These three places are from pretty wide ranges but they also have some similarities that I thought might make them fun to view together. And it was very educational in that some things I thought made them similar actually weren't at all! Well that has been one of the great things about this project is learning so many unlearned things and correcting false assumptions. So let's dig into these 3 very interesting countries.
Geographically I saw Alaska, Russia and the islands of Norway being all isolated cold type environments but come to find out that Norway isn't just the islands of the North but most of the country is attached to Europe by Sweden and Denmark. I didn't expect that but I also didn't expect Norway to be the most unreached country out of the three with only one independent baptist missionary I can find.
I found four great ladies to help me learn about these three countries: Holly Grotke (served in Alaska and now going to Norway), Gayle Compton (Alaska), Amber Pranger (Russia), & Joy Crockett (assisting in Norway). They were all very kind and informative. It is always and honor to interview the ladies I get to meet about their ministries and how God is working.
Norway was said to be a mainly Lutheran country, Alaska ranges from Episcopal to Anamism and Shamanism where these ladies serve and 47% Protestant in the country as a whole, and Russia leans on the Russian Orthodox Church. What a range of religions and differences! These countries also vary greatly in size and population. We all know the enormity of Russia, with 144 million people burrowed in its massive country!
And surprisingly Norway although quite smaller than Alaska far out weighs them in citizens. Norways shores include 5 million people while Alaska only consists of approximately 739,000 people.
All three of these countries have Modern societies within their borders. Norway is not only modern but extremely expensive. It is said to be the most expensive country in the world to live in. Russia is mostly modern throughout in varying degrees. With many cities sporting an industrial feel with skyscrapers and apartment towers throughout . Alaska on the other hand varies greatly. They have some very large and modern cities such as Fairbanks and Anchorage but there is also small villages that have an almost third world quality to them. In many communities in Alaska, people live very traditional lives. They still hunt and fish for a living and livelihood.
The missionaries in both Alaska and Russia say they believe there to be 20-40 independent Baptist missionaries serving in their countries. While Norway only has 1 independent baptist missionary serving there but coincidentally one of the ladies I interviewed who served in Alaska for many years is now in a transition to going to serve in Norway, Holly Grotke. And Holly told me there is another two couples trying to go there also as missionaries. The visa process is not easy or cheap.What a blessing to see more couple joining forces to reach these 5 million unreached Norwegians with the gospel. Please pray the Lord provides a way for them to move there and begin the work.
The Norwegian people are very independent people. They are trained from a young age to care for themselves and they don't quickly trust others. As in many other countries, for them trust is vital for someone to openly listen to the gospel message. The lady told us that it is not uncommon to take 10 years to completely win someone's friendship! Can you believe that? Can you imagine the dedication and love it takes to keep loving someone for years and years so that eventually you can share the message of Christ with them and hopefully they will accept him?
The lady I spoke to about Norway is actually involved in a missionary encouragement ministry. Her husband and her, travel all over the world trying to up-lift, invest, labor with and encourage the missionaries serving there. They understand the power of discouragement and how the devil loves to use it and how he fights the spread of the gospel. They feel called to help "hold up the arms" of those laboring around the globe. I'm sure that must be especially encouraging to those who serve in countries with very few missionaries and very slow conversions.
People in both Alaska and Russia also tend to be reached by relationships, however not quite as lengthy of ones as Norway. In Alaska the people aren't quick to accept outsiders and it definitely takes some time to win an audience to share Christ. One of the ladies worded it great, that their main outreach is hospitality. Not only by kindly sharing the gospel in outreach ministries but also by showing kindness to neighbors and friends by spending time with them and lending a hand when necessary. In Russia, Amber also spoke of spending time with people sometimes on special occasions and sometimes just sharing a cup of tea. She said they use American holidays as a way to invite others over and prayerfully build the relationship and share Christ through anything possible. In Norway they will also teach English classes or even host classical music concerts to create environments where they can meet people and sew seeds of the gospel.
In Russia and Alaska there is a basis of works salvation Christianity that the missionaries are working to overcome. I don't know if anyone of you reading were saved out of a works based religion, but it has a strong hold on your heart and mind that loves to snare those who hear the truth. When they hear the truth they are plagued with doubts about the validity of simply trusting the act of One. Surely they must have to DO something. Bible truth and the Holy Spirit conviction are truly necessary to break through the blindness and confusion.
In Russia as many of you may have read in the news many missionaries are facing more and more oppression from the government. You can read about a recent story here about a missionary facing this problem.
To have religious freedom to meet in a group or invite anyone to a group religious meeting or hand out literature with a church's name on it you must have your church registered with the government. Thankfully those who do register with the government are granted unfettered religious freedom. But for those who don't, it makes any form of outreach, church services or publicity a fearful thing.
I asked the ladies about what was one of their largest struggles. In Norway and Alaska they spoke of the depression that darkness brings. We have all heard about the months of darkness in these far North countries. And we have previously in a post about Greenland, talked about the power this has over our emotions and how it drives many in those cultures to alcohol and how many other problems stem from that.
This is a unique struggle that requires the grace of the Lord to maintain a joyful spirit in this environment. It also creates a society under the power of alcohol, which we all know is a stronghold of the devil that people need the power of God to overcome. In a Alaska it is also very uniques because many places are quite remote. Some have only plane access and the people drive everywhere on ATV's. While in Russia, Amber said that the struggle is living in such a busy society. The people keep a packed schedule and tend to not want to take time for church.
By: April McTague