InterACTION - October 2017 The Book of Remembrance

By Thomas Slawson

“For many years I’ve had the idea that someday I could write a history of our mission. I’ve saved most of the mission-related papers and prayer letters which I’ve received. I mentioned this to Gale [Van Diest] some years ago. This summer Gale encouraged me to proceed in that direction.” - Barney Furman, InterAct Ministries History Proposal, October 2, 1997

Earlier this year a project nearly twenty years in the making took a monumental step towards final completion. In the late 90s, long-time Alaska missionary Clarence (Barney) Furman approached mission leadership with a proposal for an ambitious undertaking – to write the history of InterAct Ministries.

At that time the mission was approaching its fifty-year mark, and while lots of papers, letters and documents had been saved, no one had officially set out to tell the story of InterAct from the beginning. That’s what Barney wanted to do.

Some may ask, “Why spend time writing the history of a mission organization?” It’s a fair question. Some could argue that the time would be better spent preaching, evangelizing and making disciples. But what does Scripture say about the value of remembering?

Throughout the Bible the consequences of forgetting and the blessings of remembering are emphasized. For example, in Judges we read that Israel’s failure to “remember the LORD their God” led to their falling into idolatry over and over again. But in contrast, by “[remembering] the deeds of the LORD,” the writer of Psalm 77 finds great comfort in his distress.

Many other examples from the Bible could be given, but the truth is clear. Failure to remember what God has done can often lead to doubt, fear, anxiety and even sin. But remembering God’s faithfulness frequently strengthens one’s joy, faith and confidence in Him and is a great encouragement to a believer to persevere.

So right about the time everyone was worrying about Y2K, Barney took on this daunting task of piecing together the story of InterAct Ministries. Many hours were spent reading through old prayer letters and other documents. Countless interviews and conversations took place. With information spanning five decades, four countries, and stories of thousands of lives touched, the pieces of the puzzle began to come together and a picture began to emerge.

In February of this year Barney felt his part in the work was done. So InterAct director Dale Smith, along with his wife Carol, and former InterAct director Gale Van Diest, met with Barney at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer where he resides. Gale Van Diest, who had originally discussed the idea of writing InterAct’s history with Barney, received the official handoff of the USB drive containing two decades of Barney’s work. But the story doesn’t end there. As with all history, it keeps going.

About a year ago on a summer day I was cleaning up the stock room at our U.S. office, when I came across boxes and boxes of slides and photos. As I sifted through them I realized that they were siginficant. Some obvsiouly dated back to the earliest days of the mission. I did the best I could to sort through them, but soon realized I was biting off way more than I could chew. Not only did I not have the time to devote to cataloging and digitizing all of the images, but for most of the pictures I had no idea who any of the people were or where they had been taken. For a year they sat in storage as we pondered the next steps. So when the USB drive for Barney’s book arrived on my desk, the wheels began turning once again and a plan was put into action. I picked up the phone and dialed Bob Moffat.

Bob’s ever-upbeat voice answered the phone. “Bob,” I said. “I’ve got a favor to ask of you, and it involves lots of hard work and no pay.” I could hear Bob chuckle on the other end. “Well,” he said, “sounds like mission work!”

Bob and Carol Moffat have been with InterAct almost since its founding. During their many years they served in Alaska, Canada and the U.S. office, and were part of early efforts to send missionaries to Russia as the Iron Curtain was coming down. After retiring they moved to Gresham, Oregon, just down the road from our U.S. office in Boring. If there were any people better qualified and better positioned to tackle the project of sorting and organizing the slides and photos, I couldn’t think of them.

Over the last few months the Moffats have worked many hours going through photos, labeling them and digitizing thousands of slides. Once this project is complete the next step will be to combine these images with the work that Barney Furman has done and pull together the story of InterAct Ministries. Our hope is that this will be something that celebrates not so much our history, but God’s faithfulness to His servants and His work in and through them to carry His gospel to the peoples of the North Pacific Crescent.

As the generation from the early days of the mission is moving on and a new generation is coming on board, it will be all the more important to remember our past. Our next generation of missionaries aren’t starting a new story, but joining one already in progress. They, like the missionaires that came before them, will face challenges, struggles, triumphs and heartbreaks. They need to be able to look back and see that they aren’t running a new race, but one that’s been run before, by saints who went before them to take the gospel to the unreached, who persevered not by their own strength, but by the strength of their ever-faithful God.

We remember and recount the past, not to “live in it” or to just nostalgically think about the “good ole days,” but so that we who are called to the work now may “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a).

InterACTION is a monthly publication of InterAct Ministries

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