Ouzinkie might not sound like a spring break vacation destination, but for 16 local youths and four adults it offered plenty of adventure, fun and a lot of hard work.
From March 7-14, about half the kids from Christian Community Church’s Ignite Youth group traded time off from school for time in the village, which is located on Spruce Island about 12 miles north of the city of Kodiak.
The purpose of the trip: to serve the village through physical labor, spending time with kids and doing skits of Bible stories sharing a message of redemption, hope and restoration.
“It really was all about Jesus, serving Him, spreading the message of the good news of the gospel and sharing the love that He has shown us through His service to mankind and through giving of His life to redeem people,” said youth pastor, Seth Baker.
Baker, who has led the youth group since 2012, said that he always wanted to stay somewhat local as far as missions went.
CCC has connections with a couple who recently moved to the village to serve with the Kodiak Baptist Mission. Also, two people who attend the Homer church grew up there. Because of those connections, Ouzinkie seemed like a good fit for the youth trip, Baker said.
Ouzinkie is about 45 minutes away from Homer by plane. Separated from Kodiak Island by a strait, the village is home to about 150 people of mostly Alutiiq and Russian descent.
Going into that small of a community, Baker said the group wanted to be sensitive to the culture and fit themselves into the lifestyle of the village. While there, the team stayed at an old three-story mission building, formerly an orphanage and a school.
“It was just a special time, and when we came back it was like, ‘Hey, we’re never going to be the same,’” said Baker.
Baker said that he hopes the kids in Ouzinkie were able to see an excitement about life — and serving Jesus — in the lives of the youth group while they were there.
“I think there was definitely an impact on all of us that was positive,” he said. Many of the youth returned to Homer excited about Ouzinkie and wanting to go back to invest in the community further.
Claire Swanson, a junior at Homer High School, has attended the youth group since seventh grade. Although she had many highlights, Swanson said maybe the best was getting to love on the kids in the village.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said, adding that if anyone has an opportunity to visit Ouzinkie they should take it because it’s gorgeous.
“It was super fun — it was also cold,” says 14-year-old Emerald Miller.
Besides needing to pack more warm clothes, Miller said she learned the importance of relating to the kids so that they could relate to the Bible.
“It was my first mission trip,” says 17-year-old Sammy Shelton, who wasn’t sure what to expect when the plane landed in Ouzinkie, where kids from the village waited to meet it.
“I got there, and, oh my gosh — it was fantastic,” he said. Shelton spent most of his time hanging out with a 10-year-old boy named Logan, who he taught how to play the drums.
“All the other kids were amazing too,” said Shelton, adding that the trip gave him a greater desire to do mission work, and a bigger love for children.
So how would he describe the village where he spent his spring break? Shelton only pauses for a moment: “A small town with amazing people, that care about each other and look out for each other. And that is open to other people becoming friends with them, and speaking into their lives without pushing them away.”
“Honestly, I would take any chance to go back there,” he said.
Matt and Tammy Jones, who hosted the group at Kodiak Baptist Mission’s Ouzinkie campus, visited CCC following the youth trip. They noted that there are three important things to do as missionaries:
Love the people. Love the land. Love the culture. According to them, the youth group nailed all three.
“You have every reason to be extremely proud of these young people,” said Tammy Jones. She added that people in the village were already asking when the kids would be coming back. By her estimation, the team contributed about 960 hours of physical labor from Saturday to Saturday.
With a catch in her voice, she said, “We cannot thank you enough.”
In a letter addressed to the pastor and Elders of CCC, the Jones’ wrote the following about the youth group’s time in Ouzinkie:
“What an absolute blessing, delight and joy! Thank you for supporting their decision to serve our mission and for sharing them with us…Did we mention we hope they will return often? So do the people of Ouzinkie!…please accept our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the tireless contribution made by your team. Jesus was represented well by Ignite Youth of CCC. The children of Ouzinkie experienced the love of Christ. You can be proud of your young folks…and the older ones too!”
Youth projects in Ouzinkie
• Relocated a 500-gallon fuel tank and stand.
• Cut, split and stacked one-and-a-half cords of firewood.
• Installed a roof air vent and 80 soffit vents, fixed roof leaks, caulked roofline.
• Removed moss from a roof.
• Cleaned garbage and materials up from one-and-a-half acres of mission property and back porch.
• Insulated and built a 14 x 16 storage platform in the attic of the mission building.
• Deconstructed shelving, removed walls, scraped mold and old paint from old storage area walls — wearing masks, of course.
• Hauled hundreds of pounds of chairs, desks and miscellaneous household goods from above mentioned storage area.
• Hauled thousands of pounds of debris and old sheet rock from basement of Mission House.
• Countless dump runs with trailer and truck.
• Constructed a bench for elders along a walking trail.
• Removed 1930s era flooring from two rooms in the mission building.
• Reconstructed and painted shelves, insulated concrete walls with blue board and re-installed shelves in storage area.
• Repaired and tuned a 130-year-old piano back to working condition.
• Packed, hauled and stored several thousand pounds of old books.
• Repaired a couch and door.
• Cleaned out the crawl space beneath a village elders home, hauling a huge pile of stuff to dump.
• Sorted, organized and cleaned public school storage area and library.
• Provided classroom assistance in K5 classrooms for three hours each morning for four days.
• Picked up garbage along village trail system.
• Built an Orthodox Cross to mark a grave site, at the request of a village family.
Pastor/leader: Seth Baker
Chaperones: Dylan Lyon, Danae Hardison and Dave Penner
Youth: Angelo Amarello, Danny Coe, Annelise Franklin, Ethan Gordon, Selina Lewis, Bret Merrow, Emerald Miller, Jayce Miller, Chad Morris, Sammy Shelton, Simon Shelton, Nathan Simpson, Max Smith, Claire Swanson, Elijah Taylor and Ian Taylor.
Ouzinkie, March 7-14