How can spiritual practice (whether or not it is formally religious) help me to help others better?
How can I “hang in there” in service, when the going gets tough?
How can I grow in faith through service?
How can I go deeper in helping relationships?

In this guide to soulful service, Jim Burklo draws from his deep well of experience working with homeless people, leading service-learning programs for university students, and pastoring churches. With touching stories, poetry, and parables, HITCHHIKING TO ALASKA illustrates universal principles about the spirituality of helping relationships. It shatters facile assumptions about what it means to serve. It inspires people of all religions, or of no faith affiliation, to aim higher in their works of service. HITCHHIKING TO ALASKA is recommended reading for anyone in any kind of helping relationship. It is particularly useful for service-learning professionals and students in secondary and higher education, and for leaders and volunteers in religious congregations and faith-based service organizations.

“Jim Burklo’s HITCHHIKING TO ALASKA: The Way of Soulful Service is a must-read for those interested in exploring the intersection between service, learning and meaning-making. Through stories and thoughtful prose, Burklo offers a loving critique of our common preconceived notions about service and artfully presents a framework for engaging in ethical and meaningful action. I know of no other person who could better blend deep intellectual explorations with rich spiritual questions through such powerful story telling. Pick-up the book and begin hitchhiking to a more profound way of seeing service.” Kent Koth, Director, Center for Service and Community Engagement, Seattle University, and Director, Seattle University Youth Initiative

” Written with raw heart energy fueled by years of disciplined reflection and practice. Whether you are Christian or not, read this book when you are close to burn-out and ready to quit your job in the good works department.” Dr. Ulrike Wiethaus, Professor of Religion and American Ethnic Studies, Wake Forest University

“In this powerful and provocative book, Jim Burklo brings to life the faces of those whom we so easily marginalize, and in the process redefines the spiritual life.” Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, author of Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World

What Is Service?
(the chapter headings of HITCHHIKING TO ALASKA)

Service is honoring the dignity of the other.
Service is seeing those who are unseen.
Service is listening.
Service is asking questions, helping each other refine our stories until they ring true.
Service is taking, as well as giving, gracefully.
Service is letting go of attachments.
Service is social change, not just personal charity.
Service is persistence and faithfulness and patience.
Service is grace that redefines and regenerates justice.
Service is healing, not just curing.
Service is empowering people and nurturing community, building social capital.
Service is living in paradox: entering impossible situations and staying awake to unintended consequences.
Service is being with, not just doing for, others.



“Having a higher goal than our immediate intentions serves us in building a better world. Knowing we are hitchhiking to Alaska gets us to Seattle quicker, and with a better attitude. It delivers us to the holy compassion at the heart of service.”

“Dignity or bread:
don’t make me choose!
Too often the bread of charity
is baked in the shape of chains.
But the aroma of justice
makes the heart hungry
and unlocks the fetters of the soul.”

“I have discovered that the skills required for me to be aware of the states of my own mind and body are also essential in listening and responding sensitively to other people. I may not be a success in fixing all the problems of the people I aim to serve, any more than I can solve all my own. But in the process of trying, I can have loving, caring, soul-satisfying relationships. To attend to others lovingly, to accept them as they are, to be present with them fully – this enables me to be more useful to them. It leads me out of selfishness and into the heart of the divine.”

“No matter how good our government policies might be, no matter how strong a “social safety net” we weave – and in America we’ve got a lot of weaving yet to do – there will be times when love must trump the rules. Being of service leads us to take graceful action above and beyond the written and unwritten rules by which our society functions. And we trust that our acts of grace will lead by example, pressing for change in the system.”

Jim Burklo is the Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

Review & Commentary

  • Craig Wiesner

    Our Book Review from the ReachAndTeach.com Web Site:

    Through Rev. Jim Burklo, the Reach And Teach team (Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi) learned a lot about soulful service long before there even was a Reach And Teach. Jim was one of the founders of Urban Ministry, an organization working to have an impact on homelessness, poverty, and hunger. We volunteered to lead a homeless meal in our church kitchen, meaning that we would plan the menus, cook the food, serve, and clean up. We’ve been doing that for over a decade now, typically feeding between 50 and 100 people. One of our key goals was to make sure that those who served with us had a meaningful experience, including getting to spend time with and know the neighbors who joined us to eat. Jim understood the key to service being part of something much bigger and he infused that knowledge in the programs he helped to create. Jim moved on from Urban Ministry a long time ago, but he’s continued to influence our lives through his weekly blog postings, his “Musings,” and through his books.

    When he wrote to folks like us, asking if we would contribute something to this upcoming book, I was honored to do so and am truly honored that of the many contributions people made, mine actually found its way into the book. I cried when I read it because it reminded me of how much I’ve lost in the last decade, and how much I’ve gained.

    Today I would say our lives are mostly about service, and we need tools and practices to help make sure that we are feeding our spiritual, emotional, and physical needs as integral keys to living lives of service. This book helps us along that path.

    This is a wonderful book, filled with Jim’s usual blend of amazing stories, wondrously told, woven together with bits of progressive spiritual questions to ponder, poetry, humor, tragedy, and hope. Mixing in other people’s reflections of soulful service adds some delicious spice to the soup, reminding me again of what one of the earliest Urban Ministry employees in charge of running those special meals we cooked would always say whenever we discovered some random ingredient with which we had no idea what to do for that evening’s dinner. “Throw it in the soup!” he would shout, and more often than not, we did. And more often than not, the soup turned out to be great.

    Enjoy this book like a good bowl of soup!