Thursday, November 14, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Alaska...

The woods that back up to our yard after the first snow
After a long wait (we almost broke a record!) it has finally snowed here in Kenai Alaska.  Snow always reminds me of redemption and second chances. All of the dead brown vegetation around here has been covered in crisp white snow.  Alaska daily astounds me with it's breathtaking beauty.

The kids were so excited to see the snow. Other then a couple of trips to Northern AZ where the snow was already on the ground, they haven't really experienced a true snowfall. They were outside with snow pants on before it was even sticking to the ground.

Helping me shovel the driveway- shoveling is hard work!

Making snow angels
So excited for the first day of snow!

Sledding down our driveway
They have spent the past week sledding and playing outside every day after school. We don't have more snow in the immediate forecast, but hopefully we will see some soon. In the meantime, the snow we got is still around because the temps are staying low.

Steve has been really enjoying the classes he teaches at ACC. He also got the opportunity to preach last week at chapel. It was a great sermon about endurance in our Christian walk, and in life in general.
Working hard in his office at ACC
 We have stayed pretty busy, but have had the chance to spend some time with our coworkers. We had several families over for Halloween (many people here do not live in neighborhoods so they used our house as a trick or treat "launch point.") We also got to drive down to Homer for the day a couple weeks ago for one of our friend's birthdays. I feel so fortunate that we have such a great community of people up here already. When I think back throughout our life, I feel so fortunate that we have had such great friends during each phase. The same is true of our life here in Alaska. People here serve as each other's extended family due to the fact that most of us live thousands of miles away from our relatives.
Our family at the beach in Homer

Enjoying the beach in Homer
Steve with the kids in Homer
 Living where it is so dark during the winter comes with some challenges (cue the vitamin D supplements, "happy lights", and extra exercise.) However one of the fun things about the lack of sunlight is the fact that most Alaskans put up their Christmas lights early! When we first saw them popping up around Halloween I couldn't believe my luck! For those of you who know me well, you know that I have a weak spot for a good Christmas light display. Much to my dismay we found that our Christmas lights did not make the moving "cut" (or were forgotten back in AZ) so we had to keep our light display scaled down this year. (I can hear our neighbors chuckling..."scaled down" by my standards is still pretty bright!) We put our lights up the night before the snowfall, so it was just in time!
Noah ready to help us put up Christmas lights
We are continuing to see lives changed here at ACC. One of our students celebrates one year of sobriety tomorrow! Others are learning to persevere through varying challenges including those faced by most college students: schoolwork, time management, figuring out how to make their faith their own. Some deal with even harder challenges such as those that one of our past students, Rae, dealt with. In this video she talks about how God used ACC to overcome some of the difficult obstacles in her life.

Rae Fancher from Alaska Christian College on Vimeo.

Thank you for your continued support as we strive to make a difference in our students lives!

We are looking forward to Steve's parents coming for Thanksgiving- it will be great to have family nearby. We are also planning our trip back to AZ for Christmas. We will be there from Dec 15- Jan 1. We are planning on spending the week of Christmas in Prescott, and the rest of the time in Tempe if you would like to connect with us while we are back and here more about our ministry here at Alaska Christian College.

Hope to see you all soon!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Countdown to Snow!

Now that the last of the summer tourists are gone, and the leaves are mostly off of the trees we have had more and more visits from our long-nosed neighbors. This mama has made sure that my rose bushes are nice and pruned for next year.

The past month has absolutely flown by! I cannot believe that tomorrow it will be November. Most of my month was spent planning the annual Alaska Christian College Vision dinner, which was last weekend. I am so proud of our students, we took 26 of them to Anchorage to help with the dinner and they all did so well!  The weekend before the ACC vision dinner, New Hope Counseling Center (the counseling center on our campus that serves more 90% of our students) had their fundraising dinner. This is Marlene (my mentee) and Grace at the New Hope dinner. One of my favorite things about ACC is the way that the staff get to really know the students, especially those that we mentor. Marlene and I spent lots of time sewing kuspuks (Native Alaskan tunics) for Noah, Grace and me.

Noah has become fast friends with one of the other staff member's daughter. They insisted on sitting on the same chair during the New Hope dinner.

We have made two trips to Anchorage this month, once to meet with and report to one of our sponsoring churches, and once for the Vision dinner. The drive takes my breath away every time. Around every turn is another majestic view. We were very fortunate that it hasn't started snowing yet, so the drive was fairly safe. There was some ice, one of our board members flipped his car on the way to the ACC dinner- he is fine but it made me very thankful for our studded snow tires!

We have had so many wonderful guests come and invest in our students this month. We had a man who used to work for one of the largest tobacco companies in the world come and speak about what tobacco does to your brain from a scientific standpoint. He brought several real brains, which the students loved.

Last week we had the honor of hosting Governor Parnell who came and spoke with our students about his own spiritual journey and how it has impacted his life. My kids liked meeting him, but I am not sure they grasped the real significance of his visit. Noah calls him "Government Parnell."

