Monday, August 27, 2007

School is in session

Grace and greetings.

The season of change is upon us. The sun has started setting, though it is only for a little bit right now. Of course it will continue to get darker longer as the nights go by. The economy is looking a little brighter here, gasoline has dropped 10 cents a gallon, all the way down to $4.45 a gallon. That is still less expensive than milk, which comes out of the store at $8.99 a gallon.

Our son celebrated his seventeenth birthday last week. Then got to start school the next day.

School has been very frustrating at the moment. I made contact with the school the first week I was here, back during Easter in early April. Then again when we officially arrived the first week of May. Of course, the school was in their last week when we arrived. We were assured that meetings will be had in a timely fashion so that everybody will be ready for the start of the new school year.

With the turn over of teachers in the Bush, (outside Anchorage or Fairbanks), and an unexpected resignation, our meeting never happened. The first week of school came and our son was not registered. Of course to complicate matters, we were not sure how many credits had transferred from Seattle, since he missed out on the entire last quarter. Though this is his third year of high school, which means he should be a junior, he could still be a sophomore or even a second semester freshman because of his hospitalizations in the previous years.

Friday, we finally had a meeting with the school to get our son registered and a temporary class schedule. Even then, not all departments were in communication with each other. The special education department had not communicated with the headquarters, and the transcripts were misfiled, misplaced or could not be found just yet. But, we have things going forward now, (I hope).

Tonight I start my first class of Conversational Inupiat. We will see how that goes.

Peace and blessings to all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

American Football arrives in the North Slope

Grace and greetings.

I do not know if you have heard or not, but Barrow, Alaska now has its own football field. That may not seem too extreme until you consider all that is involved.

Last year, they decided to try football, all eleven players on the field at one time. The borough leveled out a field with gravel and marked it with corn flower. The Barrow Whalers had a couple of home games with high school teams from the Fairbanks area, and played three more out in Fairbanks and Anchorage areas. One must consider that the nearest football team is three hundred miles away, and the only way to get into and out of Barrow is by plane; a football team is expensive enough, but add on $600.00 tickets per team MEMBER per game. It adds up quickly.

The promotion was to help build character, not just a macho sport. Some people backed the idea and they had their first season. In the meantime, ESPN hears of the football team in the frozen north, and runs a news story on it. So much for the grand experiment and 15 seconds of news fame.

Well a business woman in Florida heard the story. She thought to herself, "wouldn't it be great if they did not have to play on the gravel, but on a real football field?" She started to ask around northern Florida about the possibility of getting an artificial field to Barrow. I understand her husband was a former NFL player, still with contacts and her sons also play high school football. She made some telephone calls and started getting serious about the field. During the winter and spring, she raised the $500,000 for the artificial turf, now just to get it to Barrow.

After a few setbacks and a few surprises, everything fell into place. The field is in the Blue and White colors of the High School. After all was said and done, we now have an artificial football field in Barrow, Alaska. If all bills were paid the "normal" way, this field cost close to one million dollars. But a lot of time, materials and transportation cost ended up being donated to the cause. And it is a beautiful football field.

The Barrow Whalers played the Seward Seahawks for it first official game Friday night. The Whalers were the first to score in the second quarter, but Seward came back to take a 7-6 lead at halftime. The third quarter was going mostly Seward's way, and I headed home. But to make this story come out with a happy ending, with thirty seconds left in the game, Barrow scored the winning touchdown to win their opening game on the new field.

It is a wonderful and touching story of how one person had a dream to reach out to a community four thousand miles away. I pray the million or so it took to make it a reality here in Barrow is able to be a wise, well spent gift for not only the Barrow High School, the community and the North Slope as a whole.

Peace and blessings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday noon

Grace and greetings.

The rainy season has hit Barrow. It has been overcast and rainy for the last several days, which makes everything muddy. Since the roads are just dirt to begin with, it makes for one great big muddy mess.

The sun will start setting this week for the first time since we moved here. (The fount size just changed, and I am not sure how to change it back, or what I did to change it in the first place. I found the fount size change, I guess I had it on small all this time.) Now getting back to the setting of the sun...since it has been overcast for the last several days, I am not sure if the sun has started setting yet, or if it will be in a couple of days. Though Sunday morning at 1:00, the sun bouncing off the clouds lit up the sky with a beautiful red and different shades all across the horizon.

Of course, with the setting of the sun, means that the seasons are changing. Here winter will be on its way all too soon. The sun will set for the last time this year sometime in November.

A couple congregation members have commented on how warm and dry this past summer has been. It has been one of the more pleasant summers in a long time. Some worry that the ice have not been flowing in and out of sight in Barrow. I guess usually one can see ice throughout the summer, but not this year, the ocean has been ice free since it left in June or July.

