Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ORLC Christmas Makeover

This past Sunday was the Church Christmas Makeover. Each year Our Redeemer Lutheran Church designates a Sunday to come together, young and young at heart to decorate the church for Christmas. The transformation begins by trekking out through the snow to cut down a real spruce tree. Earlier this year Pastor Steve and I had ventured to find the perfect tree BEFORE there was snow on the ground. This made for a much easier process now that there is snow.

The Christmas trees usually come from behind the parsonage or in back of the church. This year the tree was across the field. The youth broke trail that was a foot to two feet deep. I was in the back of the line, which I was glad since up front it was up to knees or deeper.

After finding the tree the youth go about shaking off the snow-onto one another of course. Then the youth gather on one side to push, guiding the tree to fall in the proper spot. Once down the tree must be measured to ensure it will fit in front of the sanctuary.
After some final trimming on the base the tree was then drug across the snow covered ground down a steep embankment onto the field. We soon discovered that dragging the tree caused branches to break off making it more of a Charlie Brown Tree. The boys then carried the tree, ABOVE their heads, due to the large diameter all the way to the church.

Once at the church door the next hurdle became apparent. Fitting a 10 foot diameter tree through a six foot diameter door. Push and pull (depend on which side one is on) and a loss of more branches and the tree was finally through. Once in the narthex the boys discovered yet another obstacle…the door to the sanctuary.

The boys rotated the tree to go bottom first so the branches would bend in the opposite direction from before in hopes of breaking less. More push and pull and loss of branches and it was in. There was a definite trail with evergreen sprigs from the field all the way to inside the church and up the aisle. Once in they had to get the tree upright. Using multiple people and a lot of leverage it was up.

Meanwhile, while all of this was going on, the men of the congregation were hard at work in the front of the sanctuary constructing the nativity. I was told it was a big undertaking but I never imagined how big the project was. Drills, several screw guns, and heavy lifting all go into making the manger come alive. The whole thing takes up the entire front of the church.

Simultaneously the women of the church were hard at work putting up the garland in the sanctuary across the pillars. In the narthex the children were working on decorating several Christmas trees, while others worked on the garland around the stairwell. Outside, Ingrid and friends, worked on putting up the lights and the life size angels. 


The whole event brings together people of every age. Regardless of size or age there is something for everyone and it really brings the congregation together. Cross generational experiences are the best. The younger kids look up to the older ones. The whole event brings together people of every age. Regardless of size or age there is something for everyone and it really brings the congregation together. I believe that cross-generational ministry like this Christmas Makeover allows for the gifts of each generation as to be utilized. We are all on this journey together. We all have something to share. We all have something to learn. We all need those who have gone before to cheer us on, to mark the way, and to offer us a message of hope in Christ. What better way than through sharing the story of the first Christmas? By working together for one purpose: Sharing Christ with others

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

This picture pretty much sums it up

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Weekend with Adam!

As mentioned before, Adam made a surprise visit to Alaska. Since our time together was limited each day was jam packed. Almost every evening we would hit up the local Blockbuster video store and rent a movie. I have not watched movies or t.v aside from the occasional Netflix download so it was a treat.

The sun sets early here in Alaska. Current sunrise is 9:41am and sunset is 3:54pm. Although the dark is not pretty the sunsets certainly are. The sky becomes filled with hues of orange and pink. Some of the best sunsets I’ve seen (or remembered seeing) have been here in Alaska.

Pretty sunset, not so pretty $3.93 gas
Taken from the Blockbuster parking lot

During his time here Adam offered his skills of technology several times. If you don’t know Adam let me tell you he is one great “techie”. He was able to recover 48,000+ files off of a corrupt hard drive from one of our congregation members, put in a new graphics card on one of the old church computers, and was able to increase computer speed on the dinosaur computer (the music computer). He also took apart a laptop to troubleshoot and discover that the motherboard was corrupt. We make Adam work for his stay in Alaska. Oh and I should mention if you need a someone to update your website Adam does website design. Check out his services on his web portfolio http://adamavelallemant.com/.

