One of the hardest questions for a Zuk to answer is, “Where are you from?” Numerous answers could be given, but none would suffice – unless the inquirer is prepared to sit down and chat over coffee for a while with a globe handy. It’s a routine struggle missionary kids face. Eventually, they decide to give up, veil their childhood identity, and tell people they are from either the first or last place they lived (even that can be complicated!) If people are genuinely interested, then we try to broad-brush key events in our story. Ultimately, the full story usually remains between God and us.
I think many “Alaskans” (except the born-and-raised kind, which is a rarer breed) can relate to some degree because most of you came from someplace else. But whether one has moved around a lot or has lived in the same State their entire life, everyone has a “fuller” story. As a Christian, you can treasure the reality that God has ordained so many details, “insignificant” or otherwise, in your life to bring you to where you are today. Is it not a joyous thing to look back on your life and see all the Lord has done?
Reminiscing on the past and counting God’s blessings is traditionally done around holidays such as Thanksgiving or New Year’s. I hope as you did so this year that you were filled with wonder at the providential hand of God moving in your life. Each year brings its share of both heartaches and joys, but as a follower of Christ, you can be assured that each moment is part of His grand design for our good and His glory (Rom 8:28–30). Sometimes it takes many years for us to recognize God’s goodness in certain events, and we may never see the fruits of some labors in our lifetime (cf. Heb 11:13). But God is ALWAYS at work! His providence, or “sovereign purpose,” is pervasive in each of our lives.
When asked to write this blog as an “Intro to the Zuks,” I immediately knew God’s providence should be the underlying theme. He deserves full credit and praise for doing “impossible” things to bring our families to Anchorage Grace Church at the perfect time for numerous purposes. We are only beginning to realize the full, blessed weight of what God is doing.
So let’s trace a broad-brush version of how God’s providence has led us here, beginning with the initial question: where are we from?
Matt and I were born and raised in “Upstate” New York (code for “not the city”) in a small village called Franklin where our parents also grew up. The Lord began prodding our parents’ hearts towards serving in foreign missionary work, and around that time a man named Dwayne King (a key figure, who will appear later) shared at our little church about the mission opportunities opening up in Far East Russia. This was in the early-mid 1990s.
After several short-term trips to Russia, our dad earned his Bible College degree, was ordained, and our family raised support to go to Russia as long-term missionaries. We moved to Khabarovsk, Far East Russia in 2003 where dad received language training for two years. After that, we moved several time zones west to Lipetsk, Russia (south of Moscow) where dad ministered primarily by training Russian leaders and pastors. Later their ministry would shift to church planting among an unreached people group, but I’ll leave that story for Matt to share since it happened after I left.
When I graduated from high school (homeschool), I left Russia and attended a unique school called Jackson Hole Bible College in Wyoming. There I was grounded in the faith and found a place to live and serve in a background role at the college and church that suited my introverted personality and technical skills. Matt later attended the College also, and this was where we both eventually (after more providential events) met our Wyomingite wives.
A couple of times while in Jackson Hole, we joined a group of men to attend the Shepherds Conference (key connection for later) in Los Angeles. The Lord especially used the 2017 “We Preach Christ” conference to burden my heart to pursue missions work. To explore potential places of ministry, I called an old family friend named Dwayne King who invited me to volunteer that summer at Kingdom Air Corps (KAC) in Chickaloon, Alaska. As I served at their annual Brooks Range Bible Camp for Native kids above the Arctic Circle, I saw the dire need for follow-up ministry to the Native villages in that region.
Over the next few years, I was trained as a missionary pilot at KAC, got married to Alene, and ministered in Anaktuvuk Pass (AKP) seasonally over the winters. In the Fall of 2020, we discovered and confronted a false teacher leading the church in AKP. Providential events led us to separate from the ministry there, and I decided to pursue seminary training to be prepared for a ministry I saw as lacking but crucial for Alaska: biblically faithful church planting and pastoral training.
We providentially returned to Wyoming just in time to drag Matt and Abbie to join us in Los Angeles to attend The Master’s Seminary (TMS) together. Matt providentially got a job at The Master’s Academy International (TMAI) the first semester, and we both built connections with Mark Tatlock and others there (part of my plan going to TMS was to help start a TMAI in Alaska)
For the Spring semester (2022) we then providentially took the “Prayer and the Pastor” class which forced us to spend more time in prayer. One of my prayers, which had been on my heart since leaving AKP, was answered quite visibly far sooner than expected: I asked God to prepare a church/ministry which we could partner with in Alaska that would align with our convictions and goals. It turned out God had already been directing Anchorage Grace Church in these areas far beyond what I could have ever hoped (Eph 3:20). The answer came when I connected with Brian Overholtzer (whom I had already met by providence, knowing his brother-in-law through KAC) and Nathan Schneider at last year’s Shepherds Conference. Pastor Nathan pitched the idea of us transferring to the TMS extension site at AGC where we could also join their new missions efforts (including the desire to start a TMAI training center) – a prospect so clearly from the Lord’s hand that we couldn’t turn it down. We moved here this past summer, dragging Matt and Abbie with us once more.
We have been extremely blessed in our time here so far. God has abundantly provided for all our needs. We quickly felt at home in the body at AGC, our classes with Pastors Jeff and Nathan last semester were superb, and we love the opportunity to minister to the youth on Sunday mornings. God is good!
This was merely a brief flyover of our “fuller” story, but I pray it caused you to remember the many ways God has loved and cared for you as well. Is He not a good and gracious God?! May you continue to rejoice in His sovereign purposes this coming year – He is worthy to receive all honor and glory forever, amen!