Wayland junior ministers to Alaskan fishing families during summer

PLAINVIEW – When she signed up for summer missions service, Rosemary Ribera had in mind a foreign field or some exotic location. What she got was a short-term stint on the beach in Alaska. But the Wayland Baptist University junior wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I really hoped to go overseas, but that wasn’t God’s will for me this summer,” she said. “This was exactly where I needed to be this summer. The feeling you get when He places you in the right place at just the right time is amazing.”

Ribera served for two weeks in Kenai, Alaska, about three and a half hours south of Anchorage, under the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ GoNow Missions arm for students. Specifically, she worked with Baptist Student Ministries director Brenda Crim in a ministry dubbed “Salmon Frenzy.”

“This was the first year for this ministry, and Brenda envisioned it as a way to minister to the many residents that come fishing on the beach,” Ribera explained. “At first it seemed like chaos, but it really came together.”

The ministry involved setting up various tents on the Kenai Beach, a long stretch where hundreds of residents come out in the summer months to fish for sustenance. Because it is not simply for pleasure, Alaska residents are allowed to use a procedure called dip netting, where a large net on a metal frame is dipped into the water to catch the fish. Since each person is allotted a limit of fish they may take home – the fish caught will last them through the colder fall and winter months – many residents bring their entire families to the beach, camping out right on the shores.

Ribera said while it was summer in Alaska, the Kenai region was experiencing one of its colder seasons, with temperatures into the 50s and 60s. Still, families waded out into the water to dip their nets, dotting the shore and the shallow water from sunrise to sunset.

The ministry team – composed of Crim, several area missionaries and student summer missionaries as well as Ribera and another Texas student – set up tents for first aid, food stations consisting of hot dogs and hot chocolate, and a chapel tent for short worship services on the beach.

A particularly successful aspect of Salmon Frenzy was the kids’ club offered on the shores for the children of fishing families, which gave the parents time to focus on their task while the children were entertained in a safe environment. The group played games, did face painting, learned Bible stories and other activities.

“It just gave us a great opportunity to share the love of God with these people while we ministered to their needs,” Ribera said of the trip. “We had a lot of people that were just very grateful that we were helping out and not charging any money.”

Ribera said several church groups from around the country came out to help with the ministry effort as well, and they were able to really minister to the families. Daily prayer walks along the beach would often create curiosity and allow the team to share the purpose for their presence among the fishermen.

“The whole atmosphere of the beach seemed to change with us there and it was neat to see how they responded to us,” she said. “They would ask why we were there and why we had come so far to do this, and I could say, ‘I’m here because I love to serve the Lord and He has me here for a reason.’”

Ribera said while the group visited with many Christians during their two weeks on the beach, they were also able to minister to those who were struggling or were dealing with God’s work in their lives. They also heard about God’s movement among some of the more remote native villages outside Kenai.

“It was encouraging to see people following God’s will up there,” she said. “They were very open about their lives.”

Ribera said while she was not able to go overseas for summer missions, she knows God put her in Alaska to learn much and to put her passion for service into action in a different setting. She came back with valuable insight from the experience.

“The power of prayer was reassured in my life, and it was so vital for us in Alaska. It was so evident that God was listening to us and answering prayer, sometimes immediately,” said the Canyon native who is a molecular biology major planning to pursue a career as a dentist. “He used so much of that time to remind us that it’s not about us but all about Him and His glory. It was amazing to be part of this movement He was making in people’s hearts, and very humbling.”

Of course, the beauty of the region was another enjoyable aspect of the trip, and Ribera got to fish for the first time. The group also encountered several bears at various distances.

“It was so beautiful there, the scenery just demands praise,” she said. “It just reminded me of how awesome God is, that was his artwork. The photos we took just don’t even capture it completely.”