DELTA JUNCTION, Alaska – “We’re a small town in a remote area,” Alaska pastor Dave Becker says of Delta Junction, where he leads First Baptist Church.
As a Southern Baptist congregation, however, the church has a global reach.
“We believe the best and most effective way to be involved in what Jesus told us to do – which is to reach the world – is with our support of the Cooperative Program,” said Becker, First Baptist’s pastor since 2000.
“Our church continues to view the Cooperative Program as a great opportunity to give to the Kingdom of God for the glory of God throughout the world.”
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
About 100 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist. Last year the Delta Junction congregation gave about $100,000 to missions, including more than $40,000 – 17 percent of their offerings – through the Cooperative Program.
The church’s missions giving also includes 5 percent to missions through the Tanana Valley Baptist Association, plus financial support for two families from the church who have become overseas missionaries and for outreach among Athabasca Indians in east-central Alaska.
The Delta Junction congregation – started in 1952 by First Baptist Church of Fairbanks, 100 miles to the north – has found ways of contextualizing the gospel for native Alaskans, “subsistence Alaskans” and military personnel while at the same time supporting the work of Southern Baptists through the local Baptist association, the Alaska Baptist Convention and through the SBC nationally and internationally.
Steve DuBois/Delta Wind online photo
Members of First Baptist Church in Delta Junction, Alaska, are accustomed to the marvels of nature visible from town. Here, the waning moon is setting as the first rays of a January sunrise cast a glow on 11,400-foot McGinnis Peak south of Delta Junction.
“The strength of our church is that about 15 years ago they made a commitment to get out of debt,” Becker said. “That’s when they upped their commitment to missions through the Cooperative Program. They did 10 percent, 12, 15 and jumped to 17 [percent] in just a few short years.
“We are very blessed,” the pastor continued. “God has always brought us people who tithe, and we have made a commitment to be strong on stewardship with every dollar people give.”
Twenty-five years ago, First Baptist started Clearwater Baptist Church, about 10 miles south of town, to meet the needs of people who might not feel comfortable in a “First Baptist” setting. For the most part these were people who had moved to Alaska to “live off the land” by hunting and fishing. With many of these “subsistence Alaskans” homeschooling their children, the Clearwater church has started a midweek AWANA youth group, now with about 40 participants.
Until then, First Baptist had the only midweek children’s ministry in the area.
“This church is very strong in children’s ministry,” Becker said of the ministry, now encompassing about 60 youth. “We’re very committed to reaching children. Our big draw is our children’s programs. We get a lot of young families with young kids.”
This includes a continual turnover of people from nearby Fort Greely. World War II brought a military presence to the sub-Arctic area; temperatures in the Tanana Valley lowlands can drop below 50 degrees below zero in winter. The Army base – developed to fly airplanes and supplies to Allies in eastern Russia – became a cold-weather training site for troops in the early 1950s. Today it is a missile defense base.
“Maybe 5 percent of our people come because we’re a Southern Baptist church,” Becker said. “Our draw is that we’re going to preach the gospel; we’re going to proclaim Jesus Christ.”
Members from Catholic, Methodist and other backgrounds who call First Baptist their church home freely give to support the Cooperative Program because it goes to support missionaries around the world, Becker said.
“We’re a very transient community because of Fort Greely,” the pastor explained. “We have a few who have been here 20 years but the majority have been here less than five years” and they learn at First Baptist “what Southern Baptists are all about in Alaska and around the world. … We emphasize the missions giving, the outreach and the authority of the gospel, bringing people into relationship with Jesus Christ. When we can agree on those things, everything else is peripheral.”
First Baptist sponsors a Boy Scout troop and provides a food pantry for the town. The church, in conjunction with the local ministerial alliance, brings in special events such as the African Children’s Choir, evangelistic strength teams and the like.
It also hosts and runs the associational summer camp, which last year brought at least 100 youngsters to the shores of the Tanana River.
“We do want to see the gospel go forth in our state as well as around the world,” Becker said. “Our draw is, we’re going to preach the gospel; we’re going to proclaim Jesus Christ; we’re going to use the Southern Baptist Convention to bring organization to the way we reach throughout the world for Jesus Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.)