As a young Asian clergy, moving to Alaska meant a great deal of reviewing my thoughts, convictions, beliefs, and principles. I do not mean necessarily changing them. There’s something about ministering to different people of different cultures, principles in life, views of things, convictions and the like, in a different language that’s not my native tongue. Somehow I needed—and still need—to learn a lot of things to be efficient in the ministry to which God has called me.
Every minister and every leader has to have his or her “toolbox.” Openness to learn new things, being more understanding but not necessarily believing, being able to bend but not break, are tools to me, that demand periodic sharpening and oiling. Being young makes all of these possible for me. In particular, I faced a few challenges as I began my ministry in Alaska: in a new climate, in a new environment, among a new people, and using a new language.
Climate: Coming from the tropics was first and foremost the one that I could think of that required a great deal of adjusting. I saw the snow on the mountaintops through the window seat of the plane. There were still piles of snow on the ground when I arrived and to my fascination, I couldn’t help regressing somewhat into a second childhood. Later, I developed a cold, had a sore throat, got a stuffed-up nose, all of which were due to the sudden change of temperature. I soon learned that snow had its down sides too—slick roads, having to scrape the windshield, encountering bad communication signals, accidents, road closures—and the list goes on. It took me some time before I could say that I loved the snow.
Environment: Anchorage is unique; it is like a horseshoe with a huge park at the middle, extending towards a mountain range - the famous Bicentennial Park. The city itself is the most urbanized area in the state, but it still is home to a variety of wildlife and wilderness. Animals like moose, caribou, bears, salmon, ducks and others find refuge in the park. They come down from the mountains during winter and roam the streets. While there’s such a wildlife presence, it is also dangerous to play and make fun of some of these creatures. It is equally dangerous to be wandering outside in the winter without letting someone know where you are. Hypothermia is likely the number one cause of accidents. It is significant to be aware of such dangers and be knowledgeable of some appropriate actions and safety precautions that I had never learned before.
People: The populace of Anchorage is truly multi-cultural, composed of people that includes whites, American Indians and Alaska natives, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders, mixed races, and other nationalities. It is almost always hard to forget one’s own culture as most if not all cultural groups may be found here. Still, I find the culture of other Asian people here different from the culture that I grew up with in the Philippines. Some immigrants’ children exemplify their assimilation to the mainstream culture. So when they go back to their original country, they feel lost—they may not even speak their language of origin, and are as ignorant as they can be of the customs and traditions that are their birthright.
I had not heard the term “multi-cultural” before I came here. My diocese recognizes the rich mixture of peoples in Alaska and seeks to promote and enhance multi-cultural ministries. For instance, St. Mary’s, my parish, has come up with a vision to foster a multi-cultural, more welcoming, inter-generational and more inclusive ministry. The St. Mary’s Praise Singers, with which I am active, is a group of whites, Hispanics, Alaska natives, Filipinos—we even have a Russian pianist. I am now working with the Anchorage youth, primarily focusing on natives.
Language: I saw the English language from a new perspective. We had English classes in school back in the Philippines, but were only required to speak English in class. To be fair enough, there are some private schools that require speaking of the English language more intensively. I needed to practice more than I used to when I got here. I thought people would hear and listen to me despite my color and looks once I gained mastery of the English language, which I have yet to accomplish. I’ve removed the rolling “r” and the common “wanna” and “gonna” from my speech, but still have a long way to go.
All this is to say, it is possible to thrive in ministry in a different culture—even when the temperature is twenty degrees below zero! You simply have to be open to the challenges and opportunities that come your way, and always be ready to add a new tool to your toolbox.