A “life changing experience.”
That’s how a Warren County man is describing a recent mission trip to a remote village in Alaska.
Steve Younger and two other members of Praise Fellowship church in Russell were among 40 people who traveled to Mentasta, Alaska – four hours north of Anchorage – to take part in “Alaska Ablaze,” a Christian mission trip designed to help prevent suicide among Alaskan natives.
“The program works with native people to help them deal with alcohol and drug abuse,” Younger said. “The suicide rate among natives is five times higher than the average in the state.”
Since the implementation of “Alaska Ablaze” in Mentasta, the town hasn’t had a case of suicide in over 24 years.
Younger said the evidence of rampant alcohol abuse in the village can be seen by the number of destroyed vehicles sitting in people’s yards.
“They wreck them when they’re drunk and leave them there,” he said
The Warren County men – Younger, Matt Gearhart and his 14-year-old son Logan – participated in various construction project during their five-day mission trip, fixing village steam baths, doors, toilets and roofs.
“Whatever you wanted to be a part of, they plugged you into that,” Younger said.
The men repaired a door for a woman after a bear damaged it last fall. The animal tore out the door jam. The woman barred the entrance was a 2x4 and entered and exited the house via a window.
On the tail end of their visit to the village, the men helped temporarily repair a villager’s roof. The man approached them, begging them to do something, saying the night before he had covered up with a blanket to shelter himself from the rain.
“We could literally see sunlight through his roof,” Younger said. The men stretched a tarp over the roof and secured it to block future rain.
“He started sobbing, saying no one had ever done anything like that for him before,” Younger said.
The mission members conducted various educational sessions during the five-day stay, including a vacation bible school for village children.
The mission members stayed in a classroom in the village’s school and slept in sleeping bags on the floor.
“The program is meant to show that you have different choices in life,” Younger said. “You don’t have to drink; you don’t have to do drugs.”
At the conclusion of the five-day mission, Younger and the two Gearharts spent some time exploring Alaska. They drove to the Arctic Circle on a road utilized by the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers.”
“We passed scenery that ranged from rock to tundra to forest – anything you could imagine,” Younger said. “It’s the only place that made me feel insignificant to my surroundings. Everyone should have to see it.”
But the Alaskan beauty comes with a price, Younger said. Common foods carry a hefty price tag.
“I spent $11 for a grilled cheese sandwich at Yukon River,” Younger said. “You pay $3 for a glass of milk.”
Younger said he plans to make a return trip to Mentasta to participate in “Alaska Ablaze” next summer. This time he plans on bringing his family.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Steve Younger after arriving in Mentasta, Alaska to take part in a five-day Christian mission known as “Alaska Ablaze.” The mission is designed to help cut the suicide rate among Native Americans.