On a mission

On a mission

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Saturday, June 21, 2014 10:57pm
  • News

On a gray, raining morning in Kenai, about 40 people, eight dogs and a handful of four-wheelers parked on Dunes Road in Kenai and headed out into the soft sand of the south beach of the Kenai River.

They walked in small groups, huddling together for warmth and dodging the steady, incessant rain under umbrellas, working to raise money for Arctic Barnabas Ministries during the organization’s third annual beach walk.

Beka Dillingham, 6, walked close to the water, occasionally dodging waves from the Cook Inlet and pausing regularly to pull a feather, shell or rock from the sand.

“I found a purple one,” she shouted as she ran to Abby Peters, 13, who put the find in a plastic bag and goaded Dillingham into walking at a steadier pace.

The two eventually climbed onto a four-wheeler with four other kids, and rode up and down the beach for the remainder of the three-mile walk.

It’s a fund raiser that attracts support from the local community and from people Outside who donate resources to support evangelical ministry in Alaska.

The Kenai-based Arctic Barnabas Ministries is a nonprofit organization that supports evangelical families throughout remote areas of the state through contributing physical labor and work teams, providing equipment, organizing retreats giving moral support, and ministering to missionaries and their families.

Johnathan Peters, Arctic Barnabas executive director, said the group is raising money to fund flying into Bush communities, which can get costly at about $200 per flight hour.

The shortest trips are to communities like Naknek, in Bristol Bay, but the group also flies as far as Kotzebue, a city at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula in the northwest corner of the state.

While many of the missionary families are supported through specific churches, Arctic Barnabas is a nondenominational organization that supports evangelical ministry throughout the state — regardless of its origin.

Peters said the group knows of about 125 families ministering in communities throughout the state — Arctic Barnabas supports 74 families in 85 villages.

“We fix broken pipes, install boilers, repair four-wheelers, process game, really anything they need,” Peters said. “We’ve done complete home remodels before — sending in a team to make a house safer, livable.”

While the five pilots, two planes and 20 families working for Arctic Barnabas provide physical labor and tangible items to the missionary families scattered throughout the state, Peters said the group’s primary means of support is to lessen the isolation that can be felt by people living in Bush communities.

Last year, the organization flew 74 trips into the Bush, Peters said.

They solicit donations for everything from weatherproofing of pastors’ homes, to spare parts for their airplanes, to snowblowers, scholarships and postage stamps — anything to provide logistical support for evangelical ministry in the state.

“We believe what they’re doing is so critical that we want to come up alongside them and help,” he said.

 

In the remote Inupiaq village of White Mountain, Ross and Ruth McElwee said they feel the benefits of the Arctic Barnabas mission spiritually and on a more tangible level.

Ross McElwee is the pastor of the White Mountain Covenant Church — the only church in the village of about 200 located about 75 miles from Nome. It is the last mandatory stop on the Iditarod Trail.

When the McElwees moved to White Mountain from rural East Texas, they lived in a parsonage that needed extensive work.

“The one side of the house had sunk more than 8 inches so you could roll a marble and it wouldn’t stop,” Ross McElwee said. “There were issues of air infiltration and condensation problems. The parsonage was built in the 1970s and it had never been updated.”

Between 2008 and 2009, five construction teams flew to the village with Arctic Barnabas, leveled the home and did refurbishing work throughout the house, including completely remodeling the bathroom and kitchen.

“When the first summer came and we’d been here less than four months, we had 75 people moving in and out doing repairs alone,” Ruth McElwee said. “It was so much more than I would ever have dreamed and we didn’t have to pay for any of it.”

At other times, members flying with the organization bring bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, a rare treat in the village.

“One year they showed up with a watermelon,” Ross McElwee said. “Watermelon is sold by the pound in Nome and it’s around 4 to 5 dollars a pound. So a small sugar baby watermelon might be 25 to 30 dollars and you still have to pay to get it into the village.”

The work done on the parsonage affects the whole village.

“Every person in this community regards the church as being their church, whether or not they come regularly. There are people who don’t attend church regularly but sometimes they’ve had problems or difficulty in their lives and we’re a listening ear for them,” he said.

At other times, support from Arctic Barnabas has come in more intangible forms.

