Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventure's in Anchorage!

This Sunday was a celebration of VBS. The church was bustling with activity. Participants and their families gathered to join in the occasion. During the church service the children all gathered to sing some of their favorite songs from the week including He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, My God is so Great, Strong and Mighty, and their personal favorite “The Happy Song”. It was wonderful to see the excitement and energy that I got to witness all week, put into a moment for the congregation to witness too.

After the church service, there was an ice cream social and a time of fellowship and reminiscing of VBS highlights. I really enjoyed  connecting with the families again, and I look forward to the upcoming year and working with the families at Our Redeemer Lutheran church.

After church I decided to do a little exploring and ventured into Anchorage. This was the second time since my arrival that I had been to Anchorage. I headed to the Anchorage Market, located in downtown Anchorage. The market has over 400 vendors with 314 booths that offer Alaska's largest variety of products, including unique handmade arts, crafts and gifts by Alaskan artisans, collectibles, furs, jewelry, fresh produce, a wide variety of foods to eat at the market or take home.

Creations made from Muskox hair.
Fox fur only $125.00 in a variety of colors. Indigo (far left), gray, or red.


The market is not limited to shopping as there is also a stage that provides continual entertainment. When I passed the stage, there was a bagpiper and dancer who caught my attention for a few minutes until Jorge decided he wanted to move on.

Native Music!
After strolling up and down the market, Jorge and I took a stroll up and down the downtown city streets. I found a lot of tourist shops, the historic Anchorage City Hall, Alaska Visitor’s Center, and unexpectedly came across the Gay Pride parade.

Historic City Hall
2492 air miles to Worthington, MN (I calculated :)
After fun downtown, Jorge and I decided to go to a less busy part of town for a hike along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We got lost on our way to the main trail entrance but, as luck would have it, stumbled upon the brown signs which guided us to one of the many entrances.

I do enjoy the sign written in "dog" (Far left)
The trail was flat and paved. It is shared by both bikers and pedestrians. Jorge and I walked south for a mile and a half and stopped at a clearing with a stunning view of Mount Susitna. The shore was covered in mud which is actually fine particles of glacial silt. Signs all along the trail warned not to walk out on the shore as this can result in a person getting stuck. The silt acts like quicksand and when the water is displaced, has the constancy of cement. If one gets stuck, the tide can roll back in and the result could be hypothermia or worse.
Mount Susitna From the Coastal Trail clearing.
Mud Flats warning, it's like quick sand!

On a happier note Jorge and I saw a family of Sand Hill Cranes on the walk back. There were three adults and several fluffy babies. I was glad to see wildlife and had not seen Sand Hill Cranes before. All in all it was a very busy and rewarding day
Jorge liked the Daisies.

The babies are directly in the middle in the grass. Can you find them?

Monday, June 27, 2011

VBS week in Review

The week of Vacation Bible School (VBS) is over. What a rush! I am still in a daze. This year’s VBS was the largest that Our Redeemer Lutheran Church has had in over four years. Over 50 participants came to the “One-of-a-Kind Zoo” adventure as they learned about God’s word through Bible Study, games, music, and even snacks.

I, personally, have participated in Vacation Bible School since I was four. Starting out as a participant, then graduating to a volunteer, next a teacher, and this year as an all-around go-fer. It was very exhausting and rewarding.

My heart goes out to all who helped. As mentioned before, I have come understand just how critical volunteers are. Those who donated food, ironed shirts logos, the parents who brought their children, teachers, leaders, the church as a whole for allowing such an event to take place, the list goes on and on! Words cannot express the pure joy and gratitude I feel for all those involved.

The people who made it all happen!

Allow me to give you an overview of the week. Each day of VBS was dedicated to a particular animal that fits into the overall theme of a “One-of-a-Kind Zoo”.

