs and 4 coolers worth of food for 6 days. It was a tremendous responsibility that I took incredibly seriously. Despite it all we came in way, way under budget on all of our food spending.
I would like to pause for a moment to thank Lindsay Mullinax, Dena Starnes, Sharon Carmichael, Lynn Tynes and Joan Gull for making dinners in their homes that could be frozen into gallon sized, Ziploc bags and slid vertically into the coolers like file folders. That helped me fit 6 dinners for 14 people into two, airline-appeasing sized and weighted coolers and leave the other coolers for breakfasts, lunches and other essentials.
Hunting and fishing has changed up there for what is believed to be climate change related reasons. There aren’t the walrus and seal populations there once were, and the people are hungry. Day one, hungry people begin showing up at the church and a well-meaning team member invites them to dinner.
I panicked. “Wait, wait, wait. I didn’t plan food for extra people. You can give them my dinner, but I can’t give away dinner for everyone else on the team. They paid for this trip and this food. It’s not mine to give away.” Stephen turns up in the kitchen to witness my panic. He assures me not to worry and promises me that we will hold a team meeting to decide what to do.
That night I made sure each person remembered that we have just enough food for our team. If we give away food, we will run out and go hungry. I was completely OK with that. People have survived longer periods of time without food, but I needed to hear everyone else’s thoughts on it. To a team member, each person said without reservation, “If these people are hungry, they can have the food.” We all decided to feed all those who came our way.
OK, then. Dinner on night one was 4 chicken pot pies (thanks Sharon Carmichael). 16 people were at my table for dinner. I had rationed 2 pieces of pie per person, including 10 grown men who had worked very hard that day out in the cold. Everyone could have one biscuit and 2 large scoops of black-eyed peas. People were eating and eating and then visiting when they were filled up. I went around to pick up empty pans, but found pie left in every pan. When I combined them to put them away I realized there was a complete pot pie left. 16 people ate to their fill on just three of the four, nine inch pot pies, and there’s biscuits and peas left too?
I’m slow, so this baffles me. I repeatedly tell people to not deprive themselves. “Eat more!” But they all claim to be too full.
The next day was Sunday so we had our church service. Then several locals stayed for lunch. They brought their own native food, which isn’t quite the kind of stuff our pallets were accustomed to, and I set out our pot pies, biscuits and peas. They ate until they were satisfied and we ate up our planned meal of sandwiches. Dinner is Cajun stir fry (thanks to Lindsay Mullinax) and there was so much left I could barely fit it back in the fridge.
The next day we eat our planned breakfast of egg sandwiches (Lindsay again!) and at lunch I set out carefully rationed sandwich ingredients. But there is plenty left to share with the native men who were helping us around town. I check and re-check to make sure no one is hungry. Everyone claims to be stuffed. Dinner is Chicken King Ranch (Thanks, Mrs. Joan Gull) with some kind of bread and a vegetable. Everyone, including native guests, ate a hardy dinner, and now I couldn’t even close the fridge door without pulling everything out and re-arranging. We’ve been here 3 days, and I’m in a bind for space for all this food.
Day 4. Breakfast with much left. Lunch, much left. Dinner: “I get it, God.” I open a cooler I haven’t even opened yet and it’s bursting with chili (thanks Dena Starnes) and chicken vegetable soup (Thanks, Lynn Tynes) and Lasagna (YAY again, Lindsay!)
Day 5 and 6 and I’m giving out food with reckless abandon. Who cares? Packs of bacon, bags of roast beef for sandwiches, pans of soup, shredded cheeses, pounds of butter and breads are going out to needy moms and grandmas with empty fridges who stop by the church. I’m giving out fresh frozen vegetables and fruits to locals who blessed us in any number of ways. If for some reason we ran out of food then, we only had a short time to go before we left, but we never did. In fact, there was an overlap between our team and the next team that came in, and I had to give instructions to them on my wishes for distributing the food we never got to!
Does anyone still remember that we came in under our food budget?
Are you crying right now, because I can’t tell this story without crying. I’m not worthy to witness this kind of miracle. This is provision and faithfulness that many only read about, but we were living and witnessing with our own eyes.
When I am following the Lord onto the mission field, I’m never sure who he really sent me for. I’m sure it’s for the local people, but it’s equally, if not more-so, for me. He reveals himself in such a real way when we are in a situation that is bigger than us. It’s in those times that we have no choice but to surrender our fears and put our trust in him that we see his heart and his hands.
We have not forgotten them during the year. Coats have gone out and will go out again. More food for the food pantry will be shipped out this month to the local church we are based out of. We keep in touch with many of them on Facebook and via text messages. Prayer. Oh, is there prayer for them to endure the incredible winters and draw closer to the Lord. Our work isn’t done just because we live in Georgia. It truly feels like we get a break from our homework when we actually get to be there with them, and satisfy the longings of our hearts.
Here in the Nome airport terminal you can see some of our luggage and the 4 coolers we took with us.
What our dinners looked like. Two guys who live in Gambell are in this picture and two more who ate with us aren’t in the picture. One is taking it.
This fruit is part of a tradition we call the “Fruit Parade”. A few people from the team walk around town and give out fresh fruit to children and other locals. Fresh fruit is a real treat for them and the fruit parade is always a major hit.
The Fruit Parade. Kelly is being pulled in this cart behind a 4-wheeler.
Bob and Kelly set out on the second fruit parade of the week. This is their favorite part of our time there. LOVE them!
Kids around town clamoring for fruit. You can tell from their gear that it’s very cold so far north, even in July.
Carefully rationed sandwiches are met with great attitudes by the team.
Take a break for lunch in the living room of the church we are based out of.