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2006 Outreach Trip to Old Crow

Spring Outreach Trip to Old Crow:

At the end of March and into April I made a trip into Old Crow by Skidoo. It was on my heart to spend some time connecting with the people we have worked with over many years, especially since many of these people have no contact with a Christian minister. But there were many other reasons for making the trip. I'll attempt to write about these points in this article.

Obviously, we can't write about our personal ministry to individuals in a public article as people would be embarrassed and offended. Sufficient to say that every community and culture in the world is challenged with personal and spiritual needs. It has been our 'business' over many years to connect with people that God has led us to and be a support, counsel, encouragement, and simply be there for them in whatever way was needed. Very often when we are doing this we have no idea what the real need is or what God is doing, but it is extremely obvious that something very important is happening in lives. We can feel and experience this and it is communicated to us over and over.

The Arctic is a totally different dimension. It is as if one had left the earth and gone to another planet. If I were writing this from the north I would say, 'The world down south is a different dimension. It is as if one had left the earth and gone to a different planet'. The differences are much greater than just a world where, for many long weeks the sun never sets, only to turn into a world where for long weeks again, the sun never comes up. The ground just inches below ones feet is frozen solid for 300 feet down even in the summer. It is a vast pristine wilderness with so little human influence that often one may travel for hundreds of miles in any direction before coming in contact with a person or even something to indicate that humans are there. Herds of Caribou cover the countryside by the hundreds of thousands finding their food at temperature extremes all the way down to 70 & 80 below F., yet they thrive, raise their families, and migrate vast distances without an earthly caretaker, always puzzling the scientists who study them and the Natives who live with them. They invariably find a way to thwart the most ridiculous climatic challenges with an intelligence that often seems to come by being led by Angels. This includes an environment that is often filled by clouds of mosquitoes that turn the air black.

The people who live on the land in this environment have a lifestyle that is often more on the level of a soldier on the battlefield, in the sense that one careless moment, one lapse of vigilance can immediately place them in total disaster. Friends of ours have frozen, drowned, gone through the ice, crashed in airplanes, been impaled by log beams, ripped by chainsaws, attacked by grizzlies or moose, and I could go on and on. If you mess up, there is no way to dial 911 and many have come to grief where they have never been found or any sign of what could have happened. In the summer when you roll up in your sleeping bag, part of your brain sort of stays awake to instantly bring you up if a grizzly rattles a pan outside of your tent. In order to operate in the Arctic you have to be 'connected' to your environment by a mystical cord that can only develop by being there. I have to return on some regular basis or I'll lose that connection and the ability to do what we do there. A high level of skill and awareness is essential to operating there, and living in the south causes one to lose this quickly. A good example of that is how on this trip I tried to cut corners on my equipment and got some frostbite on my feet for the first time. Such a thing would never have happened if I hadn't been away for a year.

My trip actually began with a generous donation from Christian friends in the States which made it all possible. It took days of work to prepare and load the pickup truck. I slept in the truck until I got to Whitehorse where I stayed with friends of ours, the Hajans who pastor the Nazarene church. From there I drove to Dawson City and then up the notorious Dempster to Ft. McPherson. Halfway to Dawson a semi with a huge mining truck loaded on it had spun out on a mountainside and the highway was totally blocked. Travelers were socializing on the road passing the time so I walked up to the rig and was surprised to find the truck driver was a friend of mine. Eventually this was resolved and I got on my way. Often the Dempster is closed at this time of year due to whiteouts and drifting snow and is often closed for days or a week at a time. But this day I sailed through to Ft. McPherson, 600miles in one day. There I stayed with friends of mine who were very helpful to me and the next day I had my sled loaded, hooked up and ready to hit the trail. I lost the key to the snowmobile and had to solder some wires to bypass the switch. The days were long by now with over half the day being light, but it was still quite cold, around -30 C. The cold is very necessary for a trip like this as it helps to prevent the overflow forming under the snow on top of the ice. The moisture seeps out of the depths of the mountains somehow, all winter long and floods on top of the ice in places. The deep snow insulates it and keeps it from freezing for days on end.

