Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska
In 2017, Melody Doudna was a college student working as a missionary in Siberia when she began to pray about whether God was calling her to full-time mission work in Russia. To her surprise, God called her to share the Gospel in an unexpected location – her home state of Alaska.
Geographically the largest in the United States, the Diocese of Fairbanks covers roughly 410,000 square miles. Most parishes are located in isolated villages only accessible by plane, snow machine, ATV or boat. Two-thirds of the churches are in native villages; only eight are located around Fairbanks.
Having grown up in Fairbanks, Melody knew the Diocese of Fairbanks had just 20 priests for 46 churches and rural parishes received sporadic pastoral care and catechesis. The shortage of clergy and high cost of airfare make it difficult for priests to provide regular pastoral care. Consequently, the Diocese trains deacons and lay ministers to deliver faith formation between priest visits.
While at Franciscan University in the fall of 2017, Melody founded Alaska Mission, a non-profit dedicated to sharing the Gospel with young adults and youth in northern Alaska. The mission: “To love with the heart of Christ.” The approach: To achieve “catechesis through relationship.” By the summer of 2018, three women had joined Alaska Mission. They form the core team that lives and prays together in Fairbanks.
Since the inception of Alaska Mission, Melanie and her team have blanketed the northern part of the state with catechetical events and faith formation opportunities for teens and young adults, adapting their approach as they go in order to increase their effectiveness. Most activities include Mass and Adoration for attendees, as their goals are to support Catholics and lead them to Christ Himself.
Though most of the time is spent near Fairbanks, they are making a significant impact on rural youth and young adults., including Athabaskan natives, Yup’ik and Inupiat Eskimo peoples. They have traveled to bush Alaska three times for one to five-day events and hosted overnight retreats and backpacking trips.
In just nine months, the Alaska Mission team headed nearly 50 catechetical and fellowship opportunities for almost 500 Catholic youth and young adults in Fairbanks and three rural villages in the diocese.
With periodic help from college students, the team maintains a rigorous schedule of catechetical, faith formation and fellowship opportunities on “the road system.” On Sundays they head youth ministry at a church in the North Pole. On Tuesdays they evangelize college students at the University of Alaska. On Wednesdays they host a young adult Bible study at a Fairbanks parish. On Fridays they lead social events such as bonfires and movie nights. On Saturdays they volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
On Thursdays they rest.
Melody says, “Seeing God make things happen for our missionary group in radical ways has helped me to trust Him more deeply. It’s helped me to accept that He does have a great adventure for my life, for all of our lives. We just have to let Him lead us to it.”