Adam and Eve (Genesis 3)
“One-of-a Kind Snake and a One-of-a Kind Promise”

King Balak and Balaam and the talking donkey (Numbers 22-24)
“One-of-a Kind Donkey and A One-of-a Kind Blessing”

Daniel and the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6)
“One-of-a Kind Lion and A One-of-a Kind Rescue”

Jonah (Jonah)
“One-of-a Kind Fish and A One-of-a Kind Lesson”

Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 1:29; John 10:1-30)
“One-of-a Kind Sheep and A One-of-a Kind Shepherd”

Every detail was planned out to highlight the theme of the day. From the music to snacks, it all connected. We had some pretty creative snacks including snake and donkey cookies, and Under-the-Sea gold-fish/Finding Nemo snack mix.

What I observed at VBS, the way the congregation, and volunteers work together, is exactly what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Corinthians as he talks about our spiritual gifts and how they work within the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12). “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-5).

Each of us has unique talents. When we surround ourselves with people who fill in our gaps, we have an effective team. Often, opposites attract and are much more successful working together than people of similar talents. We need eyes, feet, hands, minds, and many other body parts if the body of Christ is to function smoothly.

Arctic Valley Climb

Tuesday, after Vacation Bible School was over, Pastor Steve invited me to go on a hike. I, of course, was delighted to have such an opportunity as I am really getting into hiking. We took a brief drive up the highway and went through part of Fort Richardson Army Base.

In order to get to the trail head, one must travel up the mountain with multiple switchbacks on a road that turns from pavement to gravel. The hike itself is a two mile round trip hike with a 2000ft elevation change.

At the beginning of the hike, we were already above the tree line and the only thing we found growing were little flowers, and a bunch of blueberry bushes that have not yet produced fruit. This hike was a much gentler hike than my climb to Twin Peaks, as far as elevation is concerned. There was a constant incline but it was nothing like what I experience at Eklutna one week earlier.

The beginning of the hike.

Pastor Steve, on our way up...it was misting

It took approximately an hour and a half to reach the top, a place called the Saddle. Along the way, I saw many interesting things. One of the first things I saw was the ground squirrels. These reminded me a lot of the Prairie Dogs back in South Dakota. They burrow into the ground and when intruders are around they stand on their hind legs—much like a Prairie Dog.
Ground Squirrel

Another interesting thing that I saw was “Site Summit” which is the old Nike Missle site. Site Summit is the only intact Nike missile base in Alaska. Built in 1959 and active for 20 years, it protected Anchorage from possible Russian bomber attack along with several other sites.

Site Summit Missile Site.

The Missile Site

 The view from the top was well worth the climb. The climb was not as strenuous as I was expecting and the payoff was gorgeous. From the top we could see Eagle River Valley, Eagle Lake and Symphony Lake. From the top to the bottom there was, what Pastor Steve estimated to be, about a fifteen degree temperature change. At the trailhead the thermometer in the car read 53 degrees and at the top there was snow and it was much cooler. I was glad it was cooler out.  When hiking, one can really break a sweat so the cooler temperature is much appreciated.

Eagle River Valley

Eagle River Valley

 Click on the video below for the panoramic view from the top.

When we arrived at the top we decided not to continue up Rendezvous Peak or Mount Gordon Lyon because there was a great deal of cloud cover and climbing any higher would not give us a better view but rather more clouds.

On the drive back down the winding road, we made a pit stop along the way to look over Ship Creek and all the lush green forestry that was growing within the valley. We also stopped to overlook the city of Anchorage. It was beautiful to see, as the sun was setting, and the clouds had lifted enough to capture the moment.

Looking from the top down into Ship Creek Valley.

Ship Creek Valley



I continue to be amazed by the beauty here in Alaska. God created such a beautiful place, a place that I get to experience for an entire year. I continue to count all the ways that I am so entirely blessed to witness God’s handiwork as it unfolds in front of my eyes.

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:1‑7)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

VBS: A One-of-a-Kind Zoo!

