Young Life Lite

Mike Williams Jr., like many guys his age, runs with a pack of friends. He spends hours every day with them, building relationships based on trust and teamwork, and calling them by names like Flash, Medicine Man, Rogue, Emo, Hope and Oreo.

But unlike other guys, Williams’ pack of 40 friends is of the four-footed, Alaskan husky variety, and Williams is a Yupik Eskimo and rookie musher in the 2010 Iditarod. The Iditarod, called the “Last Great Race on Earth,” is a 1,110-mile dog sled race between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska, with 24 checkpoints in between, along the historic Iditarod Trail. This year, 71 mushers with as many as 1,136 dogs will start the race, running and resting teams of up to 16 dogs over a period of nine to 19 days in sub-zero temperatures using memory, markers and the extraordinary directional sense of their teams to navigate the trail.

For Williams, running dogs is a way of life. His dad, Mike Williams Sr., has mushed all his life and this year Mike Jr. will run for team Williams in Mike Sr.’s place. Raised in the remote village of Akiak, Mike met Young Life leader, Dave Pavish, nine years ago at a boarding school in Galena where Pavish was a resident advisor.

“I had so much fun in Young Life. Dave and the leaders, they’re awesome. I remember them dearly. I’ll never forget them. And Dave is still a good friend,” recalled Williams.

Pavish considers Williams, his friendship and faith, a great encouragement. “For a lot of different reasons, in our ministry, it’s hard to track the number of kids who come to Christ. And Mike is evidence to me that we can plant seeds trusting God with the outcome.”

Pavish continued his friendship with Williams after they parted in 2003. In 2008 Pavish received an e-mail that told him how Mike was working out the salvation that Jesus had worked within.

Williams shared that even though he knew the truth, “his heart was in the wrong place.” He recommitted his life to Christ and told Pavish that he could feel a weight and darkness lift. Williams wrote: “I remember talking to you in Galena, about how the trials in life will be tough … but the Lord is good and powerful beyond measure … Still, storms are to come, and so will troubled times, but God’s power is awesome to the spirit. Thanks, Dave — God works through you probably more than you think.”

Williams has hours to consider God’s power and leading every day. The trails he and his dogs run are reminders of God’s presence, not only at life’s checkpoints, but every mile along the way.

Still, Williams acknowledges his responsibility to listen for God’s voice as he goes, just as his dogs, and his team leaders in particular, listen to him. Williams explained, “I must trust my God as my lead dogs should trust me. I trust that they will obey me, make good decisions and stay on course when I call a command.” That’s vitally important because dog teams are not forced into obedience. Although they are linked by a gangline to pull the sled over the course, the musher uses no reins to control them. What keeps them running a good race is their response in trust and love to the familiar voice of their master.

Editor’s note: On March 17, 2010, Mike Williams finished his first Iditarod in 26th place out of a field of 71. He was the second rookie finisher and he completed the race with a time of 10 days, six hours, 44 minutes and 36 seconds. Congratulations, Mike!