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Already Prepared for the Hard Places

Alaska has proven to be a great training grounds for students who are now prepared to reach the "hard places" for Christ.
Four years ago, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A., a ministry of U.S. Missions, was launched at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks (UAF) by Paul Burkhart, U.S. missionary with Chi Alpha and state director, and his team.

Burkhart and his wife, Crystal, would seemingly be the last people drawn to Alaska — having spent nine years as AGWM missionaries to the tropics of Southeast Asia. In fact, they didn’t initially understand God’s call to The Land of the Midnight Sun. However, what they found when they arrived were people much like they had just left — people isolated, forgotten, and in desperate need of their God.

But the Burkharts have a passion for raising up future missionaries to reach those in the hard places of the world. And what better place to raise up future missionaries to go to the “hard places” of the world than students who are already accustomed to living in one of the most environmentally, emotionally, mentally, and physically hard places there is to live?

“We have discovered a people uniquely suited to go into the hard places — the university students here in Alaska,” Burkhart states. “The disciple makers we are training are indigenous believers from one of the toughest places on Earth, and God is calling them.”

Currently there are two Chi Alpha groups associated with the University of Alaska that Burkhart oversees — one in Fairbanks and the other in Anchorage. In just four years, the two locations now total about 400 in the weekly small groups, with more than 300 attending the weekly combined service.

Yet, what’s telling about this growing group of students is their sensitivity to missions and their personal understanding of sacrifice.

“Every fall, we take an offering for a missionary or missionary couple who are ministering in a hard place — often a dangerous place,” explains Burkhart. “When possible, the missionary comes and speaks to our group and then we spend the next two to three weeks working to raise money to benefit that missionary.”

Burkhart says that small groups leaders emphasize sacrificial giving, asking each student to consider giving at least $50 — when, for most college students, giving $10 to any charity could be considered generous. This year, in just three weeks, the UAF Chi Alpha groups reached a record $10,000 for a missionary couple headed to a sensitive and difficult part of the world. Meanwhile, the Chi Alpha based in Anchorage raised $3,000 for a missionary to Africa.

For 21-year-old senior, Cody Smith, an accounting major who is also a Chi Alpha student leader, Chi Alpha has transformed her from a sideline Christian to a Christian with a passion to see people won to Christ.

“The missions offering we held last month . . . to love and support [the missionaries] and their mission has hit home for a lot of us who have futures that involve overseas missions within Chi Alpha,” she states. “I have decided that if I am not in the mission field myself, I will do whatever I can to support those who are, both prayerfully and financially.”

Another astounding figure Burkhart reports is the number of Alaska Chi Alpha members who go on missions trips. Last year, nearly 100 students participated in missions trips around the world. This year, already 90 have committed to raise the funds to go. In addition, several students have committed — following graduation — to volunteer with an established missionary for a year in order to consider a lifetime of missions service.

“The students in Alaska have enthusiastically embraced the call given by Chi Alpha to ‘give a year and pray about a lifetime’ in missions,” observes E. Scott Martin, Chi Alpha national director. “They serve as an example for all Chi Alpha students to follow.”

“The impact that Chi Alpha has had on my life during college way outweighs anything I have learned in a classroom,” Smith states. “Chi Alpha has a way of showing both believers and nonbelievers the love and hope of Jesus Christ and exemplifies how we ought to respond to that.”

“I believe these students have a heart for the hard places because they personally know what the hard place is like,” Burkhart says.

Another example of the generous spirit of the students that comes immediately to Burkhart’s mind is when the Chi Alpha group decided to purchase some land for establishing a training center.

“I told my student leaders (about 40 leaders) that before we could ask others to give sacrificially to purchase the land, we needed to lead by example,” Burkhart recalls. “Those 40 students leaders pledged to raise $47,000 — and we saw time after time how God responded to that giving.”

Burkhart also shares a moment of God’s protection. When the earthquake struck Alaska, on Nov. 30, he and his two oldest children, Madelyn, 15, and Taggart, 13, were at the MK-PK Retreat being held on the Alaska Network campgrounds — which was near the epicenter of the 7.0 quake.

“I was sitting in a chair next to a large fireplace when the earthquake struck, and the fireplace collapsed,” he says. “My phone and my backpack with my computer were under that pile of rubble — God’s hand of protection was on all of the students and our families.”

For the Burkharts, God’s protection and the work being done in students’ lives, continues to confirm His calling them to the state known as The Last Frontier.

“What initially made little sense to us a few years ago,” reflects Burkhart, “God has transformed into a vision to reach the world.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.