Galena flood update

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Galena, Alaska, May 26 – 30, 2013

The Setting: A mixed community of 500 Koyukon Athabaskans and non-natives, located on the Yukon River in the Alaskan Interior, accessible only by air or via the river.

The Incident: Similar to the situation above but on a much, much larger scale; the ice jammed and the vast Yukon River was impounded into a temporary lake 40 miles long. Over the course of several days the town was progressively inundated, first the “old town,” then parts of the new town site until everything located outside of the protective dike surrounding the old military base was flooded. Electricity, phone and water service were cut and roads became impassable as water surged into previously unaffected areas; in some locations rising 5-6 feet in less than an hour. Hundreds of residents were stranded before evacuation to other communities.  Some homes were pushed off foundations by the current and others simply floated away. Vehicles were submerged and boats became the method of travel over what an hour before had been gravel roads. The only remaining dry land in Galena was inside the dike, creating an “island” actually below the water level. The flood threatened to breach the dike as it crested a mere 6 inches below the top. On the evening of the 28th a military C-130 departed with the last of the evacuees and sled dogs, leaving behind dozens of hardy residents living in boats. Every building outside the dike was impacted by water. Late in the afternoon of May 29th the ice jam began to weaken and lose its grip. By 9pm the jam released and moved downstream, allowing the extensive flood waters to drain back into the river system. At 10am Thursday, May 30th, the National Weather Service lifted the flood warning for Galena.

The Aftermath: Galena is now a disaster area. Roads were washed out or left impassable due to ice, debris, or even buildings dropped behind by the retreating water. Phone, fuel, water and sewer services are not operational. Electrical service has now been restored. Drinking water is scarce, as is food and gasoline. The community is crippled and faces a long, expensive task to rebuild and recover. Most supplies of firewood are lost, as are the freezers needed to store seasonal foods such as summer fish and fall moose meat.

How this affects the ministry of SEND North: Two of our three missionary families serving in Galena are now without housing; the third cannot bring his family home for a month or more. The Galena Bible Church is damaged and in need of major repair, as is the home of the local pastor. Hundreds of Galena evacuees will not be able to return until their homes can be repaired/rebuilt, presenting a multi-dimensional challenge; not only are funds needed (the total damages must be in the tens of millions of dollars) but the short season and remote location make building and obtaining supplies very difficult. Schools may not be open in the fall.

How you can learn more: Google “Galena, Alaska flood” or something similar, check out the facebook page, “Yukon River Rescue,” access the SEND North website ( and you can follow the staff links to the Fox’s, Kaufield’s or Hornfischer’s pages.


Ross River flood

Ross River, Yukon Territory; May 15 & May 30 – June 3, 2013

The Setting: A small community of 400, predominantly First Nations residents, located at the confluence of the Pelly and Ross Rivers (tributaries to the Yukon).

The Incident: Warmer temperatures and surging spring run-off broke up the ice covering the river and carried it downstream. On the afternoon of May 15th the ice flowing on the Pelly River jammed near the town and flooded low lying roads and homes, causing local residents to run for higher ground. Three hours later the jam released and the flood subsided. On May 30th the swollen river breached the dike again, causing a second flood lasting several days.

The Aftermath: Several homes were damaged and two destroyed. The “three hour event” of May 15th created a long term problem for members of the community. The second flood hindered efforts to recover from the first.

How this affects the ministry of SEND North: SEND church planters, Tim and Gwendy Colwell lost many of their possessions and have sought temporary shelter in the local community center. They are looking for a more long-term solution for housing. Their home, a owned by SEND North, is a total loss.

How you can learn more: Access the SEND North website ( and you can follow the staff link to the Colwell’s page, and you can view footage of the Colwells during the second flood  here; 

Flood in Galena


Galena, Alaska, is experiencing the worst flooding in memory. An ice jam on the Yukon River about a dozen miles downstream has backed up the spring runoff, inundating the town of 500. First the “Old Town” on the river bank was flooded, then the new town a couple of miles away went under. Now the only area of Galena still dry is the old Air Force base located inside a protective dike. The town’s airport is also in this area.
All day Tuesday the water has been holding literally inches below the top of the dike. If the water raises a bit more it will begin spilling over and quickly erode the earthen wall, flooding what little is left operational in the town (though water and electricity have been shut off and nearly all residents evacuated).
SEND North has three missionary families living in Galena; all are currently out of the village but their houses are certainly flooded, as are the great majority of homes, the Galena Bible Church and most other buildings.
Please be in prayer for this Yukon River disaster-struck community. Pray the jam breaks before the dike is breached. Pray the believers will be able to glorify God as they work through the current emergency and the great loss and clean-up task that will follow. This hardship is a great opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the reality of faith in a very tangible way that can impact Galena residents and others in nearby villages. And pray for the downriver villages of Koyukuk and Nulato as they face the surge of floodwaters when the ice jam breaks and releases the flow.
If you want to learn more, Google “Galena” and you’ll find an abundance of information.
Thank you for praying.

An interesting perspective

Another missionary sent me this link. The author/blogger has some great perspective on missions from a missionary point of view. Worth the read.

a simple prayer request

“For he bore the sin of many,

And made intercession for the transgressors.”

The prophet Isaiah, moved by the Spirit of God, foretold what would occur many centuries later. A man “…of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” would come. A man lacking “…beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” A man “…oppressed and afflicted,” was on his way. A man like no other, Messiah was coming.

