Even in the subzero environment above Alaska's Arctic Circle, the warmth of the gospel spreads into the homes and hearts of faithful members living in this rugged land.
"We are so excited with the response that members have when we are able to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to them," said Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy and president of the North America Northwest Area, which includes Alaska and part of Canada.In 78 isolated areas in the Northwest Area, "where people can't get to Church because of transportation problems, many members meet in their homes."
In some areas it isn't possible to travel to where Church meetings are held, Elder Pinnock explained. In Kotzebue, Alaska, where a branch meetinghouse is located, for example, members may live only 50 miles from the meetinghouse but there may not be one foot of highway between it and members' homes.
"With travel so difficult, we have to assign all these places to the Anchorage Alaska Bush District, the Fairbanks Bush District or the Juneau Alaska District, meeting with some by mail and telephone. All these districts have units north of the Arctic Circle.
"We are thankful that the Church has developed materials for families and small branches that these people can use," he added. "We also encourage them to subscribe to the Church News and Church magazines."
The winter months find some members using snowmobiles and an occasional dog sled for transportation. In certain areas, members travel by boat to attend meetings in the summer.
Members of the Anchorage Alaska Bush District living within the Arctic Circle are located in Kotzebue, Kiana and Noatak. Warren L. Rigby, president of the Kotzebue Branch, said, "We have about 20 active members who really love the Church and want to help others. We are trying to take an active part in the community and it has been a lot of fun."
Those living in the Fairbanks Bush Branch, part of the Fairbanks Alaska Stake, reside above the Arctic Circle at Point Hope, Barrow, Prudhoe Bay, Kaktovik, Anaktuvik Pass and Fort Yukon.
"I probably have the grandest job in the Church because I am blessed to work with the finest saints in these latter days," said David M. Herndon, president of the Fairbanks Bush Branch. "They are few in number, but strong in heart."
Home and visiting teaching take on a new twist in the bush, done mainly by mail and phone, Pres. Herndon said. There are many cases, however, of many miles covered at subzero temperatures by snow machine, airplane and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The Juneau Alaska District also reaches up into the Arctic Circle with members living in Inuvik in the Northwest Territories in Canada, Elder Pinnock said.
"These are people living in the most frozen, isolated areas of the world. Some people only receive mail once every two or three months. To travel across the area is like going from Salt Lake City to Washington D.C."
Stephen R. Forrey, president of the Alaska Anchorage Mission, added, "They are incredibly strong people in terms of their approach to life and their desire to survive."
The predominant population in the bush community is Native American, with several Indian and Eskimo tribes. Most of the members living in the Arctic Circle are there for work or to enjoy a slower-paced life.
Only two elders from the Alaska Anchorage Mission are currently working in the bush area. They live in Bethel, below the Arctic Circle, but travel into the area when possible, Pres. Forrey said.
The missionaries tract and rely on member referrals in the district. But transportation makes the work difficult, Pres. Forrey added. "When the missionaries are out there, they become a real asset to the branch presidents."