ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BP) — Alaska’s largest city — 400,000 in the Anchorage’s metropolitan area — deals with many of the issues found in major cities of the lower 48.
Homelessness, for example, is among the issues where Sunset Hills Baptist Church has become involved while also keeping a statewide, national and global focus through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program channel of support for missions and ministry.
“As we cooperate together, Southern Baptists will have an impact throughout the world,” said Don Shannon, pastor for the last four years of the church that began in 1961.
Sunset Hills Baptist Church ministers to the city’s homeless population of 1,800 by partnering with the local rescue mission and homeless shelters. Sunset Hills’ volunteers and funds also support the PATHway Family Center as a resource for clothing, baby goods and household items in addition to pregnancy, post-abortion and family counseling.
The congregation — encompassing about 100 people in Sunday morning worship — also provides volunteers and funds each month for troubled youth who are cared for at Birchwood Behavioral Health, formerly known as Alaska Baptist Family Services.
Among the many immigrants who come to Anchorage, the church has touched lives through its literary and citizenship school for more than 20 years. This semester the school has students from eight nations, all desiring to learn English and become U.S. citizens. The church also started a Hispanic mission this year with Esteban “Steve” Kim as pastor. Kim also provides tutoring at a nearby elementary school for students whose first language is Spanish.
And Sunset Hills is a partner with Ocean View Elementary School. Teens and adults from the church help with setting up and leading games at the school’s annual carnival and by providing school supplies as needed. The church’s summertime Vacation Bible School draws 175 or more.
Such ministries are in addition to Sunset Hills’ gifts through the Cooperative Program — 10.5 percent of undesignated offerings — and to the Anchorage-area Chugach Baptist Association — 2 percent — plus the church’s support of Alaska Baptists’ and Southern Baptists’ North American and international missions offerings.
“This congregation is committed to missions,” Shannon said. “We’re a multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregation worshipping together with the desire to blend cultures and generations in praise to God.
“We have a wonderful group of people who are committed to working together with other Southern Baptist churches to reach not only our community but around the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the pastor said.
Sunset Hills has missions-oriented, age-based youth groups — Mission Friends, Girls in Action (GA), Royal Ambassadors (RA) and Acteens — that meet on Wednesday evenings in addition to a woman’s ministry that engages in community missions in a variety of ways.
These groups as well as reminders about the Cooperative Program before each Sunday’s offering help teach the congregation — many of whom are from non-SBC backgrounds — the Southern Baptist way of cooperating together so people everywhere can hear the Gospel, Shannon said.
Though born in the Monterey Bay area of California, Shannon’s parents moved to Alaska when he was a boy. He and his wife Carri are the parents of three grown sons, all of whom live in Alaska, enabling the couple to nurture their grandchildren with a love for missions.
Shannon was educated at Southwest Baptist College (now University) in Bolivar, Mo., and at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and is now working on his doctorate at Golden Gate, which has five campuses in the U.S. West.
Shannon is grateful to Southern Baptists because their Cooperative Program gifts “helped me with my education, and not only me. We — the Southern Baptist Convention — provided seminary training for more than 16,000 students this past year.”
Alaska Baptists, meanwhile, have benefitted from Shannon’s training, said Mike Procter, executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention.
“The return on the investment of Southern Baptists into the education of Don Shannon has been multiplied by Don’s 32 years of ministry and leadership in Alaska,” Procter said. “Whether by serving as a pastor, church planter, associational director of missions or state director of mission ministries, Don has been an example and encouragement to Alaska congregations by his ongoing commitment to the Cooperative Program.”
Sunset Hills’ members want to continue reaching outward, rather than focusing inward, Shannon said.
“We’re asking for God’s help in reaching a changing culture by changing our methods of reaching people,” the pastor said. “We are still confident the mission hasn’t changed: We are still to disciple. The question is, how can we best do that in a culture so different from what it was 50 years ago?”
Sunset Hills’ commitment to being part of the Cooperative Program is one way the church answers that question.
“If we cooperate together throughout cultures and generations, in this church and with churches across the Southern Baptist Convention,” Shannon said, “we’ll make an impact and God will receive the honor and the glory.”