“…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6
There is a crisis occurring in Chignik Bay, Alaska that may very well mean 750 people cannot heat their homes or have food this winter. 750 grandparents, children, aunts and uncles, moms and dads are facing An Alaskan winter in cold homes without enough food to last the winter. With the night time temperatures going down into the 40’s the Alaskan winter is only 45 days away, and I am confronted with what I can do? Is my love real or is it cheap platitudes of “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”(James 4:17)
One of the recurring themes throughout the Bible is God demonstrating his love through his people in times of famine. Repeatedly we see examples in both the Old and New Testament of God using his people to demonstrate love for our neighbors when famine hits. In the US, we largely feel insulated from famine…it is something that happens in other countries, but the reality is that it does happen here…and how will I respond when it does? Will I expect someone else or the government to deal with it? Or will I see my neighbors and look for ways to help? This is the question that I have been confronted with: How do I take the lessons that I have learned about love and live them out in very practical ways.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Board meetings related to my job when I heard about Chignik Bay I was challenged; Deirdre and I have spent a significant part of our lives in Asia helping people, and to find people in our backyard suffering from famine was disturbing. Why have we not heard about this in the press? What can we do? Can we help 750 people?
Chignik Bay is located on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula and is one of the more remote and desolated areas in Alaska. The Alaska Peninsula is the tail end of the Alaska Range, some of the tallest mountains in North America…think Denali (Mt. McKinley), think Foraker and you’re in the Alaska Range. While Chignik Bay is only 190 miles from Dillingham (where I live) it is both easier and safer to fly from Chignik to Anchorage to Dillingham, almost 900 air miles. There are 5 main villages in Chignik Bay: Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Perryville and Ivanof Bay. The residents live a subsistence lifestyle living off the land and fish.
Chignik Bay has one rich natural resource: Sockeye salmon (red salmon). Every summer upwards of 300,000 sockeye salmon return to Chignik Bay, allowing the residents to catch enough salmon to feed themselves for the winter and to commercially fish to make money to pay for their mortgages, pay for electric, buy fuel for heat, buy staple groceries, send their kids to college, and have the money to do all of the things that you and I take for granted….that is until this year. For whatever reason, this year the fishery collapsed. In 2017, The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that 360,888 sockeye salmon returned; this year their estimate is 14,717. To preserve hatchery stocks for future years, the Board of Fisheries closed the area to all fishing. The reality of this is that when people should be getting ready for winter, their home heaters are sitting on empty fuel tanks. While people should have full freezers for the winter, their freezers and pantries are bare. For whatever reasons, the government has been slow to act on this, however on August 22nd, Alaska Governor Walker declared the fishery an economic disaster:
This economic disaster declaration will help with bank notes, mortgages and vocational re-training but does not make any provision for immediate relief for the people. Some people have suggested that these people should go on food stamps, however, there are not stores out there; most food is either bought on Amazon Prime (which does not take food stamps) or bought in bulk and barged in. The relief is needed now….it is crucial that it be in place in the next 45 day before winter sets in.
So what can we do? A small group of us have been in discussions with the Chignik Bay Inter-Tribal Coalition and we have begun to get the needs fleshed out. Each of the 132 families will use about 200 gallons of heating oil a month, or 26,400 gallons. The fuel distributor for that area, is Crowley. Currently, Crowley has approximately 20,000 gallons in storage out in the villages but people have no money to buy fuel. These families need staples like rice, flour, sugar, spam and pilot bread. If we purchase enough out of Seattle, we can have it barged in at $.17 per pound. For immediate needs, we can have supplies flown in by Lake Clark Air. We are formulating strategies on how we can have a fuel and food drive to get these supplies and deliver them to Chignik Bay. We are looking for the best 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to run donations through so that on one hand people get tax deductions for their donations, but on the other hand, there is no administration charge and all donations flow to the people that need them. We have reached a tentative with the Chignik Bay Intertribal Coalition that they will handle the on-site logistics of distribution insuring that the most serious cases get help first and that all aid is given fairly, equitably and responsibly.
So what can you do?
- We are not asking you for your money today, but we are asking that you start to think about how you can help. We are not prepared to collect any money immediately, but in the near future (literally next 2 weeks) we will begin to solicit funds. If you are interested in helping, please let me know.
- Please share this blog on Facebook and with your friends. The more awareness that we have of the problem, the easier it will be to collect what is needed.
- Please start to pray for Chignik Bay and the surrounding 5 villages. For most of us, today is probably the first time that we have ever heard of Chignik Bay and yet these are our neighbors.
- Ask your church to help.
- Consider how you can help with either a fuel or food drive to help Chignik Bay.
For the last 6 weeks, we have been looking at the importance of love in our lives, how as Christians we have to be loving, how the church is dying from a lack of love. Today is a call to action. Today is taking love beyond the words written down. We may not be able to go overseas and help the poor, but for 750 of our neighbors, they need our help. Today is a call to love our neighbors.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17