Welcome to Mekoryuk!
A perfectly sunny, blue sky rare to Nunivak Island is the first to welcome the highly awaited Missionary Aviation charter plane. When the door opens, its eager passengers begin scrambling out, immediately calling out to and embracing relatives and friends awaiting them on the airstrip. The guests, many of which were originally from Nunivak, were transported by truck down the three-mile road leading to the small village of Mekoryuk. The 2016 Spring Island Jubilee has officially begun.
What is Jubilee?
Island Jubilee is an annual, and sometimes semi-annual, get-together hosted by the Mekoryuk Covenant Church. It is a weekend full of worship services, various community activities, and family reunions– but the core purpose of praising God. According to the current pastor of the Mekoryuk Covenant Church, Nathan Hanna, this local tradition began in the 80s or early 90s.
“It’s a time of forgiveness and reconciliation and celebration.” ~Pastor Hanna
Island Jubilee is all about gathering together to worship God. There were three main services with all the guests and speakers: Friday and Saturday evening services and a Sunday morning combined Sunday school and service. Every service began with the congregation reading the theme verse, Colossians 3:12-14, and singing the theme song, “Days of Elijah.” After announcements and offering the Mekoryuk choir sang a special, and the congregation sang several songs.The congregation then listened to the message delivered by guest speaker Matthew Carlson, enjoyed several song specials by those that got on the evening’s schedule, and enjoyed the skilled musicians playing along throughout the night. It is a joyous time for many to get together and worship. However, historically in a very different culture, Jubilee meant something completely different.
Island Jubilee 2016 Theme Verse: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” ~Colossians 3:12-14
Island Jubilee 2016 Theme
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the word “Jubilee” as “(in Jewish history) a year of emancipation and restoration, celebrated every fifty years.” This was the subject that this year’s Island Jubilee speaker, Matthew Carlson, focused on. Each night, he provided context as to what Jubilee originally meant to the Israelites in Bible times, how it connects to Christianity and Jesus, and why it is important to us today. He explained that if you had debts, they were forgiven every 50 years during the year of Jubilee. If you sold ancestral lands to remain out of debt, they were returned to you. Even if you were forced to sell yourself or your relatives into slavery– a common practice in Bible times– your debts were forgiven and you were freed. Carlson compared it to a couple more applicable situations in today’s world. “This was exciting! …I mean, I have student loans and a mortgage– I’d love if those debts were gone! It would be amazing!” He continued using different examples to explain how God built redemption, compassion, and forgiveness into the very system of Jubilee, and how these qualities were a central focus in Jesus’ life.
Youth in Mekoryuk have a strong support system in the community when it comes to their faith. The majority of children in Mekoryuk attend Sunday school, teenagers and pre-teens participate in Youth group, and many are being raised to follow God. Youth group often help with whatever they can, and in most cases at a short notice too. They usually help behind the scenes with cleaning, baking, and preparing for special occasions like potlatches, or guests that stay at the parsonage. Youth group is a way of coming together to worship God, socialize and be yourself.
Significance to Jubilee
The youth were an important aspect to Jubilee, from set-up to participating in the services to simply creating a joyful atmosphere. Some of the youth group gathered on Friday afternoon after school to do a few last-minute preparations at the parsonage for the guests that would arrive within the hour. Later on at the evening services, they sang songs that they had been practicing at their weekly gatherings for months. The Mekoryuk Jr. High also shared some songs in Cup’ig that they had practiced in class. Small children played outside of the church throughout the warm, sunny weekend. Various youth sang specials at the evening services, from preschool to high school age.
The gathering on Sunday morning was easily the service with the most children in the church during Jubilee. From preschool age to grandmas and grandpas, the community gathers on Sunday mornings to participate in Sunday school, which is taught by several volunteers who believe in Christ. Each grade is grouped by grade, and after their lesson is taught everyone gathers in the sanctuary. A common ritual is for the entire congregation to sing either a chorus or a song together while two people pick up the offering. An adult or elder starts with an opening prayer, then each Sunday School group shares their memory verses and lessons with everyone. Singing for birthdays and anniversaries within the community is also part of Sunday school that has become tradition for everyone.
This Sunday School service was a bit different. Children (and adults) of all ages gathered in the sanctuary for a combined Sunday School. Sunday School classes shared their verses from the previous week, and sang songs with energetic movements to them. There was a special speaker for the morning’s lession– Megan Carlson, the wife of main Jubilee speaker Matthew Carlson. Megan used a fun hands-on example to lead into the Bible story she shared. She called for volunteers, and together the children tried to lift one child up to the ceiling using a blanket as a stretcher. They enjoyed trying over and over to accomplish this impossible feat, but it simply couldn’t be done. Megan then told the Bible story from Luke 5:17-26 of how a paralyzed man was healed by Jesus: Jesus was teaching in a house packed with people, and the man’s friends couldn’t get him through the crowd. They climbed to the roof, dug a hole in it above where Jesus was, and lowered their friend down to him. Jesus healed the man because of his and his friends’ faith.
On the second day of Jubilee, the majority of the Jr. High and High school students gathered at the Nuniwarmiut school gym to socialize and play. Basketball, a popular sport throughout rural Alaska, is slowly being revived by the youth in Mekoryuk. Another game that they played is called King’s Court, which has become another favorite. King’s Court is a game that was recently introduced by Junior High teacher Mr. Devin Thurston, and only needs one soft Rhino ball and teamwork. This game could be described as a mixture between dodgeball and tag– when you get hit by the ball, you are added to the group of people that are “it.” After running around, everyone gathered at the church to practice songs to sing at the evening service.
“What I love about Jubilee is that we praise God and we sing songs about Him.” –Ethel Williams, Mekoryuk Jr. High student
Singspiration is another common way to worship God in Mekoryuk, and was enjoyed as a part of the Jubilee celebrations on Saturday morning. Singspiration includes singing classic gospel songs, sharing testimonies, and introducing new songs. Wassilie Mute, a former pastor in Mekoryuk, gave a powerful message at Singspiration as well.
One Jubilee event in particular had everyone’s stomachs growling. Before the evening service on Saturday, the community was busy preparing delicacies to share at the evening’s potluck while children were out soaking up the sun. The community gathered in the downstairs area of the church. All sorts of food were blessed, and a long line of hungry people was formed. The food varied from dried fish to soups, stir fries, pastas, akutaq (eskimo ice cream), and more. Volunteers helped with everything from setup, serving food, and cleanup afterwards. After everyone was done eating, the satisfied crowd moved upstairs to begin praising God as the evening service began.