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My Missions Story — Barbour Baptist Association volunteers give, receive blessings from Alaska partnership

Barbour Baptist Association missions volunteers traveled in July to Palmer, Alaska, as part of an ongoing partnership between Alabama and Alaska Baptists.

Last November, the Alabama Baptist State Convention announced a new five-year partnership with the Alaska Baptist Convention. Volunteer missions teams from Alabama Baptist churches were encouraged to provide support for a variety of needs, including help with construction projects at churches and Christian camps, assisting with VBS or Backyard Bible Clubs and other various outreach ministries.

Don Hatcher, director of missions for Barbour Baptist Association, and Richard Harvey, senior pastor of Cross Baptist Church in Eufaula, heard of the effort and discussed putting together a team from Barbour County.

In March, Harvey announced a preplanning meeting and solicited volunteers from association churches. By May, a team of 11 volunteers from three Barbour Association churches began to finalize plans for the trip. Team members included Aliza Chambers; Ken and Katheren Stanfield; Dr. Richard Harvey and his sons Graham Harvey and Wesley Harvey; and Kevin Phinney, all from Cross Baptist Church, Eufaula; Mary Ellen Gatlin, from Parkview Baptist Church in Eufaula; and Brooke Hall, Ashley McCraney, and Ashley’s daughter, Hadley Kate McCraney, all from Evergreen Baptist Church in Clayton.

Helping with VBS

The Barbour Association team assisted First Baptist Church Palmer with Vacation Bible School activities. The team traveled July 21 and began preparing for VBS on July 23 by decorating the church campus and setting up rooms.

Bruce Rowell, pastor of FBC Palmer, said the church had received more than double any previous year’s pre-enrollment — more than 90 children. Throughout the week of July 25–29, VBS average attendance was approximately 70 children each day. Volunteers from Barbour Association led in worship, Bible studies, missions, crafts and music.

The team also enjoyed visiting several Alaska landmarks, including the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (Mat-Su Valley) region where Palmer is located. Members of the team hiked a local mountain trial called “the Butte.” They also explored Hatcher’s Pass where they hiked up the mountain to a beautiful lake of crystal clear waters created from the melting snow. They even had a “snowball fight” at this higher elevation with breathtaking views of the valley below.

To the south, the team was able to travel back through Anchorage and down the Seward Highway to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. There they saw moose, caribou, elk, bison, reindeer, wolves, bears and a variety of other creatures. The team also traveled through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel — the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America — to reach the port city of Whittier.

The team enjoyed strolling through the “Friday Fling” outdoor market held each Friday during the summer months. Eating the local cuisine and shopping for souvenirs from the local arts and crafts vendors was a highlight, volunteers said.

Palmer also is home to the Alaska State Fair. The rich, fertile soil of the valley and the extensive length of sunlight — 20 hours or more — in the long Alaskan summer days makes for the perfect climate to grow some of the largest vegetables in the world. Some of these vegetables are world record size. The quaint city of Palmer is active in these summer months.

‘Fruitful’

The people of First Baptist Church in Palmer made the team’s stay absolutely enjoyable in every way. The team stayed in the facilities of the church campus.

One family invited the team to join their rather competitive (but really fun) kickball game. Other families and individuals brought meals of smoked salmon and halibut, shrimp fried rice and much more.

There can be no doubt that while the team came to be a blessing to the congregation of FBC Palmer, they left having received even more of a blessing.

The trip was fruitful on so many levels. Children’s hearts were touched and many lives were changed for eternity because of the good news of Jesus Christ. Many families were introduced to the ministries of the church and follow-up is planned to continue to reach out to these families.

Several team members are already looking forward to next summer anticipating that this partnership between Alabama and Alaska Baptist churches will continue to thrive. The work of impacting people’s lives with the hope of the gospel is still so desperately needed all around the world.

The Barbour Baptist Association annual meeting is scheduled to be held at the Louisville Baptist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16. A report will be given by the Alaska missions team at that meeting. Hopefully, there will be a sign-up for a new Alaska missions team for the summer of 2023. The team is grateful for the churches and individuals of the Barbour Baptist Association — for their prayers, encouragement and financial support, without which this great adventure would have never taken place.


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was contributed by Richard Harvey, pastor of Cross Baptist Church in Eufaula. This article is part of an occasional column featuring Alabama Baptists sharing their first-person missions experiences. If you would like to share a “My Missions Story,” send it to news@thealabamabaptist.org.