ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BP)–She was a Caldwell, Texas, tomboy who could play tennis or volleyball with the best of the local boys. She was the product of a blue-collar family, with a dad who she thought hung the Texas moon.
In the mid-’70s, Brenda Crim took her God-given athletic ability 30 miles down the road to College Station, where Texas A&M gave her a four-year scholarship to play volleyball as an Aggie.
In a college career driven by athletics, Crim always thought she’d one day be the coach of a college team. And she didn’t want to be just any coach, but one of the greatest woman coaches ever.
Fast-forward to mid-winter 2008. It’s 18 degrees outside with two feet of snow on the ground. Crim tools down an Anchorage, Alaska, road in her silver Toyota pickup.
Since January 2005, Crim has served as director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Alaska Anchorage and as a North American Mission Board missionary. Though she never realized her dream of becoming a sports coach, today she coaches young people in the toughest venue of them all -– everyday life.
At Texas A&M 30 years ago, Brenda made her decision to follow Jesus Christ.
“‘I was involved in BSU at A&M and there I was saved,”‘ said Crim, who didn’t grow up Southern Baptist. “‘I came from a good family. I had gone to church. But there was no indwelling of the Holy Spirit in my life.
“‘On the tailgate of my dad’s pickup, I poured my heart out to God and asked Him to take over my life. I haven’t been the same since, and my life has been an amazing wild ride.”‘
Leading a young girl named Angela to Christ at A&M further changed Brenda’s life.
“‘[That] was the turning point for me, when I first knew what I wanted to do with my life. My life had been wrapped up in sports, but sports victories are short-term, ephemeral things. You win the game or the championship, and then you start preparing for the next game. The victory doesn’t last.
“‘When I led Angela to Christ, I realized this was something better. It was eternal. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”‘ Crim jokes that at the time, she asked herself: “‘Is there a way I can do this and get paid for it?”‘
After graduating from Texas A&M and then earning an M.Div. degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, she began her 26-year journey in campus ministry. Her path would take her through West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas; Richland College in Dallas; the University of Texas at Austin; back to Texas A&M at College Station; the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, La.; and finally to Anchorage.
Compared to 26 years of college ministry in the Bible Belt, Crim discovered early on that she was not ready for what she found in Alaska.
Moving from relatively inexpensive Lafayette, La., to expensive Anchorage, Alaska, was no small financial sacrifice. Crim figures she took a 50 percent cut in buying power and spent thousands of her own dollars to make the transition.
“‘But I knew it was the Lord’s calling and the calling really mattered to me.”‘
Crim describes Alaska as actually a foreign missions experience instead of a North American missions assignment.
“‘Everybody speaks English but you have to know the native Alaskan culture or you can really mess up. Outside the major cities, people up here are isolated and live the lifestyle they’ve always lived. They live a village lifestyle.
“‘Alaskan students are awesome,”‘ Crim continued. “‘High school and college kids have a lot of depth and they are can-do people. Up here, it’s a pioneer lifestyle. You have to be able to fix things that are broken and even make a part if you don’t have one. You have to be innovative. I like that. I grew up respecting people who can do that, like my dad.”‘
After she first traveled to Alaska during a mission trip in 2004, Crim said she was drawn to the Alaska Baptist Convention — and to working alongside staff people already serving in Alaska through the North American Mission Board.
Since arriving in Anchorage, one of Crim’s prized friends is 21-year-old Melissa Okitkun, daughter of a Yupik Eskimo seal hunter from the small west Alaska village of Kotlik (pop. 600). Yupik means “‘real genuine person.”‘
“‘Students in leadership positions are the best missionaries to other students,”‘ Crim said. “‘Engaging students in leadership to reach others is a key philosophy in student ministry.”‘
When Crim met Melissa at a Sonic Flood concert over a year ago, the young woman fit the bill as a leader, evidenced by how much influence she had over other native students at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
“‘Every time I was with her, her phone was ringing off the hook,”‘ Crim recounted. “‘People were always calling to invite her to some bar or some other local student hang-out spot. A lot of her social connections were based on parties, and Melissa was party central.
“‘Melissa got involved in drinking, drugs and smoking. She knew better because her dad is a lay Assembly of God pastor back in her village. But Melissa came to college in Anchorage and got away from God.
“‘Slowly, we connected and began to forge a friendship. From the start, I thought she would be a great person to help me because she was a magnet who would draw 20 other people to a meeting. She could open doors to the other native students. She ultimately trusted me and gave her life to the Lord.”‘
Now, Melissa is a proud T.H.U.G. -– an acronym she herself came up with that means “‘Truly Holy Unto God.”‘ While “‘thugging”‘ -– as the pair calls it -– Crim and Melissa have led some 40 students to Christ in Kotlik, as well as 27 others in Nome, the finish line of the famed Iditarod dogsled race each March.
Melissa continues as a spiritual magnet attracting UAA students to Crim’s “‘Breakaway”‘ student worship and the “‘lock-ins”‘ or overnight retreats Brenda often holds.
“‘My heart is different,”‘ Melissa said. “‘I think differently now. I care more about people than I did before. I chose to be a better role model because there are a lot of students back at home -– most of them are my cousins -– who really look up to me. They say they want to be like ‘Mel,’ go to college and become something, too.
“‘I attribute that to God because I guess without Him, I’d still be the same person.”‘
How long does Crim expect to serve as a North American Mission Board missionary in Alaska?
“‘I expect to die here,”‘ she said. “‘God would have to pry me out of here. My vision is a lifelong vision, not a short-term vision. Somebody has to invest their life here.
“‘The stuff I want to accomplish here will take the rest of my life,”‘ said Crim, who has never lost her Texas drawl, and looks and sounds younger than her 50 years. By her own joking admission, Crim has “‘narrowly escaped”‘ marriage three different times.
“‘I had no clue I’d fall in love with Alaska. I loved Texas. I loved Louisiana. But Alaska is an amazing, amazing land.”‘
Crim asks Southern Baptists to think of her face as they give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions this spring.
“‘You paid for this stuff and for me to be here and to have a witness here in Alaska,”‘ she said, speaking directly to Southern Baptists.
“‘I am truly privileged to be your representative here. Nothing in my life has been greater than to be a missionary for the North American Mission Board.”‘
Mickey Noah is a writer with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. To view or download a video featuring missionary Brenda Crim, visit www.namb.net and click on the video gallery with several video features about how Crim and other Southern Baptist missionaries are reaching North America for Christ. Return each month for new video features.