Tomorrow we have a state representative and a member of the House coming to speak to our students. It seems like our little school is starting to receive some notice on the state and national level, which is very exciting. What is even more exciting is to see the willingness of these busy, important people to come and invest in our students lives.
 The kids with the Governor

In the coming month we will continue to be busy as finals approach, and students persevere through the mid-semester slump that usually happens. Please continue to pray for us- with the snow holding off and rain every day it is incredibly dark here which can lead to depression amongst our students and staff. As soon as we see some snow the light we have will reflect and it will be a bit less gloomy.

Steve is excited that he has started to study the Yu'pik language with some of his students and the help of the one Yu'pik grammar in existence.  He hopes to be able to learn the language as another way of connecting with our students, and showing them that we highly value their culture.

Marlene helped Grace carve her pumpkin

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. We are loving it here in Alaska. Every day it we are reassured that we made the right decision moving here to work with these amazing students. Please consider visiting if you can! If not we will be back in AZ for Christmas Dec 15-Jan 1 and would love to see as many of you as we can.

Quyana! (Thank you!)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Finally fall!

Growing up in Colorado, fall was always my favorite season. I have great memories of taking drives through the mountains to see all of the Aspen leaves changing colors. For the past 8 years I have lived in the land of heat and palm trees. I have missed fall! When I told some friends up here in Alaska that I was so excited to finally live somewhere with four seasons they just laughed. Apparently they think that the very short fall we have here before the snow comes doesn't count- but I know better! I am soaking up every crisp, crunchy day!

Hiking on the trail that starts in our yard

It has been a very full month so far! Steve is really enjoying teaching his math courses as well as the Old Testament course. He says that teaching in this environment is very different from any he has experienced before. Not only does he get to invest in the students academically, but he is also involved in their day to day lives in a way he has never been at any school before.  

Steve's Old Testament Class

 Chapel Time

First time students receive their bibles from ACC. For many this is the first bible they will receive.

 Our friend Simone, from AZ, who served as campus pastor for a week

Since the beginning of August I have been working part time in the development office helping to raise operating costs for Alaska Christian College. One of my tasks is to help the other support-raised missionaries connect with people who share their vision for Alaskan Natives. I enjoy my work, but the best part about my job is the fact that I get to spend all day while the kiddos are at school working on campus along-side our incredible students. My office is right next to Steve's (we have dubbed it the Hallam wing) and we get to serve in this ministry together.  I enjoy the daily breaks in my regular tasks for time with students during story (testimony) time, chapel, and mentoring times. 

Mentoring time with Marlene making kuspuks

 Noah modeling his new kuspuk

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and notes of encouragement.  I can't tell you how much they mean to us! You can't imagine the difference they make. Please continue to pray for our students. We still have full retention, which is a total miracle! Many of our students have a lot to overcome, but they are in the best possible place to succeed. With your prayers and support we truly feel like we are making a difference in the lives of these students.

Some of our students at the beach 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to School

The school year has officially begun for both our kids and the students on the ACC campus. Most of the ACC students arrived on campus last Thursday evening after long trips from all over Alaska. For many this trip took multiple days, and many forms of transportation. 

Campus feels completely different now that the students are here. There is a buzz of excitement, smiling faces around every corner, and hugs and fist bumps throughout the day. Last weekend was filled with "get to know you" activities including a hike up to Russian River Falls where salmon spawn and bears feast, a bonfire on the beach and tours of our town.

Noah hiked most of the 5 miles on his own- this was a short break near the end of the hike 

Quite a few of our students joined us for the hike- more noise= less chance of bear attack, so I was overjoyed by the turnout!

There was plenty of evidence even if we had missed this sign- you definitely had to watch your step!

Carmen and Alyssa were my hiking buddies- they kept me going when my legs started to complain. Carmen is one of our students from the recently flooded village of Galena. She lost her home in the flood. Rebuilding efforts are underway, but please continue to pray for Galena as winter quickly approaches.

The spawning red salmon were GINORMOUS!  It was amazing to watch them swim against the current and jump up the steps of the river.

Helping each other out with some shoulder rubs after making it up to the falls.

Steve got to re-connect with Eugene, who we met last November when we were here interviewing.

Classes started today, as well as many other activities on campus. One activity that I am really looking forward to is the mentoring time that we will have each week. This week all of the mentors and mentees met together for some games and ice-breaker time. We will start meeting one on one in two weeks. My mentee is going to be Marlene, a sweet student who is going to do me the GREAT honor of teaching me to sew during our time together. She sews beautiful kuspuks, a type of tunic that Native Alaskan's wear. We are going to make some for my kiddos and family members/friends that want them. Let me know if you are interested- hopefully I will be a kuspuk-sewing machine after my time with Marlene!

 Listening to the instructions for one of the games during todays mentoring time.

Grace and Noah started school last week. It has been so wonderful to hear how much they love their new school. This was definitely something I worried about when we were discussing moving to Alaska. Their school is right across the street from ACC, just a short walk away. We can easily go back and forth to be able to volunteer, attend school functions, etc. The kids love that their classrooms are right across the hall from one another so they see each other often throughout the day.

