Summer shape up in Homer, Alaska
Lt. Sam Fowler recalls his summer assignment and how it influenced his ministry as a Salvation Army officer.
By Sam Fowler, Lt. –
“Where on earth is Homer, Alaska?”
I had just received my summer assignment, a Salvation Army cadet’s longest off-campus field training.
Many people had asked: “Hey Sam, where are you hoping to go?” I always replied, “I want to go somewhere far and remote.”
I hoped for someplace different from the sunny Southern California coast where the College for Officer Training at Crestmont is located. I wanted to be stretched and challenged in a new way.
Standing in front of a large group of people and being told where you will spend a month of your life is an odd experience. You have no control–not over the place you will go, the people you will be with or the experience you will have. It’s a humbling exercise in faith, trusting God to sort out all those details.
“Cadet Fowler you are appointed to the Homer, Alaska, corps.”
Known as the “Cosmic Hamlet at the end of the road,” Homer is stunningly beautiful. It sits on the southwest edge of a peninsula on the Kachemak Bay, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. Sometimes, staring out at the bay as the water seemed to turn to glass, I wished I could freeze time and live in this remote paradise forever.
After 10 hours and three planes–one of which was very small and mildly terrifying–I stepped into Homer’s one-room airport and immediately realized I was out of place. Dressed in full uniform, I made a stark contrast to the fisherman and locals of Homer. My freshly polished shoes got dusty in the walk from the baggage claim to the van.
The next day, I figured I would blend in better in my regular clothes, so I wore my Nikes, Levis and an L.A. Clippers t-shirt. I may have fit in even less than when I was in uniform.
Shopping at the grocery store, if I had a nickel for every odd stare I got I could meet my World Services goal 10 times over. As I checked out, the cashier asked, “What’s a clippers?”
I had assumed everyone would know about the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. I was wrong.
While not in a foreign country, I was still in a place different from my home. My clothing wasn’t relatable; moreover, it wasn’t appropriate for the work that needed to be done in Homer. I even spoke differently. I tend to speak quickly, a habit that set me apart from the calm, even-keeled people of Homer.
Culture shock set it. I felt like I was from another planet. People weren’t rude or unkind to me; I just didn’t fit in.
Slowly I adapted. I bought some working jeans and a pair of boots, and started embracing the way of life in Homer. In a few weeks I learned how to install a brand new door and frame, demolish a greenhouse, operate a backhoe and install a transmission; and how to catch, clean and package fish.
Perhaps most important, I learned how to properly exit a home in Homer. The trick is to open the door and look both ways, just in case any wildlife is in your front yard–a lesson I took to heart my first week in Homer when I nearly ran into a 600-pound mother moose on my front porch.
The more I embraced the culture, the more I was able to develop friendships with the people. I worked with and learned from two officers who genuinely love people and are willing to do whatever is needed to help their community. When my assignment ended, I was sad to be leaving a place that now felt like home.
I discovered that as a Christian trying to make inroads to a new community, sometimes we need to be willing to change ourselves first. I don’t mean compromising our beliefs or doctrines. Rather, we need to be willing to adapt ourselves to the culture we are in. It can be as simple as agreeing to help out on a project you know absolutely nothing about–just offering to lend a hand and be part of what is going on.
It’s scary to step out of your comfort zone, but if we are serious about wanting to win the world for Jesus then we need to build relationships with the people around us. That can only happen when we make the effort to get involved in their lives.
I made friends and became family with the people of Homer by working and sweating with them. I never knew what I was doing–and most often I never really got good at anything I tried–but just making an effort can go a long way.
So I encourage you to make an effort to step into a new community and see how you can get involved. Be willing to try new things and adapt yourself. If we only stay where we are comfortable then we hinder the spread of the gospel. Rather let us be bold and venture forth into new places bringing with us the good news of Jesus Christ.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6 NIV).