Today was the third day of Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (ORLC). I simply love it! There are so many new faces and seeing people consistently, each day, has allowed me to get to know the names and faces of the congregation members. This year at Our Redeemer's VBS,  we had fifty participants! 50! That is the most that ORLC has had in the four years that Pastor Steve has been here. It cannot be explained other than by God.

The theme for this  year’s VBS is “One-of-a-Kind Zoo” based upon the theme verse from Job that says “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:10). Each day of VBS is dedicated to learning about a “One-of-a-Kind” animal  in order to understand how God created everything for His purpose and to glorify Him.

The church has been turned literally into a zoo. Our decorations are wonderfully creative, and well done. My role for VBS is to fill in as needed and help answer questions of the volunteers and helpers. I really enjoy being able to drift from one place to another and to simply watch the VBS participants as they interact at the crafts, sing with enthusiasm in music, or react as each Bible story becomes alive in front of their eyes.

The volunteers are INCREDIBLE! I knew volunteers were important but it was not until I was on the “other side” of overseeing an event that I have come to cherish their support and help. I experienced this in field work last year at Messiah Lutheran Church of Lakeville, MN when lining up musicians to help lead a service and  parents to chaperon and drive confirmands to a retreat.

The congregation of ORLC has members who are dedicated and passionate to their mission: Connecting People to Jesus. While ORLC is one of the smaller congregations I have been able to work with,  they really don’t act it. Members hear and see a need and respond to it, giving it everything they've  got. I was very impressed to see that over 35 volunteers helped with  tasks from ironing t-shirt logos, donating snacks, and decorating the church,  to leading and teaching the VBS classes. The volunteers are the foundation that has helped to make this year’s VBS a success. This year, as in years past, ORLC is privileged to have volunteers from across the country as part of a group called Alaska Mission for Christ. Our volunteers come from as far as Cincinnati Ohio, to Nebraska and everywhere in-between.  

In Matthew 18:2-4, the Bible   tells us that  we must be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. Part of the joy of observing the children at VBS is witnessing real childlike faith. These kids get it! Life is so simple, there is no worry of finances, a job, or being on time because their parents worry about that. This is not about innocence, but rather dependence. Children are dependent on us for their quality of life and the substance we provide. For all of us, this means we are to be dependent on Him and allow His empowerment to fill us.

If we look at the context of the verse, Jesus spells out what he means in using the metaphor of becoming like a child. It has nothing to do with the popular meaning we attribute to "childlike faith." In fact, the verse does not even use the word "faith." Rather, Jesus says, "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4). Read in context, we see that Jesus is referring to one particular attribute of children that is naturally lost in grown-ups. When he speaks of becoming like a child, Jesus means this: humility.

This humility was shown upon the cross by our “One-of-a-Kind Savior” Jesus Christ. It is Christ Jesus who sees the value of faith  as paramount over anything else. Faith is lifted up as the most important thing we have or do. Yet, all too often, we do not seek faith, but rather just what we can get. We focus on the world, our finances, our job, and the clock. If we are going to express our childlike faith we must seek humbleness and trust so we will be able to grow in faith and maturity (Psalm 130 and 131).

At VBS the children do not worry about what is coming next, they focus on the here and now; gluing on the googly eyes, singing the song, or winning the game. They get it!   They really do understand and demonstrate the “childlike faith” Jesus calls us to have.

It is my prayer that this VBS will be a “One-of-a-Kind” experience for the children and volunteers so they all see their “One-of-a-Kind” Savior work mightily in each of their lives and for all those involved to witness and find the child that God calls us to be, His Child.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Taking the Church Outside it's walls: ORLC at Mirror Lake

This past Sunday the congregation of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (ORLC) took the church “outside their walls” for their annual Mirror Lake service which is held on Father’s Day. The service is at Mirror Lake State Wayside Park which ironically has a lake called “Mirror Lake”. The day of the service the temperatures were cooler and it was a rather foggy, kind of dreary day. The weather did not keep us down as the members of Our Redeemer gathered with their lawn chairs to share in worship.

