Last June, Daniel Hostetter (‘20) flew to Anchorage, Alaska, for a week with the Emmanuel Church youth group. Every afternoon, his ministry group spent time at a local park playing with children of all ages from the surrounding trailer parks. These kids were many different ethnicities (Asian, African-American, indigenous Alaskan) and from different financial and home situations. Daniel played countless games with the kids: football, soccer, four-square, tag, and mouse-on-ground (a favorite Alaskan playground game).
All of the members of the ministry team got the chance to lead a Bible lesson in the park for the kids, so Daniel acted out the story of Zacchaeus. He told the kids that Jesus wants to come into their house (just like in the story of Zacchaeus) and that God is a God of redemption and forgiveness. The kids seemed to quickly grasp the concept of how a bad person became a good person, but only through Christ.
One of Daniel’s favorite parts of the week was being able to build personal relationships with the kids in the park. He connected with an 11 year old named TJ, who loved to play the ukulele. Daniel sat beside him for hours while he played and sang. Daniel said, “It was heartwarming to see his talents blossom, but it was also heartbreaking to hear TJ pour out his feelings in song. TJ’s dad left his family when he was young, and it was clear that TJ felt abandoned and unloved by his father.” Daniel got to talk to TJ about how our heavenly Father will still love us even when our earthly relationships may fail.
On Tuesday night, the youth group team held a Park Party at the park. They grilled hot dogs for the community, painted the kids’ faces and hair, and interacted with the families of the children. It was a great opportunity for Daniel and his ministry group to connect to the community as a whole. The park ministry allowed God to use Daniel and his group to invest in the lives of the kids. The organization Daniel served under, Graceworks Alaska, brings in other ministry groups all summer, and the local church and Graceworks partner to keep tabs on the kids throughout the year.
Anchorage has a very large homeless population, and it is commonplace to see them on the sidewalks. Daniel and his youth group went to the local Walmart and bought large quantities of personal care supplies. They bagged the supplies, along with a gospel tract and a list of homeless shelters, and delivered them to homeless people they encountered on the street.
Every now and then, Daniel and his group took breaks from ministry and explored Alaska. Whether they were hiking straight up a mountain above Anchorage, floating on a glacier cruise, staying up late on the summer solstice (the sun never went down!), seeing a moose and a bear, or having a glacial snowball fight, Daniel and his group constantly witnessed the awesome beauty of the Last Frontier.
After the trip, Daniel described his experience as “perspective-altering.” He said that he “hopes that the seeds I helped to sow in the kids, especially TJ, will be eternal.”