On black Friday Adam and I decided to embark on the shopping madness. Adam had never been Black Friday shopping so we decided to hit up the stores. We first made a game plan by checking out some of the stores websites. We hit up several places including target (which was crazy busy), Koles (where we purchased the most items), Wal-Mart, and of course McDonalds for breakfast (which they completely messed up our order but it ended okay). Black Friday was ultimately a success as Adam scored a Nintendo 3DS, and I got most of my family Christmas presents bought.

Both times Adam has been here it has been too cloudy to witness Mt. McKinley or the Northern Lights. So I decided to show him the next best thing. We took a drive north towards Palmer to catch the mountains there and to drive up Hatcher’s Pass. The drive itself is gorgeous. On this day there was significant low cloud cover due to the inlet’s drastic water temperature compared to the air. It created some artistic photo opportunities and we did get to see the mountains after driving north of Palmer.

Twin Peaks, peaking out from behind the clouds
On the way to Palmer...its definitely winter
Crossing the bridge over the inlet

Pioneer Peak, with low clouds at the base

After making a pit stop at the scenic overview turnout Adam and I headed to Hatcher Pass. I was rather impressed with my car and it’s studded tires. There was the occasional transmission glitch (the transmission is going out but we are not replacing it until it does), but I was impressed with how the car handled on the steep climb on ice and snow.

Picture compliments of Adam
Pit stop at the scenic overlook-Pioneer Peak in the distance

On our way to Hatcher Pass
On the way up we passed a plethora of skiers, sledders, and snowboarders. There were even some snow machiners (Alaskan’s call them snow machines but they will forever be “Snowmobiles” to me. In my opinion a “Snow Machine” is something that makes artificial snow on the skiing hills). We paused near the top to watch two snowboarders trudge through the knee/thigh deep snow to reach the top point to snowboard down. Recalling my earlier encounter at Hatcher’s Pass I understood how exhausting it was.
You are looking at a river at the entrance to Hatcher Pass
Going up...
Pit stop, beautiful scenery

The snowboarders we watched for 15 or so minutes
We are in the Avalanche area...actually most of Hatcher Pass is an avalanche area
After the sun had set, we returned down the mountain pass. We passed by two moose near the road which startled me as it was at the dusky point of the day where the sun had set but was still giving off light making my headlights useless. Anyways Mrs. Moose and her baby were cute. 
Mommy Moose
B-E-A-U-tiful sunset
We then decided to have a date night out, a rare occurrence. Adam and I went neon bowling at the local Eagle River bowling alley. While Adam may have the better form, I had the better score. I got a turkey and several strikes… I guess I have my dad’s talent for bowling. I even won a prize since I got a strike when there was a special neon pin. After 3 games we were all bowled out.

Adam has good form

Strike for me...

I have two strikes in a row, soon to be a turkey

I was sad to see Adam leave but was glad to have had the opportunity to see him. It was a busy and fantastic weekend that went all too fast, but I look forward to the next time we are together.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Alaska, though apart of the United States is a great distance away from the lower 48. The cost of a plane ticket to the lower 48 can be $700-$1500 dollars depending on the area. With this in mind residents of Alaska do not always make trips for family gatherings at the normal major holidays. It’s not time effective, nor cost effective.

I found that many people within the congregation do not travel for the holidays so instead families from my internship church put together alternative gatherings. For Thanksgiving there is the “Orphan Thanksgiving”. The title implies that those who attend are “orphans” but really we all have family, but they are just a distance away. So instead we all gather as one large extended family for a day of food, fellowship, games, and of course a walk in the snow.

This year the Thanksgiving feast was held at Forrest and Geri’s house. The festivities began at 2:00pm. Everyone brings a dish to share and there is never a shortage of food. The meal consisted of both turkey and ham, potatoes, green bean casserole, several jello concoctions, broccoli and cheese casserole, creamed corn, multiple salads both leafy and otherwise, and a plethora of desserts.