The worship service was special for several reasons. First, the service was on father’s day and second because at this service the baptism of Gavin Alexander Roelfs, son of Scott and Tabitha. I always get excited when there is a baptism. It fills me with joy to witness the priceless grace of one entering into God’s forever family.So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:26-27

Since the service was outside the service music was led by a team of strong singers and two guitars Jim and myself. It went very well and even though the abyss of the outdoors tried to take away the sound, the leadership of singers and enthusiastic congregation members prevailed and the service went well. The rain held off until after the service was over, and the mosquitoes did not bite as much as I was anticipating. It was overall a very good day, and a great service.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Today it is absolutely gorgeous out! I think it is the most clear, and warmest day since my arrival two weeks ago. Over my lunch break pastor came into my office to tell me that Denali (Mt. Mckinley) is "out" today and I should take this time to go get some pictures since with the unpredictable weather it could be cloudy by the time I was done with work. So I jumped in the car and drove 3/4 of a mile up the road to the fire station.

   There is a beautiful spot to look out and see. Denali is over 200 miles away but since it is so large and a clear day I had a nice view.

Click for larger view, Denali!

Over 200 miles away and I can see Denali

Denali in all her splendor
Mt. Susitna
Mt. Susitna is the mountian that I have the pleasure of viewing each morning I awake. If you look at my previous blog you can see Mt. Susitna as she look from my window. I'm glad that Denali decided to come out today because I am not feeling like going on a major hike today after my journey yesterday.

The Climb

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going out with a group of students from St. John's Lutheran Church of Palmer, AK. The camping trip took place at Eklutna Lake. This was my second time visiting Eklutna and this time it was more foggy, and rainy. Upon arrival we set up our tents and then hiked down to the lake. It was here that we enjoyed skipping rocks.

Tierra skipping rocks.

 After exploring down by the lake we hiked back to camp where we enjoyed roasting hot dogs over the fire followed by dessert: S'mores! mmm! I mastered the art of the perfect marshmallow, it involves patience and proper rotation, but it's well worth it.

   In Alaska it is common to bring one's dog to events. For the camp out Jamie (DCE from Palmer), and Sarah (Chaperone from Palmer) both brought their dogs. Jamie has two dogs Burt & Kena, and Sarah has a Golden Retriever named Rosie. The dogs slept in the tents with their masters. Sarah had her own one person tent, Burt slept with Philip (Jamie's husband), and Kena slept in the tent with Jamie and I.

Burt (the blur) and Kena (black lab)

We stayed up until close to midnight and had to turn in as the rain began to move in. It was strange sleeping in a tent when it was so bright outside. It was light until 1:30am. I was glad to have a sleeping pad because the ground was cold, very cold. It rained at a decent pace for most of the night. The dog Kena must have been anxious about something because she kept moving around throughout the night. I must admit having the dog Kena in the tent was good as it kept me warm.
     Midway through the night I felt my side getting wet. It was light out and I looked at my watch, 4:15am. There was a river of water running through our tent. What happened is we had put down tarp on the ground, and part of the tarp did not get fully tucked under the tent. The water had gotten trapped on top of the tarp under the base of the tent. I re-positioned myself on the sleeping pad to avoid getting wet and returned to sleep until around 8:00am.
     In the morning we had breakfast; cereal, and pop tarts. Then Sarah asked if I was coming along for the hike. I had no idea what she was talking about. 
"We are going hiking up Twin Peak's trail" she explained.
I had not planned for a hike I thought we were simply camping.
"How difficult is it?" I asked
"It's not that bad" 
Jamie then chimed in to explain that Sarah is an intense hiker and what is "not that bad" to her is more difficult to most. I was unsure what to say and I felt obligated to be back in the office as I had told Pastor Steve that I would be back late morning.
"Sure, why not?" I decided.

