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!

Ladies’ Berry Picking Retreat at Kako, 2013

Kako Retreat Center’s most popular event is the annual Ladies’ Berry Picking Retreat. This year 42 women from about 12 villages were flown in for three days of fellowship, teaching, and berry picking. Since berries are the only fruit that grow in western Alaska, wild berries are a highly prized part of the diet, and they’re easy to find at Kako.

Vera Penz and Lynda work on name tags for the participants.

Brenda holds one of the gift baskets each woman found on her pillow.

Shea decorates with wildflowers.

These pretty teens were some of the youngest guests.

Off to pick up another three ladies. The weather was rainy, but not bad enough to keep the two planes from flying.
These women were the first to head for the mountain. Bill gives them a ride on Kako’s all purpose vehicle, a four-wheeler.
Wild Alaska blueberries grow only a few inches high in the tundra.

Picking berries on the mountain above Kako. Kako’s cross is visible on the distant hill.
Recording memories. The red metal box is a berry rake, used to make the job go faster.
An unwritten rule everyone respects: Elders go first. These Eskimo women are wearing kuspuks, or summer parkas.
Jeannie, our speaker, grew up in the villages. Here she visits with old friends.

Vera’s daughter, Debbie, also grew up in Alaska. Here she receives a handmade jacket from a friend.

Berries bagged and ready for the freezer.

Lovey (back to camera) is telling the ladies of her recent discovery that young people in the villages are ordering dangerous prescription drugs over the internet, using debit cards. The drugs come from foreign countries with no questions asked. Kids as young as elementary age quickly get addicted and many are dying. “Check your debit statements,” she says. “Please, tell your village councils we must work together to stop the loss of our young ones.”

Irene sings a hymn for us in her “up north language,” Yupik Eskimo.

Jeanne uses handmade visual aids to illustrate her teaching.

All the women and staff at the close of the retreat.

Raining again, but it’s time to go back to the villages. Brenda helps one of the women carry her berries and belongings to the plane.

Two Heroes

I just talked to my friend Vera Penz, who helps her husband Dave run the Kako retreat center for villagers in the vast, lightly populated Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of western Alaska. In summer, the Penzes get their supplies via Yukon River barge or by air. Winter travel is by bush plane or snowmobile.

The Penzes have help from volunteers who come from other areas of Alaska and across the lower forty-eight, but “winter is hard,” Vera says. They are mostly alone then. At age eighty, she is the sole bookkeeper, letter writer and paperwork person for the mission enterprise. Dave is battling a form of leukemia. When I called, he’d been out all day plowing snow from the runway and clearing paths between the buildings. It had “warmed up” to 11 degrees from last night’s 16 below zero. As we talked, I stood at our window, looking out at a light mist falling and rubbing goosebumps. It was 40 degrees outside our house. And I thought I was cold?

Within a radius of 160 miles of Kako there are fifty villages. Many are afflicted with alcoholism and attendant social evils. The subsistence lifestyle is as hard as it ever was, and there are few paying jobs, so many people live below the poverty level. Kako offers hope, through summer camps for children, teacher’s retreats, marriage seminars, men’s and women’s retreats, and short term Bible seminars. Most of the attendees are flown in, as are workers, speakers, and everything needed for their stays.

“In two weeks, we have a speaker from Moody coming to teach about forgiveness,” Vera told me. 

 Forgiveness is an appropriate topic in a place where abuse goes hand in hand with alcoholism.

“We’re so glad for the warmer weather and plenty of snow. The trails are good for those close enough to come by snowmobile, but we’ll have to fly people in from farther out.”

Dave and Vera both came to Alaska in the early ‘60s. They married after having lost their respective spouses and have since spent the last thirty years at Kako, reaching out to the people of the delta. Did I mention that they are two of my heroes?