A Return: One Long Last Post and ‘Thank You’

(Written 8/7/15)

HOMEBOYS | My first weekend back, my older brother gives me a warm welcome back to Virginia.  Or, something like that...

HOMEBOYS | My first weekend back, my older brother gives me a warm welcome back to Virginia. Or, something like that…

        As I sat down to begin writing this, the final of my blog reflections on my time seeking the Lord and serving on mission in Southeast Alaska, the grumble of thunder rolls about the groggy summer air back home in Virginia Beach.  It’s been quite a while since my most recent update.  In the span of time since that last post, a lot has been true – there’s been challenge, frustration, reflection, peace, uncertainty, and much, much rain.  I stepped off the final of three connecting flights last evening, picked up at Norfolk International airport by one of my closest friends and brought back home to surprise my parents with a late-night return (a homecoming that involved a good bit of confusion as I had to convince my dad and dog that, no, I really was not a burglar).  And, suddenly, like the ending of a symphony before an empty theater, one rhythm decrescendos into the drumbeat of the familiar – home, with silences cool and calming and built of remembered things.

The final few weeks of my time in Juneau were among the richest of my life.  They have been days spent marveling at mountains’ reflections on mirror-slick lake faces, with whispers of fogs singing secrets of things unseen amid the fingertips of ancient spruce trees and the mosaic of berry bushes at their wooden feet.   They were days of learning the verse of wet repose composing the never-ceasing summertime rain shower that is the soul of the rainforests of Southeast Alaska.  They were days of being swept away by the green and grey and greatness of a land so very much alive.

These, too, have been days of learning to abide in my own weakness and in the illogical forgiveness and strength of a perfect and holy God.  They have been days of longing for the fruit I felt my own weakness in ministry was stunting on the vine – and realizing anew that God’s faithfulness supersedes that weakness in ways my spirit can hardly comprehend.  They’ve brought chances here and there to witness with blood and breath to friends old and new how perfect a love and redemption is to be found at the feet of Jesus – all while learning anew how to depend on that cross for the truest and fullest of peace.  They’ve challenged me to keep talking at times and at others to just shut up, to walk forward on some occasions and just be still at others.  They’ve been days of finding out just how completely lost in love for a place you can become without even really knowing it, and how sadly sweet a thing it can be to kiss a place and a people goodbye.  They were days of coming into a new vocabulary of self-identification – a language of fuller belonging not to my particular place and time, but to the beautiful and boundless epic that is Christ’s story.  These were days that, if nothing else, taught me to just love people better, that just grew my heart for this sea of being that is the human family.  And how vast and wide and wild that sea is – but even more so the love of God that permeates the space between every drop of that great ocean.

I want to use this final update to provide kind of a recap of what my personal ministry looked like this past summer in Juneau.  I would ask that in those situations where we didn’t see any great conclusion to our efforts, that you’d be continuing to shower those areas of Juneau and those individuals with the deepest of loving prayer, prayer that Jesus would use the humble interactions they had with our team to build great stories of awakening faith and reintroductions to grace.  But first, I’d like to share a bit more fully about a very specific instance of how Jesus made himself known in my own life this summer.  It involves a mysterious book, a leather couch, and life change.

First, the background.  The story of my walk with Christ has been one of learning to let go of the many false narratives I hold about myself.  High school was a season of my life where I learned how widespread my shortcomings were.  My desire to be something was too much for me to carry – my strength, too thin.  I could not seem to do anything that would allow me to earn my own self-respect.  I was racing always to do, achieve, or be something that would allow me to finally make friends with myself.

I began to truly trust Christ as Lord of my life just about midway through high school.  I saw my need for some one beyond myself to step in to pay for and make right all the imperfection, sin, and spiritual brokenness in my life.  And Jesus entered in to bring that healing, that joy, that peace, that life.  Over the years following, though, a mindset began to grow in me: a striving towards some new and higher standard, a fear that I might miss some piece of significance I knew I wanted to be true of my life – and had convinced myself God desired for me, too.  And so I continued to run even harder to get where I thought God wanted me to be.

In that spiritual calculus, I never could measure up.  Every day seemed like one more story of squandering time and opportunities.  The beautiful story I wanted my life to be?  Well, the very ordinary and still-broken parts of me thwarted that story’s writing.  I was never quite the hero I wished I could be – or the hero I thought God wanted me to be.  You see, I had this view of who I thought God was waiting for me to become – and every day I lived short of that mark seemed like a day’s more worth of distance between Him and some place waiting for my arrival.

