I met Toni and Buck at a sandwich shop, as we lamented being stranded in the Anchorage airport. They wore the tired, ragged air of people who had spent the last four days at the airport.
I sat across from them as they finished the last of the soup they were sharing, the whiff of alcohol escaping with every bite. I had nothing to complain about with my two-hour delay compared to their long ordeal in getting back home to St. Mary’s Village in bush Alaska.
Over time, lamenting turned to inquiry as they asked about me. They thought I was a teacher, then a health care worker. I told them I was heading to Dillingham for our church camp meeting. They stared back at me. I told them I had just moved to Alaska to work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to build awareness of the challenges Alaskans face and support for this mission program. I could tell my message fell on deaf ears.
Toni’s face dropped and her countenance darkened once she found out I was “church people.” Buck assured me they were religious. With her head still bowed, Toni whispered that the church people don’t come around very often in St. Mary’s. I felt shallow, a green do-gooder who clearly was disconnected with these people.
In that moment, I decided to show the real me. I looked at them with as much love as I could muster and said, “Life is so hard, isn’t it?”
Toni lifted her head and looked back at me. I told them we are put on this earth to lift each other up, to encourage and love those like Christ loved us. Christ came into this world and didn’t judge anyone. He found those that needed to be loved and accepted them; He put His arms around them and held them.
I told them that is what I believe, that is what my church believes in and that is why I am here — to share what Christ has done in my life. As tears streamed down their faces, Toni said, “I want to know more."
Suddenly, a woman’s voice came over the airport intercom announcing that my flight was boarding. As I stared into the eyes of the couple in front of me, dark with the haze of alcohol, hopelessness and despair familiar to many Alaskans, I felt helpless. Our Bible workers are only present in just a handful of the more than 230 villages in Alaska, and the village of St. Mary’s is not one.
I asked if I could pray with them and reached for their hands. I asked God to reach down and hold these precious souls, to love them and direct them in the way that He would have them go. We said our goodbyes as Toni wiped her tears and I headed to the gate.
From my window seat on the plane, Toni’s words kept ringing in my ears: “I want to know more.” My mind traveled to Acts 16:9: “That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, 'come over to Macedonia and help us.'”
My interaction with Toni and Buck was a present-day plea to go and reach, teach and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ to bush Alaska.