Vern & Forrest assessing the food situation

We ate until we were uncomfortably full. The group then went out for a walk. On this Thanksgiving day it was snowing and rather warm; a cozy 4˚F above. I opted not to walk in the snow but instead took the time to call home. A lengthy phone call as I was passed around to all the aunts, uncles and cousins, retelling the same story and answering many of the same questions. Perhaps next time I will use speaker phone.

Some of the group...
More of the group...
After the walk everyone gathered back at the house for dessert. There were several pies, cookies and bars. I opted for chocolate brownies with ice cream on top. When dessert was completed everyone gathered for games. Taboo, Apples to Apples and Scategories.

More still...
Thanksgiving was fantastic and very ful-filling (get it? Filling?) Thanksgiving, I’m Thankful for a wonderful fiancĂ©, Adam, to visit in person, my family back home and a wonderful extended family at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.


Thanksgiving. The title of the holiday pretty much sums up the focus of the day. This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for as God shows me just how blessed I am. If you know me, then you know that my other half resides in Minnesota with a guy named Adam. Adam is my fiancĂ©  and love of my life. Due to Concordia’s DCE program Adam and I have spent the past 16 months apart. Adam spent his DCE internship in Marquette, Michigan last year and I am now serving out my internship in Alaska, resulting in long distance for long periods of time.

We get the occasional breaks where we are able to see each other in person; spring break, weekend before school starts, the week when school was out before I left for internship, but for the most part we are apart however there are wonderful technologies such as Skype which we use to converse face to face.

This year for Thanksgiving Adam made a surprise visit to Alaska. The story goes like this….

I was sitting in my room at 9:30pm (Alaska Time) when Adam calls me on skype. This is normal as we make evening skype calls to say our evening prayers before going to bed.

“What are you doing?” Adam asked.
“I was just waiting for you” I replied.
“Have you checked facebook?” he asked
“Well you should check my facebook” he urged
I then went to his facebook page to which it said that Adam had checked in at Ted Stevens International airport (Anchorage Airport)
“WHAT?! No!” I said in disbelief
“Can you come pick me up?” He asked
At that point I lost it. I started bawling tears of joy. “Of course, of course, I’ll be right there”

What Adam put on facebook

I ran upstairs to tell Chuck and Terri, my host parents. “Adam’s in Alaska! Adam’s in ALASKA! He’s here!” I shouted

Terri played dumb and then told me that she knew he was coming all along. We hugged with tears still streaming from my face.

The drive to the airport took forever. The roads were not the best, and I had to make a conscious effort not to speed. 45 minutes later I arrived at the airport and Adam was there with flowers to greet me. I still could not believe that he had kept it secret. Not only did he have my host parents in on it but also Pastor Steve as Adam told me that he had to check in at the Heinsen Hotel (Pastor Steve Heinsen’s house we call the “Heinsen Hotel”).

I couldn’t believe that he had pulled it off. This surprise doubles as our anniversary for being together is November 29th. We always joke about who will have the better anniversary gift, needless to say this year he did.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Northwest District Middle School Gathering

This past weekend was the LCMS Northwest District Middle School Gathering (NW MS Gathering). Unlike Minnesota where there are two districts (Minnesota South and Minnesota North) in one state, the Northwest District is actually four states combined to make one very large district. The NW district is Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. The gathering of students 6-9 grade to one location is a difficult task especially with such a widespread area to cover (over 2500 miles) the cost of travel alone would be extensive. So we turned to technology to bridge the gap and connect 500+ Middle School students from four different states.

How is this done you might ask? Well each location used skype. There was a camera at each location to capture the image of the students at that place. This was then projected at the other locations. If you look at the below image I will explain a bit more.

