There’s a lighthouse on the hillside that overlooks life’s sea. When I’m tossed it sends out a light that I might see. And the light that shines in darkness now will safely lead us o’er. If it wasn’t for the lighthouse, my ship would sail no more." – From “The Lighthouse” written by Ronnie Hinson, 1970
Lighthouses are fascinating. When the unique signal beam of a lighthouse is seen by passing ships it conveys information to those on board so they can better understand their location and make critical decisions as needed. Waterway voyagers may be alerted to avoid dangerous obstacles or be guided into safe harbor. Dennis and Celesta Richardson are long-time missionaries currently serving with SonRise Community Church in Anchorage, Alaska. In many ways, SonRise is a lighthouse to some of the weariest travelers of this world.
Walk into SonRise on a typical Sunday morning and you would be met with the hum of busy people. Some are serving, some visiting—yet you’d always be greeted and welcomed warmly, giving a sense of coming home. Workers start preparations at 7:00 a.m. The pastors, elders and worship team meet for prayer and the service begins at 9:45. The message is captivating with Pastor Dennis reading Scripture, preaching and equipping the church family.
Since food is common at gatherings and handcrafted coffee drinks are always a prized treat in Alaska, a meal is served at 11:00 a.m. and coffee orders taken. For core church members, this is an effective opportunity to personally connect with new attenders through conversations about Christ, prayer and encouragement. A second shorter service starts at 11:30, with a simple evangelistic message. Afterwards people often stay to ask more questions and receive prayer. Twice a month, a food pantry is open for those in need.
The open-door policy and welcoming nature of this church community does not come without its challenges. SonRise Church is located in Mountain View, a northeast neighborhood of Anchorage. This is one of the most culturally diverse communities in the United States. It also is an area that faces many challenges, including having a crime rate that is 273% higher than the national average. One former resident of Anchorage recently told an InterAct staff member that people do not drive into the Mountain View area unless they want to invite personal harm. Often weary sojourners drift in off the streets into the church, hurting and burdened by addictions. It’s not unusual for someone “under the influence” to disrupt one of the worship services. When this happens, Dennis preaches right through it while the core team discretely cares for the person in need.
As Jesus didn’t seek his own comfort and safety, but instead welcomed into his life those who were outcasts and offenders, so SonRise Church seeks to do the same. The result is that they are seeing lives changed as they follow Christ’s example, welcoming any and all seeking safe haven from the darkness and storms of life.
Jesse* was one of these people. In his mid 30s and a new visitor to SonRise, Jesse asked to speak with Dennis in private after a service. As he and Dennis walked into the pastor’s office, a church elder standing nearby noted Jesse’s appear-ance as sickly, drained, and without hope. In confidence Jesse disclosed, “I’m on meth, was living as a homosexual, and have AIDS.” Dennis then unfolded the truth and hope of the gospel and Jesse accepted Christ on the spot. As Jesse sat visibly transforming, he softly pronounced, “My brother in the ‘lower 48’ has a room for me, and I’m flying out tomorrow to go there and die, but … now I’m ready.” When the elder saw Jesse walk out of the office, he hardly recognized him. His countenance had shifted from death to life—hopeless to hopeful!
* name changed
Sharon* wandered into SonRise church at the beginning of one summer and has been attending regularly since. Many years of a party lifestyle had sucked her into the addiction of alcoholism, and Sharon found herself homeless and without hope. Finally, she found new life in Jesus Christ and freedom from addictions. So thankful for her vibrant relationship with Jesus, Sharon desperately desires to share her faith with those who have reached the bottom. For a season, she chose to live among the homeless in order to share the Good News with them, then returned back to a more stable living environment.
The pull back to an addictive lifestyle can be great though, and the Richardson’s recently reported an update on Sharon.
“The last time we saw her she was not doing well and now has disappeared which likely means that she has fallen back into her old lifestyle. This is the heartbreaking reality of ministry at SonRise. We pray that Sharon comes back to the Lord and back to church. If and when she comes back, we will love and encourage her to start fresh with a sober lifestyle that is honoring to the Lord.”
A key verse in the SonRise church constitution is Luke 1: 78-79 “… because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Jesus was drawn to the neediest of people and they in turn were drawn to Him. SonRise Church shines a path of light inviting those in danger of shipwreck into the safe harbor of Christ’s community to hear his gospel truth. Then as living testimonies to his love, the community of SonRise shines their beams of light back into one of the darkest areas of Alaska.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
~ John 1:5 ~
Please join us in prayer for the ministry of SonRise Community Church.
- Pray that God is glorified through the SonRise community and that those who attend will see their need for the Savior and surrender their lives to him.
- Pray for God’s direction as plans are made for a mid-week gathering which will include a children’s program and adult Bible studies. Please ask God to send people to teach and run the programs.
- Pray for God’s financial provision for the church. With an already bare-bones budget, there is still a deficit of several thousand dollars to pay bills this fiscal year.
Getting to know the SonRise Missionaries
Dennis and Celesta Richardson met in Alaska while serving with InterAct Ministries. They were married in 1988 and served as church planters in the village of Grayling, Alaska. Since 2004, Dennis has served as the missionary-pastor of SonRise Community Church. As a certified biblical counselor, he provides biblical counseling for individuals and families in the church as well as the Anchorage community. Celesta is involved in the music ministry, sharing her heart and home in discipleship ministry and can even put together a great Sunday meal for the whole church.
Jamie and BethRoderick arrived in Alaska in 2018 to serve with InterAct Ministries on the Lazy Mountain Campus in Palmer where they work in maintenance and hospitality. Burdened by the need at SonRise Community Church, the Rodericks began making the hour-long drive to Anchorage to join in the ministry there. Along with their children, Davis and Faith, they assist with the food pantry, cooking of Sunday meals, coffee bar and children’s church. Beth coordinates children’s church and Jamie is on the teaching rotation.
Out of the Darkness a Light Shines
Jesus gravitated to the broken people of the world. Though frequently harsh with the Jewish elite, he was gentle and gracious with the poor and broken. In the affluent culture of our day it is easy to overlook the marginalized people struggling with alcohol, drugs, prostitution, homelessness and hopelessness. Jesus was commissioned by the Father to minister to these very people. “He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18 NKJV).
This month’s story about SonRise Church is a modern-day picture of Jesus’ ministry 2,000 years ago. I have visited this church on several occasions. It is a mix of the broken, of new Christians, and of mature believers with a heart for the marginalized. It is an exciting place where God is actively transforming lives through the loving example of believers and the faithful teaching of the Word. God is still in the people-changing business and it is a joy to witness it firsthand!
Dennis and Celesta Richardson and SonRise Community Church are living out the mandate the Father gave to the Son. Is God calling you to give your life away in a ministry like this?
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