By Stan Friedman
ANCHORAGE, AK (April 15, 2011) – Delegates to the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska (ECCAK) cast a historic vote last Saturday when they elected Curtis Ivanoff to be the first Native Alaskan field director.
“I was reflecting on how I have been raised right in the backyard of ECCAK, so to speak, in terms of my journey with Christ,” Ivanoff said. “I think that reality added to the good spirit and joy that was evident at the annual meeting in Anchorage.”
The family history of the first Native Alaskan field director dates back more than a century. His great-grandfather, Stephen, was among the first converts in what was then a fledgling mission field for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He assisted missionaries by providing translations among the Inupiaq Eskimos. (To read how an act of hospitality by Ivanoff’s great-grandfather impacted the future of the church, click here.)
That desire to minister alongside each other will continue to grow, Ivanoff said. “I am fully aware that we will continue to build upon the work that has been done by God’s faithful servants, Alaska Native and non-native alike, through the years here in Alaska, by the power of the Spirit.”
Dave Olson, executive minister of the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism and chair of the 12-member search committee, said Ivanoff’s age – he’s 39 – also is significant.
The Alaskan culture is elder-centric, but he reminded the people there that Jesus was 30 when he started his ministry, David was in his early 30s when he became king, and Paul probably was in his 30s when he had his Damascus Road experience. Actually, the people needed little convincing.
Rather, they were thrilled at the selection of a man who already had served faithfully as state assistant director of Covenant Youth of Alaska and as associate pastor of Unalakleet Evangelical Covenant Church prior to becoming director of admissions at Alaska Christian College. Olson shared that one of the elder native Alaskans wept with joy.
Olson was inspired by the passion for Jesus among the representatives at the conference, which was held April 7-10 at First Covenant Church in Anchorage. “The one word I would use is ‘sweet,’” says Olson, pausing to make his point. “There is this great love for Jesus.”
There also was plenty of music. When the delegates gather from the small bush communities in harsh areas of Alaska, they always sing for several hours following each meeting, with different worship groups working on new songs. “They love singspirations,” Olson said.
Delegates also sang the praises of their outgoing field director Rodney Sawyer, who has guided ECCAK forward during his tenure.
Ivanoff says he is honored to follow in the footsteps of Sawyer and his wife, Nancy. “They are dear people. Rodney and Nancy Sawyer are dear people. Rodney has been a friend to many, including myself. His leadership has been marked by humility, grace, and a strong desire to see our churches grow.”
Ivanoff adds, “I am grateful for his servant heart, the example he has set in caring for our churches, and for the vision he has cast to be bearers of the good news of Christ to Alaska and to the world.”
During the business sessions, delegates approved a $459,000 budget.