Kim's mother, Polly, was cremated last week. We are still trying to figure out a way where all three of us can go to Wisconsin for a service with the rest of her family. They are wanting to do it sometime in September before school starts in Madison. Of course, everything being equal, school starts here next week. Some church members are trying to help us get to Wisconsin, but Alaska Airlines has a monopoly here, so it can charge what it wants. To fly from Barrow to Anchorage is about $600.00 per person. Then we would have to fly out of Anchorage to Wisconsin. Right now, the fare is about $1800 per person, but we are exploring different ways that we can find the tickets.

Well, I think I am going to go and get some lunch to eat.

Peace and blessings to all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Following Polly

Grace and greetings.

This is a quick follow up post to yesterday. (Wow, two days in a row...:-))

In answer to my daughter's question, what was the gain? The gain was that she died peacefully and is no longer struggling with this life.

I found out earlier today that we will be able to bury Polly's ashes between her parents in Lena, Illinois. The question is when. The thought was to have a service for her before school starts. But school starts here in Barrow in two weeks, where as in Wisconsin they still have a month or so.

There has been a HUGE response from the congregation here in trying to find ways to get Kim, Sam and myself to Wisconsin for the service. At least now, we have a few weeks to work with. Now if only I could have my daughter and family to move up here from Birmingham, Alabama, things would be perfect, (at least for me).

Peace and blessings.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Loss and A Gain

Grace and greetings.

Saturday morning my mother-in-law died peacefully in her sleep. She had been suffering the affects of several strokes and living in a nursing home the last several years.

Polly was a wonderful and strong woman. She was born to a Scottish family of thirteen in 1929. She was put up for adoption and raised by her parents in a small German community of Lena, Illinois. She grew up with the violin under her chin and played professionally in Rockford and Chicago, Illinois. Looking like pictures of Audrey Hepburn, she married at a young age to a World War II veteran and young teacher. They had three children together, a son and two daughters. My wife grew up listening to her mother play the violin, give lessons and even get frustrated when she, (Polly), could not get a particular run down on the violin.

Polly followed her husband faithfully as he went to University of Wisconsin for his Masters degree and then his PhD. He ended up being Superintendent of Schools in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Polly continued to play and teach the violin; working at the local library; raising three children, as well as typing most of her husband's papers. While in Wisconsin, the marriage finally fell apart and Polly divorced her husband.

Though she was raised in the Presbyterian Church, she became Roman Catholic for the sake of the marriage. In the community were they lived, she was denied communion at the local parish while her ex-husband, as Superintendent of Schools was allowed to participate in communion. She returned to her Presbyterian roots, and her daughters followed. My wife later became, (and still is), a Presbyterian Church (USA) Minister of the Word and Sacrament.

Following a heart attack and several aneurysms, she turned her life around for the cigarettes and Bourbon she was drinking to get through the divorce and aftermath. Arthritis had taken its toll on her arms and hands, and she could no longer lift up the violin to play any more. Her last several years before her major stroke was helping to raise her youngest granddaughter, while living with her youngest daughter's family. Though she surprised everybody, family and doctors alike, she came back from her stroke, until she had another one.

She was not able to recover this time around. She lost the ability to move her self around and to communicate. Her daughter was no longer able to care for Polly at home, so Polly lived the last several years in a nursing home. She still had her smile, and a twinkle in her eyes to tell people of her love for them. Unfortunately, we have not been able to see Polly since we moved from Pennsylvania to Seattle in 2003.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, if anybody were willing to donate in her name to the South Beach Chamber Ensemble, 827 16Th Street, Suite 12, Miami Beach, Florida 33139. This is a group that is led by a former student and "adopted son". If you are not able to make a donation to the South Beach Chamber Ensemble, maybe you can light a candle a say a prayer for Polly and her family.

Peace and blessings.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Few Tales

Grace and greetings.

As I started out my last blog with prayers for the Korean Presbyterian Group, I again lift them up as I have not heard of any resolution as of this writing. Also, I lift up the people in Minnesota dealing with the I35 bridge collapse.

When I first moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1974 I was not sure what was going to happen. As I explained in my first blog, I came for six weeks and stayed a resident for thirteen years. While going to college and seminary outside of Alaska I loved to tell different stories.

One of the first, and I still tell, is the complaint from Texas about the size of Alaska. Texas claims to be number ONE in EVERYTHING. But in 1959 when Alaska became a state, Texas was reduced to be the SECOND largest state. To help heal Texas' feelings, I purpose that we divide Alaska into three, and make Texas the FOURTH largest state. No, Alaska is not that large, but almost, it is not quite three times the size of Texas.

