For many Native children in Alaska, Tanalian Bible Camp is the only opportunity they have to hear about Christ during the year. Samaritan's Purse is helping these children hear God's Word by providing airfare scholarships.
Samaritan’s Purse provided airfare scholarships for young people, primarily Alaska Natives, to attend Tanalian Bible Camp in Port Alsworth this summer. The children’s week at camp is, in many cases, their only consistent exposure to evangelical Christianity during the year.
Tanalian Bible Camp, which hosts a different set of campers each week for seven weeks during June and July, saw a 15 percent uptick in participants this year, from 286 to 330.
“Because Samaritan’s Purse provided airfare, I think we had a boost of 44 campers,” said James Walsh, the camp’s executive director and also pastor of Lake Clark Bible Church.
Campers, about 80 percent of whom come from the Yupik, Aleut, and Athabascan cultures, range in age from about 8 to 19. During their time in Port Alsworth, campers attend chapel and cabin devotions twice a day, eat three great meals, and join in fun activities, crafts, and sports. Last fall, Samaritan’s Purse built the non-denominational camp a high school-size, covered basketball court that was much enjoyed this season. (Lake Clark Bible Church also uses the new facility throughout the summer.)
“Almost overwhelmingly we hear that [camp] is the best week of their year,” Walsh said. “A lot of the kids don’t want to go home.”
The atmosphere at the camp is often markedly different from the villages where most of the children live. The villages can be very dark places, marked by fear, alcoholism, abuse of many kinds, and neglect, Walsh said. In the region of southwest Alaska served by the camp—an area about the size of Vermont—there are Bible-believing churches in only eight of the 32 villages, he explained.
“When they come here, some of the kids even will verbally say it feels different here. It feels lighter here,” Walsh said. “We tell them that’s the presence of the Lord.
“Many of them have never heard the Gospel,” he said. “They come here and they hear the Gospel. They’re told about Jesus, who loves them and cares for them. They’re taught about a God who created them, who knows them by name, that none of them are an accident.”
Suicide and substance abuse take a heavy toll among Alaska’s teens. Walsh, his staff, and volunteers talk with campers about how the Gospel addresses these and other issues.
“We tell them that Jesus is a far better answer than drugs and alcohol. But I also make it clear to them that Jesus isn’t just an app for your life. He is your life,” said Walsh, a graduate of LeTourneau University who once wanted to be missionary pilot.
Every year during camp, some students will receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Pastor Walsh hopes God will use those students to bring good news to their own people, though there is no doubt that following Jesus is often difficult in the indigenous villages.
“If you want to stand for the Lord, you will lose friends,” Walsh said. You’ll be alone a lot. Some of our kids who’ve stood for the Lord testify to that.”
Please pray for Tanalian Bible Camp, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding this year, and for the Tanalian Leadership Center, the Camp’s new short-term residential mentoring program designed to disciple Alaska Natives in their late teens and early 20s. Pray also for ongoing construction of staff housing by Samaritan’s Purse.