The first day I went about 33 miles to the Stony Creek cabin and had a comfortable stay there. The next day was poor visibility. A spring traveling trail had been broken before this and I elected to follow this, rather than going to the trouble of breaking another trail because the snow was very deep this year. Not long after leaving the cabin the trail left the creek and went off into the mountains taking a way I was completely unfamiliar with. After following this trail for miles it simply disappeared on the glacierated hardpack high in the mountains. Drifting snow had totally wiped out every subtle sign of a trail. I spent some time trying to get over on my own, but the visibility was so bad I finally went back and spent another night in the Stony Creek cabin and the next day went on across the mountains by the way I was familiar with. When I got to the head of Stony Creek I was astonished at how much snow there was. Other years we had difficulty getting up creek banks, through canyons, and through heavy patches of willows, but this year the creek was covered so deep the banks weren't even there, 10 foot high willows were totally buried and deep canyons were completely filled in so that you could sail directly over everything straight to where you wanted. The landmarks were gone and you had to observe the mountain peaks to know where you were. On the day that I was wandering around and had to go back, I went up a creek to a place where it made a deep cut and had 100 foot high cliffs on both sides. The snow had drifted in all the way to the top of the cliffs and I stopped in front of a wall of snow that went straight up for 100 feet or more!

The trail over the continental divide was so steep I had to unload everything and take it up piece by piece. It was very cold on top and I picked up a little frostbite in the wind. This year it seemed there were twice as many ptarmigans as usual and going down LaChute I noticed a rare winter falcon flying around. Eventually it flew overhead and dropped a fresh ptarmigan in front of me, which I picked up and had for a wonderful meal. That night I made it to the newly constructed Curtain Mt. Cabin and spent a couple days there. I got stuck in some overflow and my footgear was soaked, so I spent the next day drying this out in the cabin. The temperature hit -35 C. while I was there. The next day I made 115 miles all the way to Old Crow. In between I stopped at a cabin of some friends of ours and I was the first person they had seen in two weeks. They fixed a wonderful supper for me and after a special time of praying with them I got to Old Crow just at dark. When I went to cross the Crow River at the edge of town the ice had split and heaved up. It was getting dark and my headlight wasn't working. As I eased over the heave I suddenly saw open water and the skis of the snowmobile were just starting into the water when my sled hung up on the point of the ice heave and I got stopped. I couldn't find any way to get across the open water it extended so far up the Crow river, so I had to go back and go around and find a way into town by crossing over the Porcupine river in the dark. A musher had come on the trail by dog team and I had passed him about 70 miles out of Old Crow.

I ended up staying at the home of my friend, Dick Nukon, and they gave me a room of my own for the time I was there. Dick was always up early and got the fire going and always cooked for me. He makes pancakes which are at least a foot in diameter. Every day I would go around and visit homes of friends of ours and had a wonderful time praying and visiting with a lot of people. It was a very special time and I often witnessed that God was working in a wonderful way.

The trip back was much the same as the trip over. I stayed in the same cabins. This is the first year I didn't have to set a tent on the trail because of the new cabin at Curtain Mt. Some bad weather had me spend an extra day at Curtain Mt. which I enjoyed very much.
The usual horrible overflow on LaChute simply wasn't there for some reason. It was still cold and that helped a lot. I crossed the continental divide in the ice fog, as a front was going through, but there was no wind so it was easy to do. About 5 miles from the Stony creek cabin the back of the snowmobile sunk in knee deep water laying under the snow right on the trail. There were some willows on the bank that I was able to hook a rope on to winch out. I had to wade around in the slushy water and my boots and liners were soaked. When I started to work my small hand winch simply collapsed and I was in an awful fix. If I didn't get out before dark the machine would freeze into the ice. When the protective layer of snow is broken through then the open water underneath would all freeze solid over night with the machine in it.

