Nontraditional Ministry: Alaska Pastor Reaches Remote Residents by Plane
By Cassondra Jones
From the frying pan to the freezer, Kermit Wilson went from sunny California to snowy Alaska, where he is now serving the community for the glory of God. After spending sixteen years of ministry in California, nine of which with the Church of God congregation known as College Park Church, it was time for Wilson to take a much-needed sabbatical. But God had other plans for him.
After getting settled in his new surroundings, Wilson was enjoying the peaceful relaxation when things took a turn for the worst. Unexpectedly, this Church of God minister’s wife was injured with a broken leg. This incident pushed him to find a job to help pay the bills. After searching for a job, an opportunity presented itself to Wilson—becoming an Alaskan rural social worker.
Unsure about the fit of the job, Wilson attended the interview and was surprisingly reconnected with familiar faces. These were not one, but two now-grown adults he once pastored in his previous trip to Alaska before his work in California. Wilson saw how his impact on these former students had helped them grow into who they are today. “It was a God-connection,” Wilson said. “As we are faithful to the Lord every day, we sow seeds, and we never know how those seeds will grow. And that was an example of thirty years later, of those seeds growing.” Taking this as a sign from God, Wilson took the job and started planting new seeds.
Working as a rural traveler all over Alaska, Wilson mentioned one particular location that stood out from the rest: Angoon, Alaska. Working in Angoon is not like working in mainland America. Angoon is a small village on Admiralty Island off the coast of Alaska. This makes it difficult to reach. Unlike the mainland, where we drive to and from work, Wilson has to fly into Angoon. To reach many of the remote places in Alaska, Wilson travels by plane.
Admiralty Island also has the largest concentration of brown bears in the United States. There are three brown bears to every person in Angoon, making a bear sighting a normal occurrence. A typical social worker here in the mainland does not have to worry about bear sightings, but Wilson does! That is just one of the things that makes his job unique.
Depending on where you are in Alaska, some villages see about twenty-four hours of sunlight during the summer and about twenty-four hours of darkness in the winter. Alaska gets a great deal of rain because southeastern Alaska is the only North American rainforest. Juneau gets 90 inches of rain each year, and Ketchikan gets about 202 inches of rain. With the rain and the sub-zero weather, people are forced to stay inside often. This, combined with long periods of darkness, results in frequent drug and alcohol abuse and depression. It’s unfortunate to see issues like this in families and homes.
Angoon is made up of 96-percent native people with a combination of the Tlingit and Haida tribes. This culture is matriarchal, meaning the women are the leaders. Therefore, a white male is not a highly trusted individual in this society. It took Wilson three years to finally be trusted in the village. “They [the villagers] know when a white guy from the states comes, it’s probably trouble,” said Wilson.
Families were afraid that Wilson or an Officer of Children Services (OCS) would come and take their children away. While that may happen, due to children being abused, neglected, or in need of medical care, Wilson tries his best to keep families together. “My goal was to always leave children in the village and with their people because children thrive and survive with their families,” stated Wilson.
There is a different culture in Alaska, with different values and ways of living that Wilson had to learn and understand to connect with people. What he has found is that the Alaskan people are very spiritual. They are connected to the land, and they have great respect for their elders. Wilson used this to make a connection with the people. He said, “each animal, tree, and rock has a meaning to them.” It was easy to find “awe at the beauty of God’s creation.”
Wilson also said he used discernment about how to help the people of Alaska. He said he would try to get an elder to engage in a relationship with those having trouble. “All women are aunties in this culture,” Wilson stated. He knew he had gained their trust when a car pulled up and an elder woman said to him; “Son, do you know there are bears out here?” Then the lady gave him a ride.
Wilson said, “This is not a ministry commission, but it always happens. It always comes up. I love the Creator and the Creator loves his creation.” As an employee of the state of Alaska, Wilson is not allowed to bring God into the equation, but God always seems to make a way. In fact, Wilson’s regional manager wanted to find out what was the secret to his success. She said, “Statewide reunification is 68 percent, and yours is 93 percent. Why? We want to replicate it.” Wilson humbly said, “I see things differently. I’ve been a pastor, but I’m really not being a pastor now. However, I pray over each child and every family each day and ask God for guidance.”
Wilson quoted Ephesian 3:20–21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (NIV).
Wilson then concludes, “His power can work through us and give us the wisdom to find an opportunity to reach these people. We are all called to be servants of Christ.” Wilson believes God will provide those opportunities to be an instrument and a tool for him.
And that gives Wilson a purpose for life.
The Church of God is a beautifully diverse movement of “Jesus people,” such as Kermit Wilson, boldly living out the love of God in their communities and beyond. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Cassondra Jones is a junior public relations events major at Anderson University. Jones is an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, a student-run public relations agency at Anderson University.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
*Feature (top) photo: Kermit Wilson ready to take flight!