On November 19, 2021, the sun will set in Barrow, Alaska….and it will not rise again until late January.
Imagine darkness that stretches on for 66 days in a row…
That is the reality for the 11,000+ people who live in the North Slope Borough of Alaska — the northernmost part of the United States. Most of the population can be found in the city of Barrow (also known as Utqiagvik), but there are several other very small cities located on the North Slope.
Due to the earth’s tilt, the sun remains below the horizon for two months for areas north of the Article Circle.
I first learned of this phenomenon in 2019 when I was feeling a bit “down” about the fact that the sun sets as early as 5pm in the midwest during a good part of fall and winter. The darkness was getting to me. So, imagine how I felt when I realized there were real people who experience 24/7 darkness 66 straight days every year. I felt called to do something to bring the light of encouragement to this community.
On a whim, I looked up a phone number for the City of Barrow and soon found myself speaking to the friendly staff of their local Department of Health and Social Services. I learned that although this season of darkness is “normal” every year, that it is still a very difficult time, and depression/mental health challenges are far too common. There is truly nothing you can do to truly prepare for a season of literal darkness – especially when it accompanied by temperatures continuously below zero.
My mind was racing. What could I do to make a difference there? Was there way to send a light of hope to the people there?Would anyone want to join me in sending unexpected ENCOURAGEMENT to Barrow? Am I crazy for even suggesting this?
I pitched my idea to their staff: “Would it be okay if I got a group of friends, neighbors, and community members together to send cards and letters to Barrow to encourage the people throughout these two months?” And, the rest is history! This is how #brighteningbarrow began. Word spread, and thousands of letters made their way to Barrow, Alaska during their dark season in 2019 and again in 2020. Their local Department of Health and Social Services distributed them across the North Slope to those who needed encouragement the most.
Just this week, I spoke to my contact at Barrow — asking if this really made a difference, and if there would be value in encouraging people to light up Barrow with cards and letters again for a third year. The answer was a resounding YES! In fact, my contact said that there had even started to be talk amongst their staff over the past couple weeks as to whether or not this might happen again for a third year.
I am inviting you to join me! How amazing would it be for Barrow to receive over 11,000 this year? Enough for every single person, adult and child, to receive their very own hand-written card or letter with a word of encouragement to brighten their day? Be part of #brighteningbarrow this year! Between now (mid-November) and mid-January, I challenge you to take a few moments to write a heart-felt letter or card (…or two, or three, or a bunch) and mail it off to the following address:
North Slope Borough
Dept: Health & Social Services
Attn: RUBY DONOVAN
P.O. Box 69
Barrow, AK 99723
(Be sure to write #brighteningbarrow on the flap of the envelope)
What should you write? Anything that would be encouraging to the person receiving it! Tell about yourself, where you live, what your family is like. Include encouraging bible verses, quotes, or even a simple ‘thinking of you’ message.
Who should write? Anyone! The Department of Health and Social Services has told me that people have especially loved hand-made cards sent from kids. Teachers, do this as a project with your classroom! Parents, do this as a ways to serve together as a family. Workplaces, bring your co-workers together to fill out cards. Churches, let your congregation know of this practical opportunity to share the light and hope of Jesus through a simple card or letter. Families, how about doing this before or after the annual Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with family?
The possibilities are endless!