Task Force Alaska: Students, Faculty Witness Revival
Situated nearly 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, with a river on one side and rugged, mountainous terrain on the other, sits Noatak, Alaska. It’s a region so remote that no roads lead into the village —it can only be accessed by bush flight or boat.
The population of 500 is primarily made up of Inupiaq people, a Native American tribe, who rely on subsistence hunting. And though, in May, the ground is frozen in permafrost, the hearts of the people are warm, honest and open.
It is to this village that two Bethel professors and 16 students traveled for a combined May Term class/task force trip. They started with four days of classes on Bethel’s campus, and then flew to Alaska for two weeks of cultural immersion.
They had been praying for clean hearts and pure minds, and were prepared to conduct three revival services, run a vacation Bible school (VBS) week and facilitate a youth retreat. But what they experienced was a movement of the Holy Spirit so profound that it left both villagers and Bethel students changed.
Professor of History Dennis Engbrecht, Ph.D., who led the team alongside Assistant Professor of Mission Kent Eby, Ph.D., describes the Bethel group’s devotional time one night:
“We started devotions at 11 p.m. and finished at 3:30 a.m. All the masks were taken off. It was complete vulnerability. It was an intimate and safe setting.”
Carrie Miller ’17, who was attracted to the trip because of her interest in cultures and the opportunity to expand her world view, agrees. “I had a set expectation of what God would do, but I was surprised at how God led some of us to open up … sharing some things that some of our closest friends didn’t know.”
This knit the team together and set the stage for the revival that was to come for the village that, though founded by Missionaries and rooted in Christianity, deals with issues like poverty, suicide, drug abuse and promiscuity.
“Those are the challenges … problems you’d see in an urban setting, but a very different culture,” says Engbrecht, who has visited Noatak six times in the last 17 years.
On the second Sunday of the trip, Engbrecht shared a message from Numbers in the morning service and saw 75 people come forward, weeping and repenting.
“These were the adults, parents of the villagers,” Eby says, noting that in this culture, it’s unusual for men to cry.
During one evening of VBS, 21 older kids in the youth center made decisions for Christ.
“These were the leaders, basketball studs, popular kids, the ones everyone looks up to,” Engbrecht says. “I opened the commitment chair, and the guys couldn’t get to the chair fast enough. One young man — it took him nine tries to get to the chair.”
Engbrecht notes that this movement of the Holy Spirit was not just emotional catharsis, but something life changing and transforming that the Bethel students felt, too.
Miller says of the revival: “It was one of the most rewarding experiences to see how God was moving and [to] convey something to these people that God wanted us to.”
The Noatak people embraced the Bethel group. They shared their lives and stories, provided food and were thankful to have them there, impacting the lives of their children and youth. In turn, the Bethel students experienced what can happen when open hearts meet the Holy Spirit – nearly 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
View photos from the cultural immersion experience.
Learn more about Bethel’s task force trips and cross-cultural opportunities at BethelCollege.edu/MoveBeyond.