“Recently, I was given the opportunity to work with a Moravian work team in Alaska. Just being given the chance to go to Alaska was awesome, but being given the chance to help other people was a chance I couldn’t pass up. I booked my flight, got my days off and left, having no idea what was in store.”
These are the words of David Kemmerer, a member of East Hills Moravian in Bethlehem, Pa., who arrived in Anchorage, Alaska on the evening of July 12, spent the night in the airport, and met the other team members of the Bethel work crew.
He was to be joined by David and Debbie Hauser, team coordinators from Unity Moravian in Lewisville, N.C., and Charles and Sheila Beaman from Macedonia Moravian, Advance, N.C., to travel to Bethel, Alaska to put vinyl siding on the Alaska Moravian Seminary. Without siding, the building would need to be replaced in just a few years.
Helen Gulledge, another team coordinator from Little Church on the Lane, in Charlotte, N.C., met the five members in Anchorage. After a brief time of touring, the first assignment was to purchase food in Anchorage and pack it for carrying on the plane to Bethel. The food prices in Alaska are double or triple those in the lower 48 states and other items needed in Alaska are very expensive. Because of its isolated location, items must be shipped or flown in.
We were blessed by beautiful weather upon arrival in Bethel. The team was anxious to take advantage of the good weather, but Barb and Ed Dehnert, Dean of the Seminary in Alaska and Clifford Jimmie from Bethel Moravian advised that we may not have another opportunity for fishing.
Soon we were off on the Kuskokwim River, casting drift nets and pulling in salmon. Clifford served as boat captain and instructor in fishing techniques. Along the way, we visited the fish camp of John Charlie and his family and saw salmon drying in the sun. The next day, John was the speaker during our worship service at Bethel Moravian, in the absence of The Rev. Tom Conrad. We also enjoyed the regular choir music, directed by Mary Gregory, and vocal and guitar music presented by a congregational music group.
Our work week began with clouds and rain on Monday morning. Each morning after breakfast, Helen led us in a time of devotion before beginning the work for the day. As David Kemmerer expressed, “It was hard most days to wake up and go outside in the cold rain to work; even the ravens knew better, but it needed to be done.”
The Dehnerts had ordered siding supplies for both the seminary and the Moravian Bookstore, which has been closed for several years because of needed repairs. Before attaching the siding, Tyvek wrap and foam insulation had to be stapled and hammered into place. By the end of the week, 80% of the vinyl had been attached which accomplished the goal that had been set. The remainder of the work could be completed by local people from the congregation and community.
One of the highlights of our days was the delicious meals including moose and salmon provided by the congregation. We were also treated with other prepared dishes, especially desserts provided by Tianna Conrad, Rev. Conrad’s, wife. On some of the evenings, we were challenged by Bible studies led by Clifford Jimmie, boat captain, who attends Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the fall and winter. Some of the ladies also shared their beading and sewing abilities by showing us beautiful jewelry and kuspuks they had made, the traditional dress worn mostly by women, but also by men for special occasions.
Thanks to the hospitality of the members of Bethel Moravian Church and the Dehnerts, our team experienced both growth in our work skills and spiritual journeys. We made many friendships that will continue well into the future. As David Kemmerer expressed in a recent reflection, “Christ cannot work alone or without the hands of his disciples. Working with the work crew in Alaska made me feel lucky to have what I have, and it brought me closer to God.”
Sheila Beaman is administrative assistant for the Board of World Mission in Winston-Salem, N.C. Photos by Charles Beaman.
From the October 2013 Moravian Magazine