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Church reaches the world from small Alaska town

VALDEZ, Alaska (BP) — David Bradley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Valdez, isn’t hard to find. That’s because Valdez is a small town.

Check the post office, grocery store, hardware store, senior center, or numerous eating establishments, and you’ll find him. Bradley looks for people to talk with.

“I really love to do outreach,” Bradley said. “I like to say, we at First Baptist seek to serve God as we gather for worship and Bible study, and we scatter for evangelism and service. The church should do both, gather and scatter. The Lord’s work is still going on. COVID-19 can’t stop Him.”

The Cooperative Program helps extend the Lord’s work far beyond Valdez, Bradley said. That’s why First Baptist Valdez has chosen to allocate nearly 20 percent of its offerings to missions including 10 percent through CP, the way Southern Baptist churches work together to tell people worldwide of God’s unconditional, unrelenting love for them.

“It’s stewardship,” Bradley said. “It’s one way to expand our ministry globally. What a great opportunity we have to participate in His work — and it is His work, not ours. What a privilege it is to be on mission with Him!”

Bradley and his wife Cindy lead by example. She is the assistant activities director for a long-term care center in Valdez. She has been helping the residents Facetime with loved ones who are unable to visit in person because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“The residents are getting more visits than ever before,” the pastor said. “They’re loving it!”

She also gets shopping lists from the residents and goes to the grocery store for them since they can’t get out because of the virus.

“What has been interesting during COVID-19 is that I’m posting my sermons on the church’s website. I never did that before,” Bradley said. “I preach verse by verse, passage by passage — I’ve been in the book of Acts since last June — and my teaching slides are posted online along with my sermons. People can start and stop as they make notes or whatever. It’s pretty cool.

Since he began posting sermons online, “the Gospel has gone a lot further than just our four walls,” he said, adding: “Also, we’ve never had online giving as an option before until now. We’re grateful for the faithfulness of our members supporting the church and missions financially with their tithes and offerings. God always provides. He sure does.”

Each Wednesday during the months of the pandemic, Bradley has been emailing church members a devotional message produced by the North American Mission Board. Each Friday, he emails that week’s digital Sunday School lesson from LifeWay Christian Resources.

“Now everybody is having family Sunday School classes and worship,” the pastor said. “Families all over town are having family home church together maybe for the first time. What a blessing that is!”

Valdez is a town of fewer than 3,800 residents at the south edge of Alaska’s mainland. The town has the northernmost year-round ice-free port in the nation. “If you’ve always dreamed of seeing a calving glacier or walking on one, Valdez is the place to visit,” Bradley said.

And visit they do. First Baptist ministers to hundreds of visitors in the summer months, holding a Sunday morning worship service in Prince William Sound aboard the glacier tour boat Lu-Lu Belle.

The church also ministers to the residents at the town’s long-term care center through a weekly Sunday afternoon worship service.

Nearly 100 children each year — though not this summer because of the pandemic — attend Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Valdez, including many children from other churches. After their VBS week concludes, leaders pass on their LifeWay VBS curriculum and materials to other Southern Baptist churches in Alaska.

The church’s community outreach includes an annual Christmas “Walk to Bethlehem and a a goal of praying in front of each of the town’s 1,645 residences.

“When you work together, and you follow the Lord, His work spreads way more than we can do on our own,” Bradley said. “Alaska is a mission field. Alaskans are not against the church, but many are just not interested. That’s definitely a challenge.”

First Baptist Valdez, 260 miles from the nearest Southern Baptist sister church, affiliates with the Alaska Baptist Resource Network, a ministry of the Alaska Baptist Convention. Despite the geographic isolation, the church has both given and received help from sister churches — something that has been put on hold during the pandemic.

“Ministering and serving the Lord together,” Bradley said. “What a blessing that is. I’ve been missing folks. God created us for fellowship with Him and with each other. We have the great news of salvation in Christ. We want to serve the Lord and be faithful in everything: our lives, our families, our jobs, and our church.

“With every aspect of who we are, we at First Baptist Church of Valdez want to help others find the Love in Christ that we have.”