Sometimes God works miracles to get us through, but more often He helps us to work our way through difficulties. In this case I was able to take the steel bar we use to chip the ice that builds up in the running gear and track, and use it to bend the frame of the winch back into shape and then use the bar as a handle since the winch handle was totally ruined. It was still a miracle to get out of that mess. Here the creek narrowed down between high narrow canyon walls and there was no where for the overflow to go or any way to get around it. I changed my boots and got into a spare pair I carry for such emergencies. But then in the next couple hundred yards I got stuck again. At first I thought it was hopeless, but then I noticed a small tree off to the side that I could get a long rope onto and use to winch out. By then it was dark and very cold. I dug into the snow and built a fire out of the willow branches. I hadn't eaten anything since a bowl of oatmeal that morning but I went without supper and just chewed on some bread. I put two sleeping bags together on a tarp and had an open camp that night. I had an awful time getting my snow pants off as the legs were soaked and frozen over top the boots. But I made it and then it seemed impossible to get the boots off as they had gotten soaked when I got stuck the last time and were a solid block of ice. I was afraid it would be impossible, but there was great joy when my feet finally slid out of them. I warmed up in my sleeping bags, but soon realized that I had frozen my feet some. It was morning before they started to hurt. I had been watching closely for signs that they were freezing but was convinced they were OK, so that's why I went ahead working and put off tending to them. I had never froze my feet before and I learned that you can actually freeze without completely loosing the feeling in them, but it's a stage of freezing where they will swell up and be numb for weeks but not turn completely black.

In the morning I had no footgear other than some extra socks, so I took a spare pair of pants and cut the legs out of them and made a crude pair of stocking boots. I built a fire and spent a long time melting my frozen boots so I could pull the liners out and put dry liners in them. My fire was now in the bottom of about a six foot deep hole in the snow and it was very smoky in there, so once again I elected not to cook. But now with warm dry boots on I was as good as new. I walked the creek for a long way to make sure there were no more surprises. The night before I had walked through some overflow to break the snow on top so it would freeze during the night and now I had a good frozen trail to get started on. I ran the 5 miles down to the cabin without the sled so if I hit a bad spot I'd have a better chance of getting through. It was uneventful so I built a fire in the cabin and went back for my sled with its load. That afternoon I fixed a pan of rice which was my first meal since yesterday morning. There were two very tame Whiskey Jacks or Canada Jays at the cabin and one came inside and hung out with me. When I left I had a time chasing it out. At one point it landed on my shoulder!

It was a beautiful trip the 33 miles on into Ft. McPherson and I made it before dark without incident. My sled had split on the bottom and this made it hard to pull at times. The family that I stayed with put me up again and it was wonderful to have a place to go to where all I needed would be so graciously taken care of. The next day I had a special time visiting with a lot of people. Everyone was so happy to get to visit with me. There is such a hunger for the things of God and they have accepted me as His representative, or something like that, as it is often hard for me to understand what God has made us to be to them.

Once again I made it down the Dempster without having to wait out the road being closed. I stayed at the Hajans in Whitehorse again, but the rest of the entire trip, both ways I slept in the bed I made up in the truck.

These outreach trips can be very difficult and trying. Often times it seems impossible and doomed to failure, but God wants to teach us the lesson of trusting Him and not leaning to ourselves and what we can do. So we get into a situation, either on the land or involving people, that seems just hopeless. But God works out a way for everything to come out just the way He wanted. Then it seems He gently says something like, "See, if you just trust me this is how I work." But I find that when I haven't been in such situations for some time I find myself fearful and hard to really trust. No matter what wonderful things have happened in the past, I have to keep current in this type of exercise or I tend to be like the 10 spies who said in fear, "We can never do that!"

