Janet Meyer has made it a mission — for 12 years — to help the residents of a small Alaskan village.
The Gerald area resident marked her 12th year trekking to the 49th state with the St. John’s Lutheran Church and others on their Alaskan Mission Trip.
Meyer and her husband, Eldo, have two children and three grandchildren.
The group travels to Tuluksak, but there is no road to the remote village.
Meyer and the St. John’s volunteers fly first into Anchorage and then into Bethel, where they taught the first year. To reach Tuluksak, or any of the small villages, they have to take a small “bush” plane or boat. In the winter months it’s possible to use a snow machine to travel up the frozen river.
The residents of Tuluksak are primarily Yúpik Indians and the community is plagued with alcoholism and a suicide rate three times that of the rest of the United States.
There is no running water or plumbing in the village.
At first, some in the community were not welcoming to the volunteers.
“The first year the men wouldn’t even look at you,” Meyer remembers. “The second year they would say they like you because you came back.”
She explained that members of the mission group became close with people in the community. The group was given the option to begin mission work in another community after 10 years in Tuluksak, but opted to stay.
“We decided we were not going anywhere,” said Meyer. “This didn’t happen overnight, we have to be with those people.”
Before they arrive in Alaska, the group has already sent all the food, lesson materials and craft supplies they will need. For five days the six volunteers teach more than 100 children using the church as a schoolhouse.
During their stay, the church also doubles as a hotel for the volunteers, who sleep on the floor atop inflatable rafts or air mattresses they have brought with them.
The mission group also puts on a basketball camp for children.
St. John’s sends volunteers to Alaska each summer, but the mission trip receives support from the entire community. The church holds fund-raisers throughout the year to cover as much of the expenses and airfare as possible for each of the volunteers.
The cost for airfare alone is $1,500.
“We have been blessed by the community,” said Meyer. “If it wasn’t for the community we couldn’t go each year.”
There is one church in Tuluksak, the village of about 400 people that the St. John’s volunteers visited the last two years. It’s a Moravian church, which is an old European denomination, said Smith.
The people who live in Tuluksak are what we would call Eskimos. They belong to the Yúpik tribe, said Smith, one of the four different tribes in Alaska.
During the summer months the church leaders are not able to offer a Vacation Bible School, and sometimes regular weekly services are cut short, because the elders are away fishing.
The trip to Alaska is not the only traveling Meyer does. She has accompanied her husband on big game hunting trips to several locations, including Australia and Africa.
Janet doesn’t take part in the big game hunts, but she does enjoy the other cultures and the experiences, she said.