Northern Lights: Open hearts spark Alaska church renewal
Rodney May knew God was calling and so he moved — more than 4,100 miles from Triad Baptist Church in Kernersville — to lead a struggling church whose numbers had dwindled so low it couldn’t pay a full salary.
A lot has changed since May and his wife Deanna arrived at Shannon Park Baptist Church in Fairbanks, Alaska, that April in 2016.
“The first time I preached, there were 17 people in the sanctuary, and our total membership was about 25 including children,” said May, a bible major and graduate of Piedmont International University who also has a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Liberty University.
“Since then, God has brought many wonderful people to the church who have decided to make this their church home,” he said. “We’re now averaging about 100 people on Sunday mornings with a membership of about 90.
“When our children River and Laike joined the kid’s ministry, it doubled in size,” May added. “Since then, our children’s ministry has grown from 4 to 40 kids in 18 months. Sunday morning Children’s Church is the fastest-growing ministry of the church. In fact, I told the church not to increase my salary in 2018 so we could hire a part-time children’s pastor. This is an exciting venture for us, and God has blessed us with some awesome children’s workers.”
Triad continues to support May each month through its missions budget, and Shannon Park has grown enough to cover about 90 percent of his salary so he has not had to work outside the church since last summer.
May said Shannon Park Baptist has shared the love of Jesus Christ well beyond its doors through new outreach ministries like its Friday food box distribution and by participating with other churches in “Loving Families” a ministry that offers temporary housing to homeless families with children.
Last summer, Shannon Park even sent out its first missionaries — a husband and wife team who served for six weeks at an orphanage in South Africa. And in September, he began teaching a college-level theology class at the church.
Through the influence and assistance of a church member builder and some skilled volunteers, May is building his first Alaska home himself in the hills overlooking Fairbanks. He hopes to move his family in this summer.
“We’re trusting the Lord with our lives and feel He has us right where He wants us,” May said of God’s work in renewing Shannon Park and changing lives and the community through its influence.
“Without continued prayers, we would not last long,” May said. “So, please continue to pray for us and Shannon Park and those we come in contact with. Our desire is to share the Gospel with as many people as possible.”
Life in ‘The Last Frontier’
Known as The Last Frontier for its rugged beauty and vast stretches of unoccupied land, Alaska has proven a unique state that the Mays have come to love.
Where else can you go to North Pole, Alaska, tour the house where Santa answers letters, slide down an ice slide in a winter festival, go on a 75-mile four-wheeling trip to Chicken, Alaska &151; a town with just five buildings, two outhouses, and a giant chicken statue — or look out the windows of your house and see a moose, or hunt for caribou?
On Christmas Day (“Christmases are always white around here,” May said), they took a 1.5-mile hike through the woods at -15 degrees and, right before Christmas, traveled about six hours from Fairbanks to see Santa and his reindeer team at a reindeer farm in Palmer, Alaska.
“There really isn’t anywhere else like Alaska,” May said. “We love the natural beauty of God’s creation here. From the aurora borealis, to the wild blueberries, to seeing moose, to the surrounding mountains, we love the wildness of Alaska.
“The kids are in the school cross country skiing team and Deanna sets up at the craft shows. I enjoy hiking, camping, and hunting. We are in the middle of the winter caribou hunt, and I hope to bring one home. The winter solstice is Dec. 21 so we had about four hours of daylight on Christmas Day and temps at about -20.”
But, May added, “If the darkness gets you down during the winter don’t worry because it never gets dark during the summer. This is something our kids really like. They are able to play outside under the sun at 10 p.m.!”
Some of Rodney and Deanna’s favorite places in Fairbanks are the Regal Cinema and Barnes & Noble bookstore. But, he added, there’s no Chuck E. Cheese’s or many chain restaurants and, in a big blow to the community, the Sam’s mart recently closed.
May said the extreme cold and darkness haven’t been the toughest adjustment to Alaska life. It’s been the sense of isolation in a community where — partly due to the many goings and comings at the military base and oil pipeline — family roots don’t run deep.
“Fairbanks is a decent-size town with about 100,000 people in the county and we love our church family, but we have no blood relatives up here,” May said. “This is most difficult when it comes to special events like birthdays and holidays. We are also four hours behind Michigan and North Carolina so there are times we would like to call family, but they are already in bed.”
All of which makes the arrival of the mail and care packages at their house (P.O. Box 70645, Fairbanks, AK 99707) a special treat for the family. You can also share prayers, well wishes, and notes from home via their Facebook page or May’s email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“As Deanna and I have learned, there is a cost to being in the ministry,” May said. “But God has grown us by giving us a confident resolve that we are serving Him and not ourselves,” May said. “We have had to ask ourselves ‘Why we do what we do? Is it for ourselves or other people?’ We know it’s because we have simply said, ‘yes’ to God even if that ‘yes’ involves some pain.