I never get to the place where I know all I need to know. I want a comfort zone with no surprises, but God is constantly requiring just a little more out of us and is always coming up with big surprises. If we are going to be of any use to God we have to be available. Fear can keep me from being willing to go into something I know I can't do and I know I will have to really believe in the face of impossibilities. So I have to keep in the place of needing Him and seeing God working in wonderful ways or otherwise I become fearful and it's hard to trust.

One special lesson I experience in these exercises is how God works in difficulties. He can and does do miracles. That is always an option. But what I find more often is that difficulties must be worked through, and that requires patience. Even when something seems entirely impossible, God will slowly open up a way we can work at it and He will help us to work our way through. One of the glitches I have (and maybe a lot of others also) is the tendency, when faced with a difficulty, to panic and want to do an instant analysis where I pick one of only two options…either "I can do that!" or "I'll never do that!" But the answer is neither one. God gently says, "I'll work with you and show you how to work your way through this." This is not a lesson that I can learn once and always know every time I'm faced with a need. I have to exercise it constantly to keep it.

What I have always desired is that I may be of some use to God. If He needed to call on me I could answer and succeed. But the greatest needs that God uses me to be involved in, I don't have a clue what is going on until it's all over …I don't really know what is going on at the time. That's why it is so important to be in God's will in even what seems to be the small things, because all of a sudden we find ourselves in a significant situation…a big surprise out of nowhere.

Perhaps I should go a little farther in this thought. What I'm about to say may or may not be accurate, but over many years of experience I have to believe there is some kind of validity to it. It seems that God will put us in a situation where a special need is imminent and somehow by us being there disaster is prevented or some special need is effected. I don't understand if it is through our prayer life, or the angels that attend to us are available to step in, or all of the above, or something else. All I can say is that it happens, and happens a lot. A few examples will explain what I mean.

Our family was traveling through Jasper National Park one day and we stopped to visit a waterfall that was off the road and unmarked. We climbed around a high cliff in order to get down to where we could walk right behind the falls that dropped down for nearly a thousand feet. Just as we were leaving, a rope hit me on the head and I looked up. A climber was preparing to rappel down from the top about 100 feet above us, to the ledge where we were standing, so we stopped to watch. After a lot of nervous maneuvering the climber leaned back into the empty space to begin his decent. He totally forgot to snap his harness into place and when he leaned back he launched right off into space and my mind could see, feel, and hear ahead of time what was about to take place, which would be his body crunching into the rocks at my feet. But in that instant we witnessed a marvelous thing. He swung his hand out and was able to secure the two ropes in a panic grip of his hand and stop his fall! He quickly secured his harness and completed his rappel down without incident. The poor guy was shaking so badly we left him to recover on his own. I felt so strongly that God had placed us there at that exact moment for some strategic reason. Perhaps the Angels that accompany us assisted him in his need. It's almost like, they couldn't just stand back and not help unless they had a directive not to. It's impossible to for me to think of all that as coincidence.

Another example involves when I was helping at the Old Crow airport for a few months before we moved out of Old Crow. I had really been struggling as to the purpose of what I was doing. So much didn't make sense and was very different from our normal operation. But it was a marvelous opportunity to spend quality time alone praying. I had to go down at 5:30 in the morning to do a weather observation and had a lot of spare time to pray. Those early morning hours are always very special times in prayer, and often the Lord drew so near. One day there was an emergency involving a scheduled flight with 40 people on board. A very unusual chain of events conspired to place the aircraft in an extremely dangerous situation. All I could do was watch in helplessness as the plane appeared not to make it off the runway and fall into the deep slough at the end. But at the last possible moment it slowly got into the air and made it off under impossible circumstances. I had a very deep impression that my entire purpose for the last several months was to be there praying, although I had no idea what all was involved, and somehow by being there, God was working through His people to intervene in this situation. After that event the Lord moved me out of the responsibility I had there. It's difficult to explain the struggle I was having making sense out of what I was doing at the airport, until that day and the conviction I had afterwards of how God was working in it all.

May the Lord help us all to be available for whatever God has for us from day to day, even though we can't understand.
In His Service, Rodger Rinker


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