Can You Help Kako?

Kako Retreat Center from the cross on the mountain

This e-mail from my friend Jeanne Penz Rodkey arrived yesterday. Although Jeanne now lives in California, her parents were missionaries in a number of Alaskan villages and she grew up among  children like Rose. She still cares deeply for them. Her father Dave Penz married Vera after Jeanne’s mother died. Together Dave and Vera established Kako Retreat Center to serve the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Jeanne gave me permission to share from her letter in hopes that more people will come to care about Alaska’s isolated and needy Native peoples.

Rose’s soft voice came across the telephone last night. She’s 11 and she’s telling me about her week at Kako.

“I had fun. I  went rappelling. I rock climbed too!
We sang songs. We went on the mountain to the cross.”

Rose spoke so softly that several times I had to ask her to tell me again. Despite the low, quiet tones, it was obvious that she had had a wonderful time!

photo from:

“I was with Erica.” (the cabin leader) and she named off her cabin mates. “One night we sat in a circle and we got to know each other. Our cabin got to go first to the snack shack because we cleaned our cabin!”

“We had popcorn”
“I made a name tag”

Photo from:
Photo from:

“I ate spaghetti”

“We learned that Jesus died for our sins…”

“Kako is tiny, Hooper (her village) is big!  I got used to Kako. I want to go again next year!”

Rose lives near the Arctic Ocean on the treeless tundra, where the weather is cold and windy. Kako has trees and a mountain, and people who are loving and caring.

Learning about Jesus within the context of fun in a safe beautiful place is the best gift you can give a child!                                                                      

Hooper Bay, Rose’s village – a 3 hour round trip flight from Kako –  is a very large village… a small town actually, with 1700 people. This village is known for its high suicide rate. Rose’s older brother was part of the police force in her village, but due to the high number of suicides that have occurred in the past year, he quit that job. He couldn’t handle dealing with the suicides over and over.

Would you be willing to help fund a week of camp?
Kako has just begun week three of six weeks of summer camp.
Next week will be the critical teen week… critical because Alaskan teens have the highest rates for suicide in the nation, and sexual abuse and violence is extremely high in the native villages. Off the charts high! I’ve included links to data on these subjects at the end of the email in case you have an interest in reading more about it.

Please consider helping Kako Retreat Center be a fun and safe place for Alaskan children and teens to come, where they can learn more about Jesus and meet adults that love and care for them in Jesus’ name! Where they can find hope for living!

Kako has a critical need for giving because the summer barge is arriving early next week with the fuel needed to operate Kako all summer. The fuel must be paid on arrival and is $40,000! Gulp! Yes, forty thousand dollars! In the past, the barge company allowed payments over time, but they now insist on payment upfront for their sales! However, buying fuel from the barge is the cheapest and most cost effective way to purchase diesel and av-gas.

Imagine if you had to buy fuel this way! Enough to run the electricity in your home, and for every vehicle that requires fuel. And realize that when you are located 80 air miles from the nearest place to buy fuel (no roads!), it is critical to have your own supply so you don’t get stuck at home without fuel. 

See pictures of Kako Retreat Center and the map showing its strategic location
in the Yukon Kuskoskwim Delta at:

If you would like to help Kako Retreat Center, that would be wonderful!

Your gift is tax deductible.

Mail your gift to:
Kako Retreat Center
Box 29
Russian Mission, AK 99657

Trusting God to provide for Kako so it can continue to provide God’s light to the people of the delta.

~ Jeanne

Facts and figures on suicide and sexual abuse in the native culture of Alaska:

quote from
(I added the bold font to show you that Rose’s village is in this list):

“…Alaska Native Villages of Alakanuk, Chevak, Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay. The villages are among the poorest in America, almost 100% Alaska Native and have the highest suicide rate in the country.”

Suicide Statistics for Alaska — 2010
Suicides spike again in Y-K Delta villages
Devastating impact of domestic abuse revealed in database …
Alaska’s alarming rape epidemic –

More about Kako in past Sun Breaks posts for July, August, and September 2013!

Oso Strong—God’s Love Endures

Waiting for the pilot car. Oso mudslide visible in the distance. Undamaged home in trees at right.

South edge of the slide. Temporary road followed power line beyond.

Broken trees, broken hillside, broken hearts at Oso.

The Steelhead Haven neighborhood after the slide

Surreal…what else could one call it?

A piece of corrugated drain pipe protruding skyward from heaped gravel on our right; a broken board, the shredded bole of a tree…all the same gray. Such an expanse of dullness, stretching across the once green and lovely valley to where a hill called Hazel had broken open like some monstrous overripe fruit.

A mile of Washington State Highway 530, buried since the hill’s collapse on March 23, 2014, opened again to single-lane traffic on Sunday, May 31. Survivors, volunteers, friends and neighbors solemnly walked the route with Governor Jay Inslee. Only a few days earlier, big shovels were still clearing rubble. Volunteers searched as they dug for families‘ keepsakes and for the remains of people still missing.

On Monday, we followed a pilot car leading log trucks, commercial vehicles, locals, and tourists through the slide area. After a short line of westbound traffic had passed, our line slowly moved uphill, through familiar country. This area between Oso and Darrington has always been one of our favorite drives. On the hill to our right sat a modest home with a fringe of trees to the east…and nothing but gray rubble beyond.

We drove in overwhelmed silence. A mile to the left, the raw interior of the mountain exposed layers of gravel and other sediments laid down during the glacial age. The rest of the mountain, supersaturated by weeks of heavy rain, had turned to mud and slurry in the blink of an eye. It rolled and roared with the sound of a freight train across the forests and the Steelhead Haven neighborhood. It smashed homes and swept away the rubble, burying the Stillaguamish River, backing it up to flood homes spared by the wicked mixture of rock, mud, and broken trees.  It covered vehicles and people on the very roadway on which we now drove. Its energy finally ran out on the opposite hillside.

My mind couldn’t encompass the expanse of gray ruin, focusing instead on two spots of color…a blue plastic container, a red jug. A lone fir stood near the road, still green: the Oso Memorial Tree. On it someone had fastened a sign with the date and time of the slide: 10:45 AM, 3/23/14, lovingly crafted from a board found in the wreckage. On the far side a couple of homes stood in a sea of dirt that might have been left by the backed-up river. Then we were back in Washington’s green jungle of brush and trees. Where we glimpsed the river above the slide, it looked its normal color, not gray with the mud it picks up as it chews its way through the slide.

As traffic sped up, I realized my mind was playing the song we sang at church the day before: “The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell; it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell….When hoary time shall pass away, and earthly thrones and kingdoms fall, when men who here refuse to pray on rocks and hills and mountains call, God’s love so sure, shall still endure, all measureless and strong, redeeming grace to Adam’s race—the saints’ and angels’ song.”

Hell had visited the Steelhead Haven neighborhood, but God’s love was there, too. It was in the love of friends and neighbors who refused to obey orders to stay away and put their own lives in danger to rescue the few still living and to keep on looking for the missing. It was there in the love of hundreds of volunteers who found ways to help, and in the generous sharing of people all over the country who gave to assist those who’d lost everything.

 “Oso Strong” became the slogan that encouraged and drew people together. I’m proud of neighbors near and far who worked together to help shoulder the burdens of those most affected. I’m proud to be a citizen of a country whose strength lies in people like this.

The Memorial Tree, photographed in passing

Flaggers at the eastern edge of the work zone

This home narrowly escaped destruction.