The picture below is from the Oregon location (picture courtesy of NW LCMS Gathering Facebook page). You can see on the screen fatherest away is a projection of the Alaska group of students. The middle screen shows the gathering logo, but on this screen would alternately be the Washington group. and on the screen closest to the photographer you can make out facebook

Oregon Middle Schoolers (courtesy of facebook)
You may be wondering why facebook has a screen all its own. Well this is where things get very creative and I feel a lesson can be learnt from this event to other large group gatherings. Most gatherings youth are encouraged or required to give up their cell phones, i-pods etc. What the older generation doesn't realize is that cell phones are almost an extension of the body. While there is something to be said of Sabbath away from the phone, utilizing rather than punishing the technology in an engaging way is more effective than restricting.

Our Alaska group of Middle Schoolers!
During the entire gathering students were encouraged to post questions directly to the live feed of the facebook wall. This was engaging for if questions were posed for the speaker as students could interact with the speaker from various locations. Since it's hard to raise one's hand in the middle of the speaker (who was in Washington) there would be no way to connect but with this feature we were bridging the gap.

One of the session speakers
The group in Oregon
There was another unique technology connection and i'm not sure how it was done but students could text questions and they would appear on the screen. Perhaps it was done by google voice or something but it was neat. There was also a game played with questions like "text a picture of someone being an imitator of Christ" and they could.

The technology did not go without error. As always technology has it's downside. The group in Oregon who presented a skit by simply projecting their voices did not work as with no microphones the other groups in Washington and us in Alaska could not hear anything. Also there was some lag time between video, and echoing when voice was picked up. This created interesting worship the first time as our lagging voices echoed with the song Mighty to Save so we were muted at the Oregon location but it all worked out eventually.

We even were able to play large group games. We played "Ships and Sailors" aka "Captain's coming" with all the sites included and we also had a mini talent show (silly talents like who had the largest thumb etc). I feel that utilizing cell phones in an engaging way is what we need to move towards. Why punish technology when it  can help in ministry?

Receiving instruction for "Captain's Coming"

"Captain's Ball"
Doing the wave from Oregon to Alaska
The large group sessions were great but we also had fun in our small group "Alaska Only" sessions. These included Bible Study with some unique interactive activities such as making a tin foil mold mask of each person, washing each other's feet (with baby wipes), and games of our own.

Bible Study
In the word
capturing every unique feature

Completed masks Tori and Jenna
Washing feet with baby wipes...Annette is ticklish
Claire is ticklish too...
Our service project: Making tie blankets for the women's shelter
On Saturday afternoon the we went sledding up on Hatcher Pass. Since my internship church has the 15 passenger van that was going to be the mode of transportation, however the van would not start. It had gotten down to -15 below actual temperature causing the van to not want to start. The battery was fine as the lights, radio, and fans worked and we even hooked up the battery to a tester and it was fine. The sheer cold caused to to not start. We had to plug it in and postpone sledding for 45 minutes. This was fine but made for a darker sled time as the sun sets early 4:15pm.

-15 overnight will do damage to a vehicle...

Checking the battery voltage, it was fine so the issue lies elsewhere like in the temperature!
 Sledding in Alaska is intense. They don't sled on hills. They sled on MOUNTAINS! On top of the sled mountain it was -13 below and the wind was blowing but that didn't stop the kids from sledding. I too, could not pass up the opportunity to sled, literally, down a mountain.
THIS is our sledding MOUNTAIN up by Hatcher's Pass

The snow was ridiculously deep! Each step up to my knees or higher. The kids and I ended up crawling, putting our saucers out in front of us to spread out our weight. The climb took 20-30 minutes and it was exhausting. Once at the top, one could enjoy a long ride down, but due to the extreme cold and long hike to the top I only went down once.
Looking down the valley

snow depth: RIDICULOUS! 
Making the ascent to sled

Gretchen trying to walk out to the base of the hill

Up and up
Let the fun begin, the hard part is over...
That's me on the saucer coming down, with Toonie (the dog) following me
Our group!
All in all the Middle School Gathering was fantastic, and it was neat to worship with people 2500 miles away. It just goes to show that no distance can keep us from proclaiming and sharing with each other the great love of Christ.