“You stupid white people, you have no business trying to come ashore like that. You don’t know what you are doing!” Those 21 words changed our lives 51 years ago!
We arrived a month earlier in Brevig Mission with “lofty white missionary ideals” about how we were going to teach the people a better way of life!
In 1972, Brevig had no phones, electricity or plumbing. We lived in the church. Our groceries arrived by barge. We carried water from a stream in summer and melted ice in the winter.
If we wanted bread, we made it, which was a miserable failure! I asked Molly to teach me. She did not say “yes” or “no.”
A month without bread passed. The people invited us to go subsistence fishing up the Agiapuk River. We followed Henry in our little skiff. We expected to be self-sufficient with our white people’s tent and Coleman camp stove! The temperature dipped to the low 30s, our stove didn’t work, we could not cook, eat and our sleeping bags were inadequate. We were cold and hungry! Our toddler was an unhappy camper!
After two days helping with subsistence fishing and watching us struggle, we were lovingly invited into a new world of a spacious, warm tent, with wall-to-wall reindeer skins, heated by a third of an oil drum on which delicious meals were prepared, and feasted on sourdough pancakes and other delicacies!
We left camp early to prepare for Sunday worship in Brevig in our little skiff, wandering in unfamiliar territory. We discovered the waters of Port Clarence Bay to be very rough, but continued to Brevig. Landing on shore was a challenge. Molly and Polly greeted us with a lecture of love!
The four who attended worship were unable to go to Fish Camp. We realized services should have been where the people were: Fish Camp! Monday morning, Molly announced, “Today we bake bread!”
It became clear our purpose in Brevig was not to teach the people our way of life, We were there for them to teach us a new way of life!
We arrived in Brevig observing life as detached observers, looking in from the outside. Unexpectedly, we stepped into a new world that transported us into a rich and beautiful culture, permanently transforming our lives and perspectives on the world.
“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” — John 14:5-6
Jesus is not asking us to engage in easy detached observation. He is asking us to hear his words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He is asking us to come to him to know about the way, about the truth and about life. He encourages us away from detached observation, and calls us to step into, and experience life. It will change our perspective on the world. We would see God in a new way and appreciate God’s beautiful world more than we do now.
If we step into the world, may it change our perspective and help us see, love, live and grow beyond what we know.
• Laura Rorem is a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church. She writes to honor her husband, Pastor Larry Rorem’s legacy of love, compassion and understanding for all humankind, especially the most vulnerable. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.