“We have four children,” Ross McElwee said. “When my son Isaac turned 13, some of the people flew up here from Arctic Barnabas and … he has been interested in aviation since he was 3 or 4 years old. In school, he was a little behind in math and one of the pilots commented, ‘You know, if you’re going to be looking at flying as a career, math is something that’s very important.’ He went from being behind in math to doing trigonometry in the 11th grade.”

For Ruth McElwee, living in a remote village comes with its own unique set of challenges and the Arctic Barnabas organization hosts a yearly retreat specifically for the women leading evangelical lives in Alaska.

“It’s teaching, it’s fellowship, it’s ministry one-to-one and it’s being treated like royalty for lack of a better word,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for me to have a safe place where I can open up and share the personal struggles that I am going through.”

The smallest visit, phone call, email or gift can be profound in its impact, the McElwees said and that support has been invaluable in helping the family adjust to life in the Bush.

“It’s nice to know that there is someone there who cares about you, not just with their words, but that they care by their actions and coming and along and supporting what you’re doing,” he said. “Everything that they have done, we have always felt like it’s because they care. They’re not trying to get something from us, it’s just a support that they do and it’s a support to us.”

 

After the beach walk, about 30 people headed back to the Arctic Barnabas headquarters at 135 North Willow in Kenai where the group’s airplane hangar had been stacked with tables and chairs for a barbecue.

The group crowded into the hangar and dug into a spread of food, many changing from damp clothing into red beach walk 2014 T-shirts.

After all of the donations were counted, Peters said walkers raised $13,060 from about 22 Alaska organizations and individual donors.

Scott Lazaros grabbed a steaming mug of coffee before sitting down to talk about his two years of work with the Arctic Barnabas minister.

Lazaros, his wife and their four sons moved to Alaska from Michigan to start Alaska Mission Connection within the Arctic Barnabas program. His focus is to connect people within different ministries in the state and help Alaskan ministries support one another instead of relying on support from Outside.

“We try to connect churches all over Alaska with the body of Christ, rather than having all Lower 48 teams come up to Alaska,” he said.

Lazaros, an airplane mechanic, said he knew he wanted to be involved in aviation-based missionary work from a young age.

He said he considered airplanes an invaluable tool in missionary work in areas like Alaska, Africa and Asia. Lazaros said he had worked in remote areas where, like Alaska, flying meant being able to reach exponentially more people.

“In the Phillipines, what would be a four-day hike into a village is a 20-minute flight,” he said.

By helping to keep the Arctic Barnabas airplanes in the air, Lazaros said, people within the organization were working to spread hope throughout isolated communities in the state — especially in situations where life can be a hard adjustment for remote ministering families.

“Whatever we can do to encourage longevity in a pastor,” he said.

 

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Several people piled onto a four-wheeler and passed off a family dog to Becky and Jonathan Peters during a beachwalk to raise funds for Arctic Barnabas Ministries Saturday June 21, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Jonathan Peters, executive director of Arctic Barnabas said the group raised more than $13,000 for their aviation-based ministry.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Several people piled onto a four-wheeler and passed off a family dog to Becky and Jonathan Peters during a beachwalk to raise funds for Arctic Barnabas Ministries Saturday June 21, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Jonathan Peters, executive director of Arctic Barnabas said the group raised more than $13,000 for their aviation-based ministry.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Beka Dillingham, 6, walks along the shoreline of the Cook Inlet during a beachwalk to raise funds for Arctic Barnabas Ministries Saturday June 21, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Beka Dillingham, 6, walks along the shoreline of the Cook Inlet during a beachwalk to raise funds for Arctic Barnabas Ministries Saturday June 21, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

More in News

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, spoke to reporters Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, immediately following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address. Members of the Senate Republican leadership said they appreciated the governor’s optimism, and hoped it signaled a better relationship between the administration and the Legislature. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Lawmakers welcome tone change in governor’s address

With caveats on financials, legislators optimistic about working together

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID deaths, hospitalizations climb statewide

The total number of statewide COVID deaths is nearly equivalent to the population of Funny River.

A fisher holds a reel on the Kenai River near Soldotna on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Restrictions on sport fishing announced

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced summer sport fishing regulations Wednesday

Community agencies administer social services to those in need during the Project Homeless Connect event Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘It’s nice to be able to help folks’

Project Homeless Connect offers services, supplies to those experiencing housing instability

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

Most Read