The radical truth, though, about the Gospel is that the moment we trust Jesus to be the healer and payment for our sin, there is nothing more we need to do – or possibly could do – to earn God’s favor.  There is no great achievement lingering somewhere in my tomorrow to be realized and make me worth my salt.  There is no 12-step program of self-improvement or self-enlightenment or self-spiritualization I need to buy into in order to be found more worthy or more useful or more desirable in the eyes of God.  There just isn’t.

The price Jesus paid for me?  Because of that price, God looks my way and sees something beautiful.  He looks my way and He is delighted.  Every burden I’ve placed on myself to somehow muscle up and “be more”?  All along, God has been reaching out and trying to break me into just being His.  The love of God is not frustrated by my failure like I often am. The love of God cannot be outrun, and I had been running hard to prove something.

You see, I’ve learned Jesus is not just a vision of some palatable morality upon which “productive” lives can be built.  He is more than a symbol of positive thinking to compel us into some holy otherworld of blissful self-awareness.  No, he is the one who sees through the broken glass of my heart’s windows and into the rooms where I’ve hoarded regrets and escape plans for years, rooms whose floors hide under mounds of forgotten treasures and photos I wish were never taken.  And you know what?  He isn’t offended by the mess inside.  He walks deep inside those rooms, not just lingering beyond the doorframe like everyone else.  He comes inside and sits right down in the center of the room, and begins telling me stories of wide open seas and dreams called stars.

I tell him the house is falling apart around me.  The rafters show signs of strain, the windows make way for the cold to roll inside these rooms, and I’d long forgotten the colors the house’s builder had chosen for the walls.  I tell him I planned long ago to get busy and fix it all, but I just didn’t have the budget – I just didn’t have the tools, or even the title to the property.  It got lost long ago.

And then he reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a folded paper – a deed.  He smiles, and tells me he’s bought that big, old house.  He paid a great price for it, but now I need not fear the emptiness, the decay, the debt, the cold anymore.  Because the moment I invited him inside, he made that house a home – a place to come alive, to rest, to invite others in, today and tomorrow and forever.  And he will own that home forever.

It was on the afternoon of July 23 – a Thursday – that I was reading a book sent anonymously to me on the university campus we were staying at in Juneau.  The book, called The Cure, aimed to do one thing: take the reader a step back to lay down the narratives we’ve written about ourselves so we might see what it is God sees when He looks at us.  As I read through one particular chapter of that book, I came across this line: “YOUR VIEW OF YOU IS THE GREATEST COMMENTARY ON YOUR VIEW OF GOD.”

In the moments following, as I prayed, things shifted inside that I didn’t even know were in need of rearrangement.  The incredible pressure I been putting on myself for months, years to “be more” showed itself as the distrust it truly is.  The book went on to describe a God who “has shown all of His cards,” a God whose provision of grace through Christ leaves no reason for His children to have to wonder about their worth – or His acceptance.  God knows the ins and outs of my (and your) history and my (and your) disappointments, more deeply than I (or you) even feel them – and His love floods into that space all the same.  All the aching I had ever felt to be more, to improve, to somehow redeem the shortcomings or lack of productivity I just could not seem to lay down – God just took me aside in that moment and whispered for me to trust Him anew with it all.  My first, my truest significance, was not in the fruit we were or were not seeing from our mission work, nor was it in any other sense of productivity in any other arena of life.  My first, my truest significance, is this: to be found at the feet of Jesus.

And then, I just buckled under the weight of this grace, this invitation to drop this burden and this lie that I need to “be more” or strive always to “be useful” enough – this invitation to open up my eyes to see God’s arms could never hold me more tightly than they did in that moment.  His favor could never cover me more purely or completely.  His love could never burn for me more fiercely. Be more?  Jesus whispers.  No, just be mine.  Where once I ran, Jesus bid me rest.  So, that afternoon, I sat on the old leather couch in the campus lodge for some 15 minutes, crying like a baby (no joke) as the face of love and the promise of peace, joy, rest, and life abundant came into focus again after my eyes had been fixed elsewhere, fixed downward, for too long.

It was like meeting Jesus for the first time – again.

The book I was reading meant nothing in all this – the Jesus its words pointed to meant everything.  And it’s this Jesus who sees in me – and in us all – a very real need to be made right, to be made clean, to find rest.  And it’s this Jesus who died, rose, and reaches out to bring that very thing.

