This story first appeared in the fall 2019 issue of the Arbor Light, the official magazine of Concordia University Ann Arbor.
Fairbanks, Alaska, is known as one of the coldest cities in the United States, with average temperatures well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, the coldest recorded temperature is -66 degrees, which happened on Jan. 14, 1934. Nevertheless, around 100,000 people aren’t afraid to call frigid Fairbanks their home year-round, including Sarah (Collins) Milan (’07) and her family.
Sarah and her husband, Nathan—both central Michigan natives— recently packed up their lives at the Air Force base in Louisiana and made a five-thousand mile trek north to serve as missionaries with Lutheran Indian Ministries (LIM), an organization that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Native American peoples.
Related: Native Faith: Timothy Young Eagle
Sarah, a CUAA elementary education alumna, first learned about LIM in 2018 and was impressed with their hands-on, walk-alongside approach to sharing the Gospel and raising up Native leaders to share the love of Jesus Christ with their own people.
What she didn’t know, until the Lord stirred in her heart, was that their openness to be a part of Native ministry would lead them to Alaska.
“LIM releases a devotional for Advent and for Lent that includes updates about the work they are doing. There was an update in the Lenten devotional for 2018 that basically said, ‘Alaska is really big, so we could use more people,’” said Sarah. “We talked about it for so long but didn’t know if it was a possibility for us.”
Tim Young Eagle, a 1975 alumnus of Concordia University’s Mequon campus and the executive director of LIM since 2016, connected with the Milans and talked through the potential of having them join the LIM team. With shared vision for the needs of Alaskan Native ministry, combined with the Milans’ God-given gifts and talents, they knew this adventure in ministry was where God was calling them.
Just a few months into settling into their new Alaskan home, the Milans are focusing on transitioning Fairbanks from what was primarily a ministry of sending out VBS teams and working with a teen camp to now offering programming year-round. The Milans work together to plan and coordinate programs, while Nathan carries out much of the implementation of the programs. This will be their approach for a while, as Sarah homeschools their five young children.
Each LIM ministry is unique to the geographical location, but what is the same is the intent to stick with the people, befriend them, and be present through their peaks and valleys. Milan shares that a lot of the pain that they are encountering in the Native villages doesn’t have a quick fix. The spiritual healing begins to take place after building relationships and trust over time.
As the only LIM missionaries living in Alaska year-round, the Milans knew that they would have to be intentional about making contacts and building relationships as they launch the new ministry.
“God has opened so many doors, and that was one of the things that we prayed for,” said Milan. “We have prayed constantly that God would send those in the Native community that would be willing to partner with us, and He has certainly provided those opportunities.”
Milan chose to attend CUAA because of the sense of community, Biblical context in her courses, and for the School of Education to prepare her to be an elementary education teacher. Milan’s Concordia education also equipped her for her current vocation as a missionary, though she may not have realized it at the time.
“Concordia has a holistic approach to working with students: they address every aspect of the person rather than just academics,” said Sarah. “That was a great foundation for me to build on, not only generally speaking, but especially in this work we are doing today as we help our Native friends understand the forgiveness and salvation they have through Jesus Christ.”
The fall 2019 Arbor Light hit mailboxes the beginning of October. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, call 734-995-7317 or send us an email.
— Rachel (Ferry) Thoms is manager of campus communications for Concordia University Ann Arbor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-995-7403.
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