First day of Kindergarten

We are still loving the Alaskan life. Granted we have had gorgeous weather to enjoy! We spend much of our free time at the beach down the street from our house. We often see wildlife at the beach including bald eagles and a seal we have nicknamed "Sammy." In just a few short weeks (around 6 from what we hear) the beach will be covered in snow, so we are soaking it up while we can.

Bedtime walk at the beach

The kiddos like to "rock climb" during low-tide

 Fishing for driftwood with Dad

Please continue to pray for us as this semester kicks off. Our biggest prayer right now is for retention of our students. It can be a very difficult transition from life in the village to ACC. Some of our students have never been away from home. Ever. Their villages are completely isolated with no roads in or out. This is their first experience of "city" life, and it can be very overwhelming. Added to that is the strain and worry about being in an academic setting. We currently have 48 students. We could easily lose 10 of those in the first few weeks. We are praying for a miracle- that all 48 will choose to stay and see what God can do with their time here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When in Alaska...

We have been so blessed to have lots of friends and family already visit us here in Alaska. Steve's mom has come a couple of times and his dad got to come over the fourth of July. My mom is arriving a week from today. It really means so much to us that loved ones are willing to make the north-bound trek!  Currently we have a family staying with us that came up with a work team from Palm Desert, California. They are staying an extra week and it has been so great to get to know them. All of these guests have given us ample reasons to explore our new home. We have visited Homer, AK, with its cute, artsy shops and majestic glacial mountains. It poured rain but was still a great day. I found my new favorite book store, crammed full of used books.

With the work team from Cornerstone Covenant Church we went to visit a dog lot where a team (plus quite a few others) of sled dogs live. What a different life that would be! There were around 40 dogs and when it was dinner-time things got pretty loud! I am excited to go watch some of the races this winter- they sound pretty amazing to see.

We are getting settled and learning our way around. Grace burned her finger on our fire place so we found the ER (she is fine, just a bad burn on the tip.) They did make fun of us for having our fire place on in June. Taylor (the dog) got sick so we found the vet. Grace's teeth were hurting so we found the dentist. Then we all got the flu this week and found our doctor. Necessity is the mother of introduction! ;) 

Steve has been working very hard on campus getting his courses developed and ready for the students. He has also been taking courses online to get his Masters in Applied Mathematics which will help Alaska Christian College  to meet their accreditation requirements. Every time I think we are done with school, more seems to come our way. Good thing we love it!

Steve and I have been really weighing our options as far as the kids schooling is concerned. We decided to enroll them at the public elementary school that is right across the street from ACC. We will be able to walk back and forth to volunteer and participate in the kids school events. We were nervous because they are getting a new principal and have been going through quite a few changes. We emailed the new principal to see if we could meet with him and he got back to us last week. He explained that his family just moved here this week and they are just getting settled but arranged to meet with us right away. He was incredibly nice, has kids the same age as ours (we already have a play-date scheduled) and seems like he has a great vision for the school. We already have him agreeing to play softball on our church's team :)  His family is from Montana but have been living in the bush in a small village for the past few years. They decided to move into town for their kids, but he has some really good insight on teaching the Native students within their culture. He will be an invaluable resource, and we are so excited and feel so much better about our decision to send the kids to his school.

We are counting down the last few weeks until our students return. The work teams are getting the campus ready, and Steve and the rest of the staff are preparing the academic side of things. Steve will be traveling with another staff member (and friend) Sean Hoffbeck who is the Dean of Students at ACC to the small village of Unalakleet the first week of August to attend a student leadership conference. This will be a great opportunity to get a better feel for village life as well as develop some strategies for raising student-leaders in our college. Steve is nervous about the lack of showers, but last we heard there was running water to at least use for sponge baths...probably....maybe. You can see Unalakleet's location on the map below, it is quite a bit farther North and West than we are located. You can read more about the village here: Unalakleet, Alaska

Although the kids seem to think that it is FREEZING here (I keep telling them, "just wait!") we have been enjoying the nice cool weather. There has been lots of bike-riding, playing outside, animal encounters, etc. and we are loving every minute of it. Steve ran (literally) into a moose on our front porch a few days ago when he was rushing out the door, but fortunately it was already moving away from the house at a pretty fast pace and didn't backtrack to "hoof" Steve. We see moose, caribou (reindeer), and bald eagles most commonly. There have been bears in the area but we have only seen "evidence" of the bears, and fortunately have not run into any actual bears.

We feel so blessed to be working with such a great group of people at Alaska Christian College. We have had lots of opportunities to spend time with everyone and it seems like our team is really going to mesh well. The Hamilton family (President at ACC) hosted a fourth of July BBQ at their house where everyone was able to come and spend time playing fun games and eating great food. We are looking forward to many more opportunities like this one to get to know our co-workers better!

 The "bat" game where you spin around a baseball bat...Alaskan-style (note the axe substation on the left)

We are excited for what the next month holds- especially meeting all of our new students! Thanks so much for all of your support, prayers, and encouraging words. Life here is definitely different, but we really feel like we are home.