     Jamie did not go on the hike so she lent me her Camel Back water backpack. We left the campsite and drove to the trail head, little did I know the adventure that was ahead.

    While we waited for the rest of the group to arrive I read the sign posted at the trail head about all the hiking trails within Eklutna Lake State Park. It had a ranking and a brief description of each. I read about Twin Peaks...It's rating: Difficult. There were only two trails in the whole park with a rating of "Difficult" and this was one of them. Regardless, I was bound and determined.
       The total length of the hike is 3 miles and a 3000 foot elevation change! It is 2.4 miles to the overlook to see Twin Peaks, and another .6 miles to the top to look over Eklutna Lake and the whole valley.
    The first mile went well. I could feel the burn in my calves from the continuous incline of the slope. We stoped at the bench at mile marker 1 to take in the view as seen below.

The view from one mile up
So far so good only 2 more miles to go...
As we continued to hike I could really feel my body becoming upset, I was pushing myself as I was determined to keep up. Sarah stopped to allow me to catch my breath which was nice. We continued the climb and I was encouraged when we passed a man who we later asked and discovered was 71, and he was on his way back down from the top.

 Pretty soon we made it to mile marker 2. At this point we stopped to look for sheep. Sarah said they are usually out on the mountainside but there was none to be found. It was interesting because at 2500 feet up the trees disappeared: We had made it above the tree line.
  With the trees gone we could see further than ever before. The Twin peaks were visible and it seemed we were standing at eye level with them. At this point the official "trail" ends and what the park considers the hike is over. We however continued off trail to the complete top to hike over the ridge to see the other side. The trail we hiked is called "Twin Peaks Trail" because it takes one to see the Twin Peaks, we however hiked an additional mile to the top to overlook the valley.
    The final mile was very difficult. I had to stop every 10 feet or so to catch my breath. The trail was gone and I was following Sarah's made up path. The slope had increased from a nice slope to having to climb and at some points I resorted to crawling on all fours, literally.
   FINALLY after four hours of hiking we made it to the top. I was SO glad to have made it and the sight was a beautiful one to behold. As you can see from the pictures below we were quite high up, up in the fog...the fog that from the lake seems to sit on top of the mountain, because it does! I WAS IN THE FOG!
At the top! Fog and all!
Tired but smiling, I made it! The CSP Golden Bears EXTREME shirt is very fitting.
Click on the video below to see the panoramic view from the top!

     I was looking forward to the hike back down thinking it would be easy. Well, it was not. The first mile was the most difficult. Just as I had to crawl and literally climb up so I had to slowly meander back down. Since it had rained the night before it was very muddy and this made for a slippery slope.
     I know my mom is reading this, so don't freak out but I must tell you about how I fell! T'is a great story and Sarah said that it was epic being my first Alaskan fall...
      I was hiking down, still on the most strenuous part the first mile and Sarah pointed out the clouds that were lifting over Twin Peaks, I looked up and due to the non-linear landscape I lost my balance. That combined with the muddy slope and very steep incline resulted in me to first slide and then roll. I seriously thought I was going to continue to roll for a while BUT I threw my hands out stopped myself and landed softly in a pile of weeds.
    I glanced up at Sarah and Rosie (the dog) quickly came to lick my face. I was fine and I started to laugh. At that point Sarah laughed to. It was scary for that moment but looking back it was funny. I lost my balance because I glanced up at a mountain while standing on un-level ground, looking at un-level ground. I got back up, mud on my shirt and pants but in good spirits.
    Sarah and I continued the hike down, and we continually re-enacted my fall laughing about it, nothing hurt but my ego :)
    We made it to the bottom in a little over an hour. The hike down really made my quads feel the burn. By continually planting my feet and having to stop the shock is absorbed in my quads and today I still feel it. My toes were pressed up in the front of my hiking boots due to the slope which resulted in blisters, BUT it was an AMAZING hike. Would I do it again? Yeah, but I think I'll wait a week until my legs recover :)