Today we look back at the man Isaiah foretold and we see Christ, God incarnate, the Son of Man, the Savior. On Friday we’ll think of what Jesus of Nazareth did for us when He gave his life upon the cross. On Sunday we’ll celebrate His resurrection from the dead. Then, on Monday, we’ll be pressed again by the stuff of life and carry on with jobs, families, dreams and headaches, and we’ll be tempted to go about it much as we did before; before Sunday, before Friday, possibly even before Isaiah’s prophecy.

But I want more! I want to know Him. I want to know the power of His resurrection. I even want to know…(and I say this a bit fearfully)…I want to know the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. Even without fully understanding what that means exactly, I want to know it. I want to press in. I want to know Him more. And I never want to be satisfied with anything less.

Pray this will happen.

Suicide in a small town…

I wanted to write a blog post about suicide in a small northern community. My desire was to cover how a tragic, unexpected and essentially needless death can tear a close-knit community’s guts out. I was going to narrate one of my personal experiences as a way to move you, the reader, to pray. I hoped, in some way, to use the written word to transport you into a remote village, so you could feel the pain, the despair, the heart piercing grief of a suicide…

…but I can’t.

Every time I try to write something, it doesn’t work. My mind is filled with memories, too many memories, sharp, painful memories, and it hurts. Even now I blink furiously and wipe my eyes as the tears flood and spill over.

How do I write about the first, a young man lying on the plywood floor of a simple one-room cabin. The rope had been cut but the noose remained around his neck. A bunk bed stood boldly next to him with the other half of the rope hanging from the corner post, a nauseating testimony to what it had done. I know it was just furniture and rope, but it felt…weird somehow; the bed appeared grossly callous and without remorse. The man looked strangely peaceful, as if sleeping. This was my initiation into village suicide, and this one didn’t really hurt since I had lived there only a few months and had never met the now-dead  man. Well, it didn’t hurt me; it was bitterly painful for everyone else in that small town.

And how do I write about the others that came and went over the years, too many to count, mostly young men, some older, a few were women, one, no, two were grandmothers. Some were friends; some not. Some were the result of numerous attempts, finally completed; some just hit you right out of the blue with no warning whatsoever. Some were…clean, and some were messy. One was very messy. I won’t go into detail, but I will say there are ways of taking one’s life that multiplies the misery for those who find the body and must clean up the aftermath; searing mental images that never leave.

Regardless of the method, suicide in a small town is devastating for everyone. The immediate family obviously suffers most but there is a ripple effect that surges through every resident and continues on into the neighboring communities of the region, and beyond. I have lived away from the village for a year and a half now and I feel the pain of…1, 2, 3…4? Atleast 4 suicides that have occurred in and and around “my village” in the past 6 weeks. Two shootings, a hanging and the fourth…I’m not sure how he did it. Quite frankly, sometimes you want to know, sometimes you don’t.

Well, that’s my post. A few minutes of reading can not give you any idea of what I’m really wanting to say, but that’s how it goes. If this has motivated you pray, the time has been well spent.

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“It’s about who you know.”


Life in a small, isolated community is relational.

First, it’s relational in the literal sense; most villagers are related by family connections. A typical village is populated by the members of a few, several or perhaps a dozen prominent families, the last names of which are found in the phone book. These families are further inter-connected as cousins, uncles and aunts, etc. If a genealogist were to look back very far it would become apparent nearly everyone in a remote community is related, one way or another.

Beyond the family tree connections, rural villagers are relational due to their circumstance. Life in a remote setting forces residents to know each other, help each other, even rely upon each other. Two locals may meet at the Post Office and discuss current fishing conditions. A man could need help moving logs when building a new cabin. A woman’s husband may have passed away and the entire community “pitches in” to share her grief and help with the burial. This community spirit is standard in any northern village.

Then there is the cultural dynamic. Indigenous northern cultures are very relational, especially when compared to non-native counterparts. Native people care more about people than they do concepts, principles or abstract ideas. Who you are is vastly more important than what you say or believe. And this has big ministry ramifications.

An “outsider” coming to a village to impact local residents with the Gospel must spend time building these all-important relationships. Without them, he or she will be viewed unfavorably when attempting to preach, teach or share on a personal level; the missionary is answering questions which haven’t been asked, and the answers are coming from an untrusted source. Relationship is everything for village ministry; any activity that builds relationship has ministry value.

Take ice cream, for example. Eleven year-old Josiah has become an entrepreneur. With his parent’s help, he makes the village equivalent of “Ben & Jerry’s.” Ingredients are flown in from the nearest Safeway store and combined in flavor batches of 1 gallon each.

Josiah’s product, known as “Sitkalidak Sweets,” is becoming hugely successful. A recent day of production yielded 14 batches of pint-sized varieties, “White chocolate raspberry,” “Coffee-toffee crunch” and “Cookies and cream” among them. He reportedly has over 100 pints in the freezer, and his father feels it’s time for Josiah to purchase his own freezer. Not bad for an 11 year-old village kid.

The real benefit of this confectionary venture, ministry-wise, is the relational impact. As villagers come by the house to get their daily treat, Josiah (and his family) are in contact with people, building relationships from which further ministry can happen, and “Sikalidak Sweets” draws an entirely different group of villagers than those who might come for a Bible study.

So whether it’s ice cream, lattés or whatever, ministry is the goal.  Relationship makes ministry possible.