On August 10th of this year, just a couple of days from the moment I write these words, I celebrated four years since I arrived in Fairbanks, AK. I drove ten days from Gates County, North Carolina. Without knowing much about Alaska, other that it was cold and, without knowing anybody, my wife, my six children and I decided to make Alaska our new home.
I love the beauty of the State, I love the summers here; they are absolutely amazing! I love my home, landscaping, cutting trees for firewood, splitting, stacking and the whole process of preparing for the winter. However, there is an obvious dark side to Alaska that I am unable to ignore.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence “Alaska has the highest homicide rate for female victims killed by a male perpetrator in the nation. 59% of adult women in Alaska experience sexual abuse in their lifetime.”
On September 29 of last year The Alaska Dispatch News reported that, “The statistics are sickening. One in every four women in Alaska will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The Alaska rape rate is 2-1/2 times the national average, and the child sexual assault rate in Alaska is close to six times the national average. For the Native Alaska population, the numbers are even rougher. One out of every three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped during her life, and three out of every four American Indian and Alaska Native women will be physically assaulted.” The Statewide Suicide Prevention Council reported the following:
- Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the country.
- The rate of suicide in the United States was 12.57 suicides per 100,000 people in 2013 (the most recent year available from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control). In 2015, Alaska’s rate was 27.1 suicides per 100,000 people.
- At least one suicide occurred in 186 Alaskan communities between 2006 and 2015.
- In 2015, the rate of Alaska Native males that died by suicide was 79.7 suicides per 100,000, more than six times the national average.
- Youth who are exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors are more at-risk for attempting suicide, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
- Suicide deaths consistently outnumber homicide deaths by a margin of three to two, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
- More than 90% of people who die by suicide have depression or another diagnosable, treatable mental or substance abuse disorder, according to American Association of Suicidology.
There are many other awful statistics in Alaska and, I suppose, many have taken the time to present possible causes. I heard that the long, cold and dark winters in Alaska are the reasons for such awful statistics. However, the cause, more than physical, is spiritual. There is an obvious spiritual darkness and coldness in Alaska. In September of 2008, in an article entitle, “Survey Finds Alaskans Less Religious Than Other Americans” the Pew Research Center found “that, compared with the nation as a whole, Alaska is home to a higher-than-average number of people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion. More than one-in-four Alaskans (27%) describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, compared with 16% among the adult population of the continental U.S.”
If you take away the light you are left with darkness. In doing research for this article I am finding, over and over, that Alaska is commonly recognized as, not only one of the least religious states in the United States, but in fact, one of the least Christian states in the United States. This makes perfect sense to me judging by my own personal experiences in churches in Alaska.
In my 20 years as a born again believer I have been a part of mostly Pentecostal churches. When I arrived to Fairbanks I quickly became a part of a Church. There, for the most part, the preaching and teaching of God’s Word was weak. I heard outrageous things such as “God is a God of two truths who follows us alone the way as we navigate in life.” What? Are we not called to follow HIM? Is it not HE the Truth, the Way…? When invited to a leadership meeting, in that same church, I reminded the Bishop that the Bible encourages us to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness; he proceeded to point at the denomination’s constitution. Is the Church’s constitution above God’s Word? Well, things did not end well there!
On my second church I heard more outrageous things also, such as an elder testifying that he got saved, but repented later. When I confronted him with this doctrinal atrocity he challenged me to show him in Scripture where the Bible tell us to repent. Well, from the Old Testament, to John the Baptist, to Jesus, the Apostles… repentance is all over the place! Needless to say that with no biblical justification I was kicked out of this church. Thirdly, I applied for a senior pastor position in a local Baptist Church. These folks did not even give me the opportunity of an interview; they rejected me even when I told them that I was available to do the job for free. For free! I am sorry guys, but I have to LOL on this one!
Experiences like these forced me to gather my family, take a look at the enormous house God has provided for us and, open up my own ministry. My main focus is my family! However, even as I am open to minister to all; I can’t deny my passion for the Native American community in this region and, that is precisely where the Lord is beginning to open doors for me. There is no other way to say it and, I know that I may run the risk of offending some folks; but strong Bible preaching and teaching are painfully lacking in Alaska.
After four years, it seems like I have nothing to show for. By far, I have minister very little in Alaska compare to Florida and North Carolina. I have to say that my ministry, for the most part, has been rejected here! That is the truth, I can’t make stuff up and give you guys the wrong idea of what is going on here in terms of ministry. My wife and I have never seen the degree of disloyalty we have seen here. We know folks, some have become closer than others, but do we have true friends as we did in our previous communities? No, not even close!
However, the last four years have been also years of intense training; of truly paying attention to what we believe, to study theology and doctrine, those concepts that are not too popular amongst the Pentecostal/charismatic denominations, to not accept anything as truth that is not clearly confirmed in Scripture; to openly reject traditions of men that again, have nothing to do with God’s Word, to study like never before, go back to school (Liberty University) and dig deep into the things of God. I don’t know how much longer I will be residing here; I am leaving that in God’s hands. What I do know is that all these training is with a purpose and that either more doors for ministry will open or, perhaps, the time will come for me to shake the dust off my feet.
 Information is from the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics unless otherwise specified.