Dark clouds and scattered rain were not enough to stop members of the Silver Springs Baptist Church from Princeton, West Virginia from giving Kenai’s historic Russian Orthodox church a fresh coat of paint.
Sixteen volunteers made the trip to Alaska to work on a project sponsored by Alaska Missions, a Christian organization which sends volunteers from around the country to provide aid and service in the state. On Tuesday, the small group of family members worked to give the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church a fresh coat of paint, taking occasional breaks for lunch and cookies passed out by Mayor Pat Porter.
Dorothy Gray, a member of the church who runs the nearby gift shop, said Porter had a hand in getting the volunteers placed with the church. Members of Alaska Missions had reached out to the mayor, Gray said, and she directed them to the church.
“We had applied for a state grant this year to have a new roof put on the church, but because of state funding, we weren’t able to get that,” Gray said. “However, Pat contacted this group. She knew that the church needed the painting.”
The church was declared a national historic landmark in 1970, and receives nearly 100 visitors per day during the summer, Gray said.
Dr. Allan Thompson, director of missions for Alaska Missions, said the group will stay at the First Baptist Church of Kenai for a week to complete the project.
On Wednesday, the volunteers will use a bucket truck to reach the top of the building and its iconic metal domes. The group is one of many presently providing service throughout Alaska, he said. Spreading the message of Alaska Missions is easier done through physical work and service than through words alone, he said.
“We want to show the love of God in a practical way,” Thompson said. “We want to meet needs to break down walls, to take Christ … from being a curiosity to a necessity.”
Thompson, who travels from church to church in West Virginia enticing people to join mission trips, said one reason the group came to Kenai was that he has a longstanding friendship with Alaska Missions’ founder, Brenda Crim of Cooper Landing.
The volunteers were made up of several family members and the pastor of Silver Springs Baptist Church, and even included small children who found ways to help out. Thompson said that while more selective groups can sometimes be more efficient, it is good for young children to get involved with service early.
Father Thomas Andrew said work on the church is appreciated, especially given its landmark status. He said it is important to upkeep both the inside and outside of the church to entice people to learn more about it.
“We don’t always have the man power because we’ve got a small parish here,” Andrew said. “We have a limited amount of people here.”
One of the volunteers, Mark Neal, said he has volunteered with several mission projects in the past and has always had a positive experience. This was his first trip to Alaska.
“When the opportunity came up to participate again, I was very excited to just come and do whatever needed to be done,” Neal said.
“It’s pretty awe-inspiring. It’s always nice to find opportunities to help people who may not have all the resources that they need.”
On Wednesday, a short video will be filmed at the church as part of an existing grant project to make landmark churches more visible on visitors’ maps, Gray said.
A “church passport” is in the works, which will allow visitors to collect a stamp for every church they visit, much like a regular passport.