A small group of people connected with the Church of the Brethren are at work at McMurdo Station in Antarctica: Pete and Erika Anna, who are affiliated with Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill.; former Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker Emily Wampler; and Sean Dell who grew up in the Church of the Brethren in McPherson, Kan.
Wampler left in late September for the station, which is the main base of the US in the Antarctic, administered by the US Antarctic Program with the National Science Foundation in charge, she said. The US adheres to the International Antarctic Treaty and all uses of the station are for peaceful scientific purposes, Wampler added. The station is on the Ross Ice Shelf hundreds of miles from the south pole. The closest country is New Zealand.
But with three others with Brethren connections among the only 1,200 or so people there for the southern summer, Wampler will still feel at home. “We’re going to start First Antarctica Church of the Brethren!” she joked.
Pete Anna is the fire prevention officer for the Antarctic Fire Department, and Erika Anna works with the department in communications. Wampler is working in the galley, or kitchen, as a dining attendant. Dell is working in construction.
Wampler decided to apply for a position at McMurdo after a BVS friend worked there last year and displayed her Antarctica pictures. “She had such a unique experience,” Wampler said. “I thought I’d give it a try.”
The application process was lengthy, and included a rigorous medical exam and physical, a psychological exam, and a stress test if necessary, “because they have to fly you off the ice” in the event of serious illness, Wampler said. As well as being expensive, such flights may pose great risk to station personnel.
“I’m really looking forward to exploring the history of the continent. Right around McMurdo Station everything is miraculously preserved,” Wampler said, giving examples of tents and shelters used by early Antarctic explorers like Scott that are preserved by the cold temperatures and dry climate.
Around McMurdo in the middle of the southern summer, temperatures may average in the 30s and 40s with wind chill creating colder temperatures, Wampler said. But earlier and later in the year the weather is much colder. In mid-summer there is 24 hours of daylight, Wampler said: “The sun makes little circles around the sky.”
Wampler will return home in February after spending five months in the Antarctic. Only a couple hundred people–including the Annas–will stay over the southern winter, when the station may be completely isolated.
She also anticipates saving some money, after a few years of fulltime volunteering. “They give you a paycheck, and there’s no place to spend it,” she said. After McMurdo, Wampler hopes to go back to volunteering again next year at a therapy horse ranch in Oregon.