When we moved here in 1974, there were four time zones in the state, the same as the Continental United States. If you were to put Alaska in scale on top of the Continental United States, you would have the pan handle (Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, etc) in the Carolinas; the North Slope, (were we are) would be in the Great Lake area of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota; then if you follow the Aleutian Chain, it would be WEST of Los Angeles, California. So when one speaks of what is Alaska like, it all depends on where you are at the time.

Another story I always wanted to send to Reader Digest is three quick lines.

"I love school here in Alaska, because come the summer time, the school melts."
"During the summers I use to work for the Alaska Railroad, and while training for
Cross Country I would have to run with a 357 strapped to my chest."
"If you wish to check on either of these stories, please check out the schools and buildings."

I did have to run with the 357 strapped to my chest for the brown bears, also known as the grizzle bear. Not that I would have been able to kill a grizzle with a 357, I could hope to scare it away. My thought was that if all else failed, I would save one bullet, ram the gun down the Bear's throat and pray. Understand that to kill a grizzle, you need to hit it in one of four places, and then it does not always mean the bear will "go down"; the brain, which is about the size of your fist sitting behind several inches of thick skull; the heart; the lungs; and the spinal cord. Again, just because the bullet finds these places does not mean that the bear will die instantly. Fortunately I never saw a bear while I was running, but we did see them while we were on duty working on the tracks.

Peace and blessings.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Prayers Answered

As a Presbyterian minister, I witness the answer of prayer many times. This past summer has been no exception. But before I go on, I am lifting up prayers for the Korean Presbyterian Church members who are being held captive in Afghanistan. Two members of the group have already been killed as of yesterday morning (31 July). I ask that you, the reader, also lift up prayers, not only for the Korean Presbyterian group, but for the entire Middle East, that we stop killing each other in the name of the same God.

Now that I have said that, I am going to comment on a few prayers answered here in Barrow this summer.

There was a member here in Barrow, (that while she was a student at the same seminary my wife and I attended, this member attended our wedding in Wausau, Wisconsin twenty two years ago) left with Breast Cancer to go to Anchorage for surgery and chemo therapy for the month of June. During the surgery, the doctors were able to get all of the cancer, so she was able to return home within the week and without the chemo treatments. She was back in the village for my installation on June 17. It was truly a blessing to have her back home.

The other story concerns the congregation, the community and the Board of Deacons. The deacons run the ONLY food bank in the community of Barrow, a community of 4,200. They would receive five to six calls a week for food. The deacons would meet with the family at the store, (only one grocery store in Barrow) and purchase food depending on the number of people in the family. A total of $250.00 could be spent for one family twice a quarter. The Board of Deacons responded to anybody and everybody, especially if there were children involved. The only time the Board really worried about families abusing the ministry is when the adults were drinking alcohol or using drugs rather than feeding their families. Being the only food bank in town, they were taking care of the whole community.

After spending almost $10,000.00 in the past five months, with little funds coming in, the bank account ran dry fast. The store allowed credit, but that was soon used up as well. It turned out that the Deacons were $4,000 in debt. They had to stop the food bank effectively immediately.

Of course, that night we had three families call in for food, we had to say "sorry". I mentioned the debt on Sunday morning and had them announce the decision to stop the food bank on the evening radio show the church host every Sunday evening. The next afternoon, one of the people helping to clean up the sanctuary found an envolope with a check for $1,000.00. By Wednesday night, another check for $500.00 was added to the fund. The next Sunday night, a very retired couple paid the remaining balance of the debt with a check for $3,000.

That was two weeks ago. The debt has been paid off, but the Board of Deacons still have little funds to continue the food bank, so they are still not able to buy food yet. They will be meeting next week to try and find another way to maintain the food bank for the community. Obviously, buying food at the moment of a phone call was not working. We are looking into buying bulk items, and then passing them out to families on a weekly basis. But this still requires the funds up front. Unfortunately in Barrow, we are a isolated community. We can not just drive to the next major town and get more food, everything has to be either flown in or by barge during a six to ten week open sea time frame. Anything coming by barge to get here this summer, left Seattle back in June.

The Board of Deacons are still trying to find a way to care for the community. They will be praying and trying to figure out how to be the best stewards of the gifts that God has bestowed upon them. I look forward to seeing how we can make this work.

Again, as this post is about answered prayers, I would ask that you continue to lift up the Board of Deacons, the Korean Presbyterians in Afganastan as well as the rest of Creation, as we all try to be wise stewards of the gifts bestowed upon us by our wonderful loving God.

Peace and blessings.