During the six weeks of Grace Works this summer, more than eighty Alaskans made professions of faith.
Grace Works, a new multi-week initiative of Grandview Baptist Church, had a dual purpose of engaging in ministry evangelism to people in Anchorage and providing a missions project available to teams from the "lower 48."
Developed by Grandview pastor Randy Graham and implemented by Scott Kirby and Traci Warren, Grace Works is the latest in a long list of mission endeavors by Grandview, which was started in 1952 on a foundation of missions and the Cooperative Program (CP).
"It's all about cooperation," Graham said. "There's strength in numbers. That's what makes the Cooperative Program work. That's what makes Chugach Baptist Association work. That's what makes Grandview Baptist Church work. With the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ working through us, and with us working together, we can make a difference in God's Kingdom."
Cooperative Program giving "allows us to be involved in missions with other churches in a way we could never do alone," Graham said. "Anytime we have a missionary available to speak, we take advantage of it so or people can hear the stories about the difference our CP gifts make."
Cooperation is essential for Southern Baptist work to flourish in the nation's northernmost state, Graham said. Churches in Alaska partner with each other and with visiting missions teams eager to do ministry amidst the grandeur of a state that is two and a half times the size of Texas.
"Alaska has always had numerous requests from mission teams in the lower forty-eight for projects to do in our state," Graham said. "Mission teams want to come up here and experience this great land." Even so, he added that "there are only so many VBSes to help with, and even fewer churches that need building or repairs. So, many mission teams get turned away."
"The idea [of Grace Works] is to saturate neighborhoods that have lots of needs, especially for the Gospel, with these mission teams [from the lower 48]," Graham said. "The opportunities are endless. We had close to three hundred volunteers come and be a part of Grace Works this summer. They have done numerous service projects — Bible clubs, seminars, picnics, acts of service, meals, and more" — efforts that resulted in eighty-plus people accepting Christ.
In addition to servant evangelism to Alaskans without the hope of Jesus in their hearts and ministry opportunities for missions volunteers, Grace Works had a third objective.
"Our biggest challenge is escaping the plateau and declining stage that so many churches are falling into," Graham said. "I believe the way you do that is to find a church's niche in missions. When a church develops a heart for the world and begins to minister outside its four walls, it energizes the body."
Grandview members "gave several thousand dollars and got involved to help make this ministry a success," the pastor said. "It has taken several years of trying different things, but I believe we have found our missions niche this summer with Grace Works."
Graham envisions Grace Works impacting the entire state, from the southeast at Ketchikan — which claims the title of "salmon capital of the world" — to Barrow, northernmost city in the United States and hub of the North Slope oil fields.
"Anchorage contains about half the state's population and is also the place the rest of the state connects with in some form," Graham said. "We have the unique opportunity to change the entire state by changing one city. We can change this one city by shining the light of the Gospel where it is the darkest."
Years before Alaska achieved statehood in 1959, Southern Baptists started work in the region in 1943. Grandview began in 1952 as a cooperative effort of churches in the Chugach Baptist Association. Grandview started its first mission in 1955 and in the years since has fathered or grandfathered at least ten missions. All but one have become viable congregations.
Grandview gives more than 20 percent of its offerings to missions, including at least 10 percent through the Cooperative Program. Last year it also gathered more than $15,000 in offerings for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and Valeria Sherard Alaskan state mission offerings.
"We also support ten other ministries, including several Russian churches and missionaries," Graham said.
About 170 people attend Sunday worship services at Grandview. In addition to Sunday School and discipleship training classes, church programs include an adult bell choir, AWANA for youth, and classes in English as a Second Language.
Grandview members, other Alaska Baptists, and mission teams from the lower 48 also engage in ministries in conjunction with events related to Alaskan culture.
During the "salmon frenzy" of the last two weeks of July near the town of Kenai, Alaskans congregate on the northern and southern banks of the Kenai River and use a net to "dip" salmon, which is permissible for Alaskan residents as subsistence fishing. Whole families come to participate.
Opportunities for ministry include providing games and activities for children while their parents fish; setting up fish-cleaning stations along the river; giving away grilled hotdogs; helping local police and park personnel with traffic control; and conducting chapel services at points along the river.
A "Bible in a Bucket" ministry coincides with the annual Iditarod dogsled race. Churches purchase five-gallon buckets that have a Bible verse printed on them and then place a Bible, tracts, and various other items inside. During church events in the villages, pastors and missionaries hand out the buckets or go door-to-door with them. The buckets are gratefully received by Native Alaskans who use them for such things as carrying supplies, gathering berries, holding fish, washing clothes and utensils, and changing oil in engines.
"It provides a great ice-breaker and gives the pastor/missionary an opportunity to share the Gospel," said Brenda Crim, a missionary with the North American Mission Board.
Other Chugach Baptist Association ministries in which Grandview members participate include a Christmastime children's "shoe-box" ministry for native Alaskan children in bush villages and a dress pack ministry providing women in the villages with five yards of material and sewing supplies, along with a Gospel tract.
Grandview continues its close cooperation with Chugach Baptist Association for the same reason it supports the Cooperative Program, Graham said.
"Whether it's with groups from the lower 48, or with other churches in our association, we can accomplish so much more for God when we work together than when we try to go on our own," the pastor said. "There's just a synergy that happens when people work together."
Karen Willoughby is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana, and is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist newspapers.