What does religion mean to you? Does it mean going to church every Sunday? Does it mean praying before you go to sleep?
For one Turlock family, it meant moving to Alaska, the Last Frontier. Along the way, it was not always a fun and exciting trip, but the Sexton family did it anyway.
The Sextons are parents Bud and Kathy and daughters Brittany, 15, Katelyn, 12, and Melanie, 9. Along with them are Kia the dog and Flopsy the rabbit.
The family is Pentecostal and attended Assemblies of God in Hughson. For the Sextons, the prospect of moving was no wild card.
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"We first began thinking about Alaska in September 2008 — and made the decision to move in July 2009 after a two-week visit to Alaska," Bud Sexton said. "Why move 3,400 miles away? It's really a pretty simple answer, God called our family to serve in Alaska. We want to be willing and obedient to whatever God has for us, so after A LOT of prayer and seeking God, by faith we put our home up for sale, resigned from our jobs and made the move."
However, moving with a purpose does not make leaving loved ones behind any easier.
"Leaving family and friends is easily the hardest part of moving. We are 3,400 miles away, and because of the expense of traveling, we don't anticipate being able to see family more than once per year," Bud said. "On both sides of the family, just about everyone lives within a 10-mile radius of Turlock, so this move is a big change for us. Brittany and Katelyn have had the same friends since they started school, so they are having a hard time finding new best friends."
Despite the difficulties, on Nov. 21, the Sextons buckled up and prepared for what might have been the longest car ride of their lives.
While the rest of the family drove in another vehicle, Brittany, Katelyn and Melanie toiled together in their increasingly small suburban minivan. With friend Randy Lockwood driving, they had to endure seven days and 12 hours in a car eating McDonald's and Starbucks along the way.
Finally, at midnight on Nov. 28, the gang arrived at its current residence in Nikiski, Alaska — the basement of their church.
"Our first impressions were 'Yay! We're here!' and 'Oh my gosh, I really miss my family.' " Brittany said.
They family also had to get used to the idea that this really is its new home.
"For me, this still doesn't feel like my home, but I think it does for the rest of my family," Brittany said.
Although the Sextons would be acclimating to the cold and new community for a while, they always possessed motivation.
"We have realized that even though we may not know all of the answers (or even some of the answers sometimes) that God does know, and as we continue to put our trust in him, our paths are made known," Bud said.
The entire family has helped out in the new church: Brittany, Kathy and Katelyn have joined the worship team, while Bud has begun to lead services and preach.
"I will be starting to help out with the kids church once a month," Brittany said.
"Our whole family helps by cleaning the church each week, and we also helped stack firewood for a family in 10-degree weather," Bud added.
Not long after the Sextons arrived, the church's pastor went into the hospital with a heart condition.
With Bud leading, the family quickly shouldered responsibilities in its new congregation. "We were able to step right in and take care of the Sunday services so he could get the rest that he needed," Bud recounted. "It is really great to know that God's timing is perfect."
Yes, it is great to know that a family has enough faith to leave everything behind and move 3,400 miles in order to become part of something that has reshaped not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.
And would they do it all over again? Absolutely, they said.
Keaton Crowder is a freshman Hughson High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.