So, if you’re looking for fruit from this summer, at the very least find it in my falling deeper into this truth, in God working the crazy story of His breaking and beautiful love into the substance of who I am.   Let the telling of this story be my worship.

THE FAMILY| All clad in flannel, I give to you the 2015 Juneau Summer Mission.

THE FAMILY| All clad in flannel, I give to you the 2015 Juneau Summer Mission.

As promised, here is a brief rundown of what my personal ministry looked like this summer, and how Jesus moved in those areas.

  • Relational ministry: One beautiful facet about Christ’s ministry, if you look at it, is how he simply came alongside others and went about life among them.  He knew what it was to enter people’s lives in an everyday kind of way, to build common ground with others and construct bridges of mutual connection.  As summer residents of Juneau, our team sought to imitate that very humble mode of ministry, investing at deep levels in new relationships with our neighbors and coworkers – and loving them with the Gospel love of Jesus Christ.  Consider, too, the life and ministry of Paul.  He entered into new areas of ministry as both a teacher and a tentmaker, continuing to live out the very secular role of the craftsman in ways informed by the lordship of Jesus over his life and ways that invited others in very real ways to encounter the Gospel love of Christ.  With all of our missionaries participating in some form of weekday employment or other volunteer opportunities, I believe there’s a beautiful sense as well of our team seeking to grow a tangible ministry as “tentmakers” among the community of Juneau.  We simply sought to bring Gospel truths and Gospel love into places where they hadn’t been encountered before, and for us that meant bringing a life-restoring love for Jesus and an honest love for others into the workplace.   As I said in a previous post, I had the amazing privilege of working at a true Juneau gem, Glacier Gardens.  In the friendships I made there and in how I went about my work, my prayer and hope was to live out and vocalize how the saving power of Jesus can change real people’s lives.  The Lord was so extravagantly generous in bringing me a number of beautiful new friends there.  And the even more beautiful thing is that these are friendships I hope will continue, and that’s something I’m truly thankful for.  I can’t tell you how much I miss that family and that place.  If you’re ever in Juneau, be sure to stop by and pay them a visit.
  • Serving Juneau: Every week I volunteered at a homeless shelter in downtown Juneau called The Glory Hole, after a famous abandoned mine shaft nearby filled with water. I helped with meal preparation and worked in the rooftop garden they run to supply the shelter’s clients with fresh produce at every meal.  In trying to get to know the stories of some of the clients, I encountered one gentleman from St. Joseph, Missouri – one of the most gentle, beautiful souls I’ve ever had the chance to come alongside.  We developed a very real friendship over the summer, he sharing his love of Jesus with me and me being able to step in and hopefully be an open ear and source of encouragement for him.  We were able to arrange for him to begin attending Sunday services at Douglas Island Bible Church with me and a group of our missionaries.  I’ve asked for the church family there to be looking for a way to continue driving him to services and draw him lovingly deeper into the church family there.  I also had the chance to get to know and testify with another client at the shelter, as well as just be an open ear to her experiences with faith and life.  The realest fruit from my involvement there, though, as with much of my summer, I feel, will be in how the Lord just widened my heart through the people I was able to learn from and encounter there.
  • Witnessing: Every Saturday we had the opportunity to step out into various parts of Juneau and engage locals, be they passersby on the streets of downtown Juneau or families enjoying one of the city’s many recreational areas, in spiritual conversations and share our witness.  Whether it meant simply scratching the surface of spiritual topics with others or encouraging people to look anew at the claims of Jesus, we simply tried to get conversations started, love others well through listening, and testify to the truth we’ve found about Jesus.  Were there opportunities that I missed?  Were there times where I simply chose to give in to fear and discouragement?  Did I often fall short in accessibly communicating Gospel truths with clarity?  Certainly so, to all three – and because of that, one of the biggest areas of growth for me this summer came in learning how to lean on God’s grace and forgiveness in light of my very real imperfection in attempting to engage others in these kinds of conversations.  The biggest offering I could bring into these spaces, I often found, was just sharing my personal experience with Christ – just speaking about him in a real way, and communicating that love with rawness and brokenness.  The most real thing I could communicate about Jesus was just loving like him.
  • Community Events: We hosted a number of different outreach events and projects, some regularly hosted and some only one-time.  Some of those events included:
    • Independence Day Salmon Bake: We hosted a free salmon bake on the UAS campus, inviting our neighbors in the student housing apartments as well as dozens of locals in the Auke Lake community immediately surrounding campus.
    • Oceans Wide: A beachside service featuring acoustic worship, devotional and prayer time, and Gospel presentation
    • “Life is ____.” : One Saturday morning, we set up a small canopy tent in a wharfside park downtown and gave out free hot chocolate, lemonade, and cookies. We asked passersby how they would answer the question, “Life is ___”, and we shared small booklets our team produced telling the stories of how two locals and one Cru member have found their answer to that question in God’s provision of grace through Christ.
  • Weekly Meetings: Our team put on a weekly worship service at the beautiful Chapel by the Lake.  Good teaching, spaces for intense prayer, worship and fellowship – we worked to create a space where local believers could come in and be refreshed by the truth of God’s love and where new friends could have a chance to encounter that love, as well.  Weekly Bible studies also provided a space to invite new friends into to simply experience love and hang out.
  • Other: A hodgepodge of other opportunities came to our mission team, as well. Here’s a taste:
    • We distributed invitation fliers for a local church’s foodbank ministry in a local neighborhood.
    • I had the opportunity to meet some cool folks at two local poetry slams around town, and I got to share two spoken word pieces I wrote to celebrate clearly and earnestly the power of the Gospel.
    • A number of our missionaries got to help out with two local youth ministry events.  In short, lots of fun opportunities came our way.

I hope you’ve enjoyed connecting through these blog updates at numerous points throughout the summer.  Needless to say, there is much from my time in Alaska that just can’t be fit into a blog like this, but thank you all for stepping into my summer and walking that road with me.  If you have any questions or comments concerning our experiences or work this summer, email me at matthew.wrocklage@yale.edu.  I would love to hear from you!

Thank you for your faithful prayer support and partnership with our mission team.  I can’t tell you how much you are appreciated, and I hope something true of Jesus has come through in the experiences I’ve shared in these updates.  I’m considering starting up a more consistent blog, too, in the coming months.  So, possibly keep your eyes peeled for that.

As you know, the title of this blog has been “Finding the Great Land,” a reference to the intriguing meaning of the word Alaska.  Alaska presents itself as a great frontier, a place where adventures are to be had and something precious, exotic, wild is to be found.  I hope we all will keep pressing into that search, and be willing to follow that thirst down to the destination where we can really look back one day and know we’ve seen something worth chasing.  And that greatest place, I’ve found, is the top of a hill called Calvary.

Cheers, friends.

About and Within: 6/16

BRIDGET COVE | A view at sunset from our most recent Project camp-out.  Not pictured: the pack of sea lions we saw swimming by further along the coast.

BRIDGET COVE | A view at sunset from our most recent Project camp-out. Not pictured: the pack of sea lions we saw swimming by further along the coast.

Last week rounded out my first few days working at Glacier Gardens, a family-owned portion of Thunder Mountain here in Juneau up which we give tours through the rainforest to visitors from across the world.  I’ve been given some wonderful people as co-workers; I’ve much to learn from them and their stories, for sure.  There’s much to share about how that side of things is going (email me if you’re interested), but suffice it for now to say that I’m looking forward to learning more and more what it means to really love the people at the Gardens well, to be a good friend, a good workers, and a faithful witness there.

Towards the end of last week, I encountered a very serious spiritual heaviness, a coming on of doubt and fear and even sadness as my mind turned over a handful of realities here, about and within.  I wrestled with feeling terribly ineffective in the work to be done here.  After coming from volunteering with the Glory Hole homeless shelter downtown, I felt terribly defeated by the reality of poverty.  I felt weak and poor, wondering what the time I spent volunteering there was really about, wondering if I was really loving the people there as Christ would have me.  I ran into stream upon stream of tourists running up the sidewalks, swimming into shops with cash to spend and swimming out with bags full of trinkets fashioned from plastic and polyester.  It seemed so garish to me.  It all seemed so draining.  It looked to me, when it came down to it, that everyone seemed so unworried with learning the name of this stranger named Jesus.  And the posture of my heart felt so ill-equipped to do or say anything meaningful into that space.  I felt so hardened.  I found myself homesick for a familiar place and for the people back East I haven’t seen in so long.  In a real sense, I fell into a time of wandering.  And it felt so very lonely.

Later on the same afternoon that I felt the oncoming of this heaviness, I tried to work through some of the challenges I was feeling pressed upon me.  And I remembered something.  Earlier in the day, while making my way down from the rooftop garden at the Glory Hole, I bumped into one of the shelter’s residents conversing along the side of the building with a rich-voiced tourist from the great state of North Carolina.  His wife had disappeared somewhere further up the street to do a bit of shopping (has this ever happened to you?).  He told us, just in passing, a bit about his family – a few children, a few grandchildren, and a marriage that has lasted 50-something years.  The conversation was a sweet one, but very much the kind of polite back-and-forth you might expect, a chance to indulge this gentleman’s pride in family while his travels to Alaska separated him from those loved ones for the next few days of his cruise.  That could have and probably should have been the story of that interaction, close the book and wave good-bye.

But it didn’t stop there.  Something beautiful happened when the woman from the shelter asked the man what he felt was the success behind his marriage, what with it remaining alive for so many years.  The man told us how he had been a hell-raiser in the early days of his marriage.  He told us how he feared in the early days of his marriage that it would fall to pieces within a matter of months.  Neither he nor his wife, he said, seemed to have the strength to keep the marriage breathing.  They both were making so many mistakes, even hurting one another.  And then, he said, they met Christ.  His voice filled with color as he described the transformation their marriage underwent in the light of real and living grace.  Second to the patience and the love of his wife, he gave all the credit for the goodness not only in his marriage but in his life, too, to this man named Jesus.  Of all the faces this man could put forward to us, these perfect strangers, he chose to put forward without fear his belonging to Jesus, because he had found it to be the truth he needed to live a life worth living.  He gave this testimony, and then, spotting his wife, bid us both a North Carolina good-bye and headed back down into the street.

So, there it was.  The Lord weaves threads of encouragement, of reminding, into the skin of our experience in the most unexpected ways.  These are reminders that, in a world of realities so often seemingly at odds with each other, that the greatest reality is God’s love.  There is real life change that stems from that love.  There are brothers and sisters all about who have tasted of this love and are living to make that love known all the time, in ways as simple as stories swapped in alleyways beside soup kitchens.  That was the reminder, brought to me quite unexpectedly, I so needed that day.  The Kingdom is all about us.  And the more beautiful truth to remember is that, through Christ, it is within us, too.

From that encounter, maybe I can really begin to remember that we’re not running this race alone.  Going before and standing behind, walking along and staying beside is so great a cloud of witnesses.  I think about that word ‘cloud’ and I smile.  I smile at thinking of what it must mean to be a single drop made airborne, subsumed into a limitless body of belief and hope, to be covered about in this cloud by such a family of friendship and expectation.  Consider the infinity of togetherness that one such raindrop, if he could, must experience whilst being surrounded in all directions by the cloud-form of millions of his brothers and sisters.  Ponder with me what it means to be within that cloud.  To me, that’s a glimpse of something of scale eternal, of something so bursting with fullness and light.  This cloud brings shade.  It brings rain to the thirsty earth below.  This cloud is animated on summer nights with the rumbling of thunder-peals and the life-shock of lightning arrows, the very movement of God’s power about and within.  And we have an invitation to be a part of that, today as well as tomorrow.

Indeed, we’re not running this race alone.  Just this past weekend, a large portion of our mission team ran the 5k “Only Fools Run at Midnight” charity race through downtown Juneau – at midnight, as you may have guessed from the event’s name.  One of the fun quirks of the event is that the runners are encouraged to show up in ridiculous costumes, some actually terrifying, to be honest (think middle-school boys in mini-skirts).  It was my first 5k race… ever.  And there were times when I wasn’t sure if I could keep running.  Alongside me every step of the way and up every hill, though, were two of my fellow missionaries, keeping me on pace and spurring me on.  The race, and completing it with these brothers, has easily become one of the highlights of the summer for me so far.  Why?  Because when I think of that night, I think about how we’ve not been created to run alone.  We are designed to run alongside others.

RUNNING PARTNER | Me and this little dude made it the whole 5 K in the baby carrier. Don’t ask me why.

This theme has been one upon which the entire Project has been meditating since the week of our arrival.  One resource we’ve been exploring together to interact with that philosophy is Will Walker’s Kingdom of Couches.  Check it out sometime – it’s been an uplifting and convicting read so far.

There’s a map of Southeast Alaska hanging in the common room of my apartment as I’m typing this update.  My eyes trace the borderlines of that paper representation marking the chains of sky-chasing mountains, the networks of wooded island sanctuaries, the near-endless expanse of the ice fields to my north.  And then my eyes find themselves staid upon the snaking city limits of this city, this place called Juneau.  And I find myself affirmed, challenged, incited towards this craving: that the people of this place know they’re loved – forever.

Each time I sit down to write a new blog post, I wonder what these words will read as.  I hope they are filled with nothing but honesty.  Thank you, as always, for reading and experiencing all of this alongside me.

how simple and profound

how singular the sound

that death itself could be undone

by means of resurrected love

unthinkable it seems

that a king could live in me

but like he formed us from the dust

he makes new people out of us

– From “Mars”, off Joseph Holm’s album God of the Sea and the Sea Monster

A Different Measure: 6/4

The past few days were encouraging in that the Lord really brought new perspectives my way concerning this summer and how I spend it.  I could share a good number of stories speaking to that movement in my heart, but by far here’s the most exciting one.

On Tuesday evening, the Men’s Team piled up into the fleet of Project vehicles (blindfolds may have been involved) and were ferried over to a trailhead leading to a destination unknown.  On the trip over, our only charge was this: meditate on the words of John 17:3, which goes as follows–

3 This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent — Jesus Christ.

The hike, began in mystery, led us through dense forest, past a porcupine or two, and all the way to a dramatic overlook peering out over the Mendenhall Glacier, a span of ice belonging to the Juneau Ice Field reaching around 12 miles through valleys and mountain passes like a river of blue of glass.

MENDENHALL GLACIER: With fellow Cru missionary Cholas Kniola in the foreground

One of the Cru staff members leading our mission challenged us at that spot, with the peaks of ice behind him, about what it means to live in light of eternity.  In 60 years, he said, that glacier will have receded about 300 m.  Think of it: measuring the span of one’s life in the extent of that great ice sheet’s retreat.  The process of the Mendenhall Glacier’s recession is a slow one, yet still over the course of a lifetime its movement is very much seen — you could walk the distance, quite easily, between where the ice reached at the beginning of my days to where it lay when I reach my 80th year of life.  We could have walked 300 m up the back of the glacier and marked the spot where the ice would likely be when we leave this earth.  Upon our return 60 years thence, what might be true of us?  How might we describe the lives we lived, while the glacier continued its steady movement towards the upper valley?  That glacier will be the witness, the time-keeper, to our lives, and to our children’s — what might we bring to it if ever we returned at the end of our days?

The question was a deeply affecting one, particularly when I think of how many lifespans it has taken the glacier to retreat to where it is today. You might as well measure its movement in generations of men, not meters.  It’s an interesting way to look at the world around us, don’t you think?  Anyhow, just as tracking the glacier’s movement by in new terms invites a kind of fresh perspective, we considered how we might look at our own years, our own movements by a different measure.  That measure requires us to think beyond the here and now, to let ourselves consider what the weight and promise of eternity really is.

Capping off our time at that place, we took the Lord’s Supper.  It was one of the most precious experiences of my life — a chance to reflect on this Christ whose name we speak not only in sanctuaries of glass and wood and brick but in cathedrals such as these, alongside bays spilling forth from tongues and teeth of diamond-blue ice and mountains all about.  In other words: simply unforgettable.  The evening continued with a trip into the Mendenhall ice caves.  The domed tunnels were slick like blown glass, glowing sky-blue.  If you positioned yourself just right in one of the compartments and looked up, it was as if you were actually looking skyward, except when you reach your hands out towards what you perceive is infinite your fingertips can actually touch the limit of that space.  Again, really, really cool.  I’ll try to get some pictures up from some of the ones the other guys may have taken.

In other news:

– The Lord answered very specific prayers concerning my job search.  I have been taken on as a tour guide at Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventures along with one other member of our mission project.  Together, we’ll be working alongside a handful of other locals, getting to learn their stories, love them well, and share as we are given the opportunity about the life we’ve found in Christ.  I’ll be learning all about the local plantlife and sharing that information with visitors as I lead them up the side of Thunder Mountain, which is blanketed in moss-carpeted rainforest.  Please be in prayer that Christ would rule over how we interact with our guests, our coworkers and managers, and even with His creation as we spend so much time outdoors.  He really made Himself clear in opening this door (I’d love to share a bit more about that, if anyone’s interested), so I pray He would be going ahead of us and shaping our ministry there.  Thank you for joining me in that prayer.  The Gardens’ website is here.

– Our Cru Bible study leader made us dinner tonight, a heaping plate of barbecue ribs.  I’ll let this picture speak to the beauty of that experience.

RIB NIGHT: My Bible study leader, Tommy… looking excited (?) to dig into his culinary masterpiece

– We have our first day of service tomorrow, meaning our entire team will be headed out around the Juneau community to serve alongside various organizations and local ministries.  I’ll be joining a team headed to The Glory Hole, a downtown homeless ministry and care shelter.  I’m hoping to become more heavily involved in their work this summer, so please be praying the Lord would be glorified in that and making a way for more of my time to be spent there this summer.

– We will be headed downtown again Saturday for a full outreach day of witnessing and sharing the Gospel.  Please send your prayers ahead of us in that, that we might make good use of that time, and in turn that the Spirit might make good use of our team.

There’s a good deal more excitement in the works, so looking forward to keeping you posted as things continue developing here.  Until then, thanks for your prayers and support, and hope it’s not as rainy wherever you’re reading from as it is here.

Echo Ranch: 5/29

A view of Berner's Bay

ECHO RANCH: A view of Berner’s Bay

Over the past day and a half, the men of the mission team spent some time out at Echo Ranch Bible Camp for a time of orientation and vision-casting for the remainder of the summer.  The camp, situated on Berner’s Bay, offers student campers of all ages from around southeastern Alaska the chance to hear the Gospel in a setting that is uplifting and in terms that are accessible, all while doing those good ol’ summer campy things that make for lifelong memories.  In addition to its main summer offerings, the Bible Camp offers programs in horsemanship as well as a Wilderness Camp program.

The Cru team helped out with a myriad of chores around the Ranch today.  I spent the afternoon stripping bark off some fresh cut Alaskan spruce trees that’ll end up being turned into fence-posts to replace some of the rotten posts of the Camp’s horse corral.  Other Cru students helped split wood and assisted in other work around the Ranch just to bless them in and help further their work in creating an inviting space where families and campers from around the Juneau area can be welcomed in, shown God-honoring hospitality, and learn more about the Gospel.

Generally speaking, each week we spend in Juneau will be spent will end with Fridays being spent in service in the Juneau community. Mondays through Thursdays, the team will be engaging with the community in our respective workplaces or places of individual volunteering.  Evenings and weekends will generally be spent in other outreach projects, Bible studies, and mission team meetings that will serve as other points of contact with the community.  The job search is still very much in process for me, so your prayers for open doors are much appreciated in that arena.

The weather here has been sunny and quite warm pretty much since arriving, which I’ve heard is quite uncommon for Juneau.  The story is usually more like this: cool temps, overcast skies, and steady showers.  Juneau sits amidst the Tongass National Forest, the second largest rainforest in the world.  Bears (brown and black) and bald eagles are present in abundance here.  While we were sitting on the beach at Echo Ranch this morning, we had the thrill of seeing a bald eagle going about snagging a fish or two.  It was a bright and clear morning, and just beyond the bay there stood a row of mountain peaks.  I felt like Uncle Sam was about to ride past me on horseback yelling, “FREEDOM!”  It was one of those moments, my friends.

Wrapping up: the Lord has gathered on this mission project a group of men coming from such a variety of backgrounds.  It’s been a picture of the diversity of God’s people, and how that diversity enriches us and equips us for mission.  That’s been a fun perspective to interact with these past few days.  In all, Echo Ranch was very good to us — especially to our stomachs.  We made banana boats (fire-cooked bananas stuffed with peanut butter, marshmallows, and chocolate chips) around a late night bonfire and chased it all down with what I will swear is the best root beer on the market, Henry Winehart brand.  Try the two together sometime and tell me if you’re disappointed.  (Spoiler alert: you won’t).

Blessings, all, and looking forward to connecting again soon.

By Land or By Sea: 5/26

THE FERRY: View from The Taku while headed into Juneau from Haines

THE FERRY: View from The Taku while headed into Juneau from Haines

Sorry for the lag time in getting this first post up!  The past few days have been quite a whirlwind what with mission orientation in full swing.  The post below was supposed to hit this blog on Monday night with our arrival into Juneau, but I just got a full moment to post now.

POST: A little after 5:30 pm on Monday, the Alaskan ferryboat Taku pulled into the port of Juneau, carrying me and 19 other Cru students from 16 states to the endpoint of a week-long road trip that took our seven-car caravan over thousands of miles of simply unimaginable landscape.  Last week I flew into Sioux Falls, SD to meet the other students headed north.  Our drive brought us into the Badlands, where the mounds and spires of soft rock echoed the profile of some ancient castle.  We saw the many different faces of the Canadian Rockies, from the stark and silvery snow-capped peaks of Jasper National Park to the smokier, sleepier chains blanketed in pine and green about Liard River.  We saw the Yukon, too, and what I can only call a bountiful barrenness where the rusted boughs of the shrubland peeked through remnant patches of snow like tiger stripes– by far my favorite stretch of the trip. I spent so much time gawking out car windows, trying so hard to burn what I was seeing into my memory to capture the scale and composition of the land before us.  Bears, deer, moose, big-horn sheep, and a gas station dog named Bruno — these and many a friendly local crossed our path while we were on the road.  For those among you that geek out over green things like I do, you would have enjoyed the ride tremendously.

With Tuesday morning being the formal start date of our mission project, the journey up to Alaska provided a prelude to our stay in Juneau that was invigorating, at times challenging, but also incredibly peace-giving.  Simply put, a week on the road can really tire you out.  We encountered a number of car problems (props to the two engineers among our group who were able to patch it up DIY-style), and I lost my luggage in Dallas while en route to Sioux Falls.  My bags and I were eventually reunited in Juneau, but in the meantime I spent the week on the road without pretty much all of what I had packed for the trip.  As has often been the case, though, what at first seemed inconvenient proved to be a window into a lesson worth learning.

The second or third day into the trip, I came across Matthew 6:25-33, a passage from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  When worry over material things constrains us (like my immediate concern over not having all the clothes I packed or the other little comforts I brought along with me), Jesus here points us to perhaps an unexpected teacher: wildflowers.

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread.  29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! 

I can’t count how many times I’ve likely read straight through these words without really absorbing the truth therein.  Yet may I ask you to consider with me what Jesus is really pointing to here – and what a beautiful vision that way of living is, as I feel I’m just beginning to understand.  In Wyoming, we rolled across vast stretches of rolling hills veiled in dandelions.  I was reading these words of Jesus as we were driving through those fields.  It was a gloriously sunny morning, and as I looked out the window I saw those same wildflowers Christ was talking about (call them weeds if you’d like, but run with me here for a second).  Wildflowers subsist on light, drinking in the water of the soil and literally rooting themselves within the earth below.  Possessions take up no space in that equation.  I cannot but think what a beautiful way to go through life that would be – to subsist on the light of the deeper presence that is the hope of Christ, to be fully present in the warmth and the substance of the dirt of this earth, to be nourished by the food God has given us in His Word.  I see in these flowers a kind of clean and clear existence, a cleanness and a clarity I hope might be found in how I think and live not only this summer but in my thereafter, too.

To be content with little else aside from the here and now and God’s place in and above it – that’s a mindset central, I think, not only to mission but to fulfilled living in general.

Wrapping up: First orders of business in Juneau include continuing developing connections with the rest of the mission team and continuing seeking employment in town.  With the relationships we form with our co-workers forming such a large part of our team’s ministry here, please be in prayer that every member of our team finds a position and a workplace where we can truly speak and live the love of Christ.

As a final note, please email me this summer (matthew.wrocklage@yale.edu)!  This blog is supposed to be a two-way conversation, and you are a big part of that.  I’ll try to keep this log up to date every few days.

A few images and further reflections from our cross-country experience, as well as other chapters of my time in Alaska, will be posted throughout the summer under the CREATIVE tab.

PRAYERS:  I’d like to lift a prayer of thanksgiving to all those who are reading this first real post of the summer.  Thank you for the investment of prayer and encouragement you’ve already sent my way, and I pray the Spirit would be bolstering you this summer, as well.  For those of you who contributed support towards my mission, I want to say a special thank you for your generosity and your investment in our team – as well as in my personal growth this summer.  Thank you for being a picture of God’s provision to me.

I’d like to ask for you to pray specifically for the people of Haines, AK, the small town serving as entryway to the island network of the Alaskan panhandle from which we caught the ferry into Juneau.  Pray that the hope and rejuvenation to be found in the Gospel would be carried into its streets.

Welcome to The Great Land.

Welcome to my blog chronicling my experiences on mission this summer in Juneau, Alaska.  I hope this blog serves as a space for me to share with you how the love of Christ is on the move within and around our Project Team.  Be sure to check for updates every few days, and I hope you enjoy learning more about the beautiful city, story, and people of Juneau alongside me and all my new friends on the mission team.

Consider this corner of cyberspace a big ol’ front porch where you can kick your feet up, hear a good story, share a tall tale of your own, sip some (imaginary) sweet tea, and walk away knowing that God is up to something quite exciting in the lives of those all around us.

Come back real soon, now.