An appeal from Cold Bay: 'Please don't abandon us!'

by Randy Covington, posted Wednesday, July 03, 2019 (5 months ago)

Randy Covington is executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention.

COLD BAY, Alaska (BP) -- Cold Bay! Sounds ominous! When the pastor of the Community Chapel called to let me know that he was moving, I knew I needed to visit and assist with his departure plans and make arrangements to winterize the church parsonage.

Although I had grown up in Alaska, I had never been to Cold Bay and didn't know where it was.

My first glance at online maps revealed that it was near the end of the Alaska Peninsula where the Aleutian chain of islands begins its westward extension 1,200 miles toward Russia. This linear archipelago separates the Pacific Ocean from the Bering Sea and, with 57 volcanoes, makes up the northernmost stretch of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

A Quonset hut on a former Army base in Cold Bay, Alaska, was the first home of Cold Bay Community Chapel in the early 1970s.
Submitted photo
Further investigation revealed that this church has been in existence since 1971.

A former Army Field and Air Base during World War II, this community was unlike most of the other villages along the Aleutian Islands. There were very few native residents. Cold Bay had a predominantly white population. One of the Quonset huts, which once housed soldiers, was converted into a community chapel. Eventually, the meeting place became unsafe and the congregation began meeting in the community library. Through the years Cold Bay's population had diminished from 256 in the 1970s to less than 50 in 2018.

A plethora of questions began coming to mind such as, Do we need to recruit a pastor for such a small group? Should we close the church and reallocate the assets to another ministry site? Who would be willing to come to such a remote place to pastor a small congregation with only a parsonage and no salary? Hopefully, I thought, a visit would help me answer some of these questions.

While my plane ticket cost more than a roundtrip ticket to Orlando, I was warned to prepare to stay longer than planned because of possible weather conditions. Cold Bay is known as the cloudiest town in the United States with an average of 304 days of heavy overcast. It's not unusual to get stranded in bush Alaska waiting for the weather to clear so planes can fly.

Upon my arrival in Cold Bay, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the region. I was fortunate to arrive on one of the rare sunny days and could see many of the snow-capped volcanoes on distant islands.

Cold Bay, Alaska, is near the end of the Alaska Peninsula where the Aleutian chain of islands begins its westward extension 1,200 miles toward Russia.
Submitted photo
The pastor who met me at the airport was also the flight agent and baggage handler for the small regional airline. Once his duties were completed, he took me to the house where I would be staying. We finalized plans for my stay and I left the pastor and his family to continue their stress-filled array of tasks to move their household goods to the mainland.

With the loan of a Jeep, I began to explore Cold Bay. It seemed rather deserted. Most of the people I saw walking around town had arrived with me on the plane that day. I stopped and spoke with some locals to learn more about their community and the church. Nobody seemed put off by my questions and were genuinely interested in what would become of the community chapel.

Sunday services were poorly attended as the pastor mentioned that several of the regulars were out of town on vacation. We sang a few songs, and I preached a message of encouragement, but I continued to wonder if it was worth making an effort to search for a pastor to come to this isolated little town.

The next morning was rainy, but I made the short trip to a local salmon stream where silver salmon were waiting to be caught. Eventually, the sun came out and I realized that I would be leaving on my scheduled flight that afternoon.

IMB photo
Coming home, my mind kept going back to Cold Bay. Logic told me that we needed to close the little chapel there, but even the few remaining residents in this declining town deserve the chance to hear the Gospel.

Less than a month later, two of the residents from Cold Bay's town council were in Anchorage for a meeting. They called and asked if we could meet at a local coffee shop. I agreed. Not sure what to expect from them, I was stunned when they said, "We need a church in Cold Bay. Please don't close this church. Please don't abandon us!"

It is rare to find a community anywhere that stands with arms open wide, crying out like the Macedonian, "Come over and help us!" Can we do anything less than vigorously pursue the lostness in our state, in our world, regardless of where they live or how insignificant their number is? Doesn't every lost person deserve the right to hear the invitation of the loving Father?

O Lord, may we never consider a person insignificant because of the size of their town or the hardness of their heart. Forgive us for abandoning those whom You love.

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