Does the conflict between Russia and Ukraine scare you? Maybe just a little? Sam experienced how fear gripped Gambell, Alaska, which is his Native community on St. Lawrence Island, only 35 miles east of Russia. Sam woke to the sound of forced whispers in the house.
“They are asking us to carry guns and guard our shores!” He peeked around the corner and saw a small group of men talking to his father.
“I don’t understand why they are here. We are not part of the Russia-Ukraine problem!” The speaker’s voice faded as Sam rushed out the door and headed to school. In class, everyone was talking about the arrival of the military and how they had come to set up observation points on the beach to guard against a Russian invasion.
Sam slid into his seat next to his best friend Brian, who whispered, “Have you heard what's happening?”
Sam nodded and said, “My mom says this is just like it was during the Cold War; they were always on alert for spies looming around our island. Blackouts were common and they couldn’t make any noise. She told me that one time during a blackout, she saw a spy peering through their window! My family is really afraid that we'll be at risk again this time."
As Sam made his way home from school, he passed small groups of people. Some crying, some talking angrily and some praying. It was clear that everyone was afraid of what the future held for this peaceful village, with no military and only hunting weapons.
Petu Koonooka, Gambell Church elder, knew his community needed support through their fear. He collaborated with Ryan Rogers, Palmer Church pastor, to lead a three-day workshop on fear. For the first time, Native leaders, behavioral health professionals and pastors of two Christian denominations joined forces to provide hope at a time filled with fear.
The workshop started at the Presbyterian church by reflecting on the Biblical story of Job to guide the discussion about the fear of loss. Rogers asked the group, “What have you lost?” and “What are you afraid of losing?”
With no hesitation, a young woman named Carla shared that she lost her mom and had since become an alcoholic. One night in May 2021, Carla drank especially heavy and crashed her four-wheeler, breaking several bones in her face, ankle and hip. She is left with scars and a desire to remain sober.
Cassie, a mom who attended with two daughters, talked about her 7-year-old son Qaqu. He has a cancerous brain tumor that has limited his use of the left side of his body. God has used this horrible sickness to call their hearts back to Him. Cassie is inspired by her son’s faith, cheerfulness and outgoing personality. Reflecting on this, she said, “I want to feel like when I was a kid and my heart would be so happy learning about Jesus, His love and that He’s always there.”
A determination was very clear in these two women to hold onto Jesus. Cassie and Carla shared that they want to start going back to church every Saturday morning. Cassie wants to teach her son more about the God he is putting his faith in. She wants to lean on the Word when times get tough. Carla added, with an enthusiastic smile, “I want to start Bible studies again.”
We all have brokenness. These families' pain has come in a larger measure than many of us have felt. But their response is the same response we need. Don’t let your pain keep you from Jesus for one more moment. Bring your fear and brokenness to Jesus.