By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
NOME, Ak.—The Iditerod could provide a pastor with an unlimited number of winter sermon ideas—the “last great race” over 1,100 miles across tundra, frozen rivers, forests and mountain ranges to the finish line; the mushers’ endurance and the history and legends that surround the race. There’s mysteriousness to Alaska, romanticism. The reality is that Alaska is a ripe mission field. It leads the nation in incest, rape and suicide. The darkness that covers the region for most of the day in the winter is ravaging the souls of many in that state; but God has a presence in Alaska and His light is shining in spiritual darkness.
One hundred sixty Christians volunteered at the 2010 Iditarod race, providing seriously needed helping hands and a Holy presence to the small town of Nome. Brenda Crimm, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary and mission strategist leads mission teams to help at the Iditarod each year. Crimm, who serves as a collegiate minister at University of Alaska-Anchorage, is passionately driven to reach the people of Alaska for Jesus. She pours herself into her chosen ministry. Marylander Abbey Brakeall was one of the 160 who worked alongside Crimm this year.
Brakeall, a member of Second Church, Cumberland, is no stranger to mission trips, but she was surprised when God led her to minister at the Iditarod. While watching a video about the North American Missions offering last year, she was intrigued by Crimm’s testimony and ministry. Brakeall, the associational WMU director for the Western Association, really enjoys being around dogs and she had followed the Iditarod for years. The excitement of helping with the race combined with doing ministry in Alaska drew her in. She prayed about the possibility and she felt God leading her to make the contact. In March, Brakeall was meeting mushers, working at an after-the-race banquet and giving away buckets of Bibles.
She ministered in Nome, where the mushers with their faithful dogs dash to the finish line. “Nome is a very old town, very much like it was in 1925 when the original serum was taken into the town,” Brakeall observed, referring to a dog sled race to Nome in 1925 to deliver medicine during a severe diphtheria epidemic. Now there are modern amenities, but outside of the town, people still live in old fashioned villages.
Crimm’s Iditerod volunteers filled an astonishing number of capacities. They answered phones, transported Iditarod officials by snowmobiles to the final checkpoint, manned the lots where race dogs are kept under secure watch, delivered dog food (a three hour trip on the frozen river), updated the leader boards to keep folks up to date on the race and prepared and served food at the Iditarod banquet. One group of volunteers helped with security. The bars don’t close in Nome until 5 a.m. These brave volunteers headed out into the wee hours of the frozen morning looking for intoxicated people in danger of falling asleep in the snow. Volunteers have done such a great job and are so well received that they’ve been essential to the process.
Crimm is now included in the Iditarod planning meetings. Officials were reluctant to have the volunteers at first, Crimm explained, but she assured the leaders that she and her mission volunteers were not going to be “slamming” people with Christianity. “I told them, ‘We’re going to volunteer. We’ll act right.’ And we were great. We were organized, we were serving, we weren’t drinking and we were showing up on time.
“The Lord has given us favor,” Crimm, a native Texan said. It’s incongruous to see her in a heavy fur parka speaking in that southern drawl. “We have assumed leadership positions at the Iditarod and the church gets infused into the world. That’s the whole point. It’s not to say that ‘we did the Iditerod,’” Crimm stressed.
“Some people don’t get that. They think we’re not doing evangelism, but we’re putting mission teams right in the middle of non-Christians. We have a reason to be authentic and natural and to bring Christianity to the world in a natural way so it overflows and is not staged and facetious. The world bristles at that.”
The town of Nome has a Mardi Gras atmosphere during the Iditarod, Crimm explained. Immorality is rampant. Satan’s footprints are on the tundra, she said. But as the little army of mission team volunteers prayer walk and works side-by side with native Alaskans and allow God’s Spirit to overflow, God is being glorified and people are being changed.
Crimm works with Nome Community Church, which is very supportive of the ministry and happily opens their doors to the volunteers. Crimm helped supply the church with extra shower facilities and a new stove. It’s a good partnership, Crimm said. The church gets tremendous exposure and the team has a place to stay.
In addition to working with logistics, mission team volunteers do kids’ clubs and senior events. And they served at a concession stand during a huge basketball program. In fact, Crimm runs the concession stand for officials and volunteers man it. In addition to selling food, they offer Bibles.
Brakeall helped with a “Bibles in Buckets” outreach. Crimm asked the townspeople what they needed and they told her—buckets. These buckets had Scripture on the outside and Bibles, tracts and information about Nome Community Church on the inside.
“Native Alaskans use buckets for everything!” Brakeall said, explaining that the Alaskans use them to carry meat and fish and those that live in remote areas even use them in their outhouses. “We had good weather. It was only -1 degrees when we did the distribution,” Brakeall said with a chuckle. “We got a good response from most people,” she added.
Crimm recorded 65 confessions of faith this year. And, as they packed up, she even thought she could see Christ’s footprints on the tundra.