Making a difference: Local church raises funds for Alaska Christian College

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 8, 2019

By Ann Wayne
For the Salisbury Post

KANNAPOLIS — Why would 16 people who barely know each other board a plane and fly to Alaska?

If you talk to them, the answer would be they felt called to go on a mission to work and minister to native Alaskan students. Students at Alaska Christian College would not have the means to attend without donations, volunteers and mission teams who travel to the college each summer to work and give back, so these students have an opportunity to receive or continue an education.

Bill Coleman, associate pastor at He’s Alive Church in Kannapolis, led a group of 15 adults and one 15-year-old to Soldotna, Alaska, this summer to work on a new building for classrooms and to work on the grounds. And Coleman has led 25 of the 30 mission trips he has been on.

“He’s Alive Church has a goal of traveling to every location where we support missionaries,” he said. “ We are called to take the gospel to the world.”

He said reasons why the mission trips are needed, include:
• It’s an honor to serve other people in need.
• It builds community and relationships within the team.
• It brings about a singular focus on mission as you step away from a daily, hectic routine.
• It helps the team see how blessed they are and how thankful they should be for what they have.

Several team members said that Coleman can be firm, but he also has a great sense of humor. He even performed a tribal dance with the native students at the college.

Founded in 2001, Alaska Christian College serves Alaskan Natives and other Native American people. In the beginning, it was only a one-year college and not accredited. The dorm rooms bear names like “Denali” and “Northern Lights” and students have access to bicycles for riding to town. The New Hope Counseling Center on the far end of the campus offers counsel and hope to students who are struggling. The Center offers faith-based counseling to the community as well.

The first graduating class gave diplomas to 18 students.
The mission is “to empower Alaskan Natives through biblically-based education and Christian formation to pursue excellence in character, learning and service as followers of Christ.”

Accredited in 2012, the two-year college now offers associate degrees in para-professional Education and Christian ministry, behavioral health, and feneral studies.

Many of the team members said they signed up because they had a construction background. Others said they committed because they knew God would use them wherever they were needed.

Mandy Martocchio was in the mission group and spent most of her week in the sewing room or college library. Martocchio said she was drawn to Alaska after hearing a missionary from the college speak at church one Sunday. She even ventured out of the sewing room one day and helped the framing crew.

Martocchio, Lori Hatley, Windy Starnes and myself worked with Ofa Finau, a lady from the South Pacific, who coordinated the teams in July for sewing the traditional Alaskan parkas called “kuspuks.”

They are made of 100% cotton and resemble a hoodie. Alaskans wear the kuspuks on special occasions or for native dances to honor and remember their heritage. They were traditionally worn over clothing to protect a person from the sun or from bugs while picking berries. The kuspuks are sold at a fall fundraiser for the college to help raise tuition for the native students.

Hatley also gave some time to the clearing crew and stacked firewood on a couple days.

She said, “The team was phenomenal, and everyone pitched in to do what needed to be done.”

Windy Starnes, who has no construction experience but an extensive photography background, became the team photographer. She walked around the campus, capturing candid photos. Starnes also assisted in the sewing room and worked in the technology room.

Several couples traveled together on this trip, including Glenn Keller and his wife Kelly.

Glenn said, “This type of construction mission trip is in my wheelhouse.”

The trip to Alaska was Glenn and Kelly Keller’s sixth mission trip — all of them in the U.S. Kelly said she feels that going on a mission trip is about revival and giving back some of what you have received. Glenn Keller used his construction skills to help build walls and drop ceilings. Kelly Keller worked on the landscaping crew pulling weeds and beautifying the grounds. President Keith Hamilton told the grounds crew that the campus had never looked better.

Ched and Kelly Hargett traveled with the team, too. It was Ched Hargett’s first mission trip, but Ched had previously served in Guatemala. Kelly Hargett was mostly pulling weeds while he husband helped cut down trees and split wood to clear a lot for a new storage building. The wood the team split and placed on pallets will sell for $1,680. All these proceeds will go towards tuition for students.

Belinda and Michael Threlkeld chose to work on the clearing crew too.

“This was exactly where God wanted us. We worked perfectly together,” Belinda Thelkeld said.

Two other guys on the trip were Erick Cardell and Jamie Collins. Cardell is an electrician by trade, so he ran wiring for a small kitchenette in the new dorm building and repaired lights throughout the campus. Collins was paired up with a 16-year-old from Illinois from another team on campus. They hung sheetrock most of the week.

Another pair that traveled with our team to Alaska was Tammy Stone and her 15-year-old son, Nick.

Glenn Keller and the other men presented a “Golden Hammer” to Nick Stone, the youngest member of the team. The men had signed it and had written the scripture reference 1st Timothy 4:12 on the handle, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

Dale Baker was another person on the trip. From his attempts to crochet on the three-hour van ride in Alaska from Anchorage to Soldotna to watching him put on hip waders to fish, he kept the team in stitches. He worked on the demo crew that knocked a wall down between buildings and helped install a ceiling.

Most evenings included an outing to somewhere close by.

One evening, the group was invited to the college president’s home for ice cream.
And President Hamilton shared stories of how the college received donations and grants to meet the needs of projects at the college. The team took a boat tour in Resurrection Bay to see marine wildlife and ate native Alaskan salmon on Fox Island.

Nightly group meetings were a time of devotion and sharing of “God Moments.”

Coleman said, “These trips are like a microwave for relationships. Bonds are built quickly. The team camaraderie was great. Most of the time the mