HOMER, AK – Alaska became a state in 1959. Many of us don’t give Alaska a second thought – or even a first thought. It’s kind of like we “know” it’s a state, but we don’t “think about it” as one. Nor do we likely think of Alaska as a mission field. After all, Alaska is not a jungle, nor is it in the 10/40 window.
Besides, it’s cold.
Missionaries don’t go to places where it is cold.
(Actually, they do. Read this recent article in Missions Box News that discusses missionary work in the Himalayas.)
Alaska is ranked 48th out of the 50 states in total population. It takes last place in terms of the density of the population at fewer than 1.3 people per square mile.
Yet, even with all that extra room per square mile, the state is home to more than 710,000 people. Every one of them needs to know Jesus.
That’s why the Lord laid it upon Ray Arno’s heart to pack up his family and belongings in a Volkswagen bus in 1963 and head “North to Alaska” to establish Alaska Village Missions (AVM).
It wasn’t long after their arrival in Homer that Ray realized that roads were a rarity outside of most towns and villages. In fact, the majority of land in Alaska is completely inaccessible by road, and most villages are only accessible by small aircraft.
So, Ray sold his car, bought a small airplane, and learned how to fly. In that respect, reaching remote villages in Alaska was similar to reaching those spread across the vast Amazon basin.
The lack of roads, the proliferation of mountain peaks, and the distances between villages were not the only similarity faced by the Arnos and their co-laborers. More than 20 different languages, including Ahtna, Alutiiq, Dena’ina, Deg Xinag, English, Eyak, Gwich’in, Haida, Hän, Holikachuk, Inupiaq, Koyukon, Lower Tanana, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Tagalog, Tanacross, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Unangax̂, Upper Kuskokwim, Upper Tanana, and Yup’ik are spoken across the state.
The goal of Alaska Village Missions has been and continues to be to reach 12 strategic villages along the Alaska Peninsula that had not had an evangelical Christian church prior to AVM. The mission’s primary purpose is to take the message of Jesus Christ to those villages.
The Alaska Bible Institute was established to support and expand the work of AVM. The Institute is as unique as the state in which it is located in that the program of study is attended by a limited number of students being trained as a cohort. They all participate in the same academic and practical experiences over a period of two years.
Because we can’t be in two places at one time, AVM has also invested in the Christian radio ministry. Including its own programming and in partnership with Moody Radio, Alaska Village Missions is able to broadcast across the entire state.
“Alaska Village Missions (AVM) is dedicated to reaching Alaskan natives with the message of the gospel, training and equipping Christians for life and ministry, and broadcasting Christian radio across the state.”
Regardless of where they live here on this earth, people need the Lord. Even in Alaska.
FINAL NOTE: Pastor Ray Arno, the founder of Alaska Village Missions, went home to be with the Lord on October 14, 2020. His legacy continues.