Mission Trip to Rampart, Alaska
“I have no clue what to think,” I thought to myself when I heard about Rampart, a village in Interior Alaska, accessible only by air or boat on the Yukon River. Viewing “Fish Camps” along the way, we got a brief glimpse of life in Rampart as our team traveled the two-hour trip down the river in a 26-foot flat bottomed boat captained by village worker, Leon. These were just glorified camp sites which are used in the summer during salmon spawning runs to provide for wintertime subsistence. The population of Rampart increases greatly in the summer months (estimated at 92 people this summer, versus 30-ish in the winter) as many residents spend their winter in Fairbanks.
We were greeted at the shore by a couple of local dogs, who entertained right away by fetching sticks (or small branches, as was the case). Leon went to get a village pickup to haul our luggage and supplies to the school, while the team trekked up the road to our accommodation.
Our proposed lodging was in the community center with no refrigerator or stove available, an outhouse out back and showers 5 minutes up the road at the “Washateria” – combination laundromat and bath house. Surprisingly, we got an upgrade! We were notified the morning we departed to Rampart we would be allowed to stay in the school instead, which is in the heart of the village. There are approximately a dozen students during the school year from families that live in Rampart year-round. The school has a couple of showers, flush toilets, and we were also fortunate enough to be allowed the use of the school kitchen facility. The Rampart Village Council Office also operates in the school building, so we had Wi-Fi available for 2 ½ hours each evening, but there is no cell service. Locals, mostly kids, hang out around the school during those hours to get on the internet and check e-mail.
We set up housekeeping in the small gymnasium. Each of our 8 team members (+ 3 leaders from Last Frontier Ministries) “staked” our claim for spots for our air mattresses and sleeping bags. Then we set up our dining/meeting table down the center of the room and our food pantry in the corner. We had the benefit of basketball goals, balls, a cool hanging rope, as well as village kids of the school custodian to play with.
We started each day with devotions, following breakfast, where the team each took turns with their selection. The discussion following the devotion was the best conversation ever – there is nothing better than fellowship with the team. Our first full day, we determined our schedules for afternoon Vacation Bible School and evening ministry, all held in the community center. Our information flyers were designed and drawn by our younger team members. We split up, went down the road (after we put on our “bug dope” to ward off the mosquitoes) house to house to introduce ourselves, and spread the word to the villagers about our VBS. At a few stops we got to see, first-hand, the processing of salmon for smoking it in strips; it is a kind of jerky. This salmon-smoking ritual seems like it would have been the same 100 years ago.
Our VBS was a well-attended success, even though most of the adults seemed to have a lack of faith. The village children began gathering at the appointed (ish!) time in the afternoon. Since the Alaska summer night is not dark, but dusk at best, the kids go to bed early in the morning most times. It is not unusual for them to barely make it to VBS at 2 p.m. Our theme was “God’s Chosen”, so the first day was rewarding to assist in helping them describe themselves in positive ways; something that was obviously not the norm. Our skits were a hit, just as much as the team enjoyed putting them on. It was refreshing to have the youngsters feel comfortable, easily laughing and playing with us.
Our leading team members blessed Rampart by sharing messages at three evening Church Services, beginning with Praise and Worship. We could sure feel the presence of the Holy Spirit! Following the last service, the team conducted four baptisms in the Yukon River!! One young lady, Teresa, was at all three services and let the team know she felt that we had come just for her benefit. What a victory for Jesus! Teresa was baptized by Bryan and Rob, of our team, along with three of our young team members. The Baptism was attended by several of the villagers – adults and children.
The folks from Rampart are a very private, protective people who don’t immediately open up. Fortunately, we had the benefit of the solid relationships that had previously been established by our hosts Sam and Rob of Last Frontier Ministries, who had spent time working alongside some of the Rampart residents. This paved the way for our team to be accepted in the village. It was a privilege to hear of the life journey and subsequent return to Rampart of an elder, Harold, as well as the tender closeness of Michelle (the Village Administrator) as a child, her Aunt and their prayer ritual. We also received gifts of fresh caught King Salmon and got to enjoy that wonderful delight for supper a few times – there is no comparison to what we experience at home!
The team all did their part to clear brush and weeds (willow trees sprout up everywhere and needed to be lopped off) to reclaim the school playground and outdoor living space for some of our friends. The guys split firewood for a few of the elders, which was especially appreciated as wood is their main source of heat. It was our actions that spoke volumes in conveying the message of Christ to the people of Rampart.
All too soon, it was time to pack up, scrub the school to leave the place a little better than when we came, and travel back up the river….
‘Till we me meet again, Rampart – you made a special impact on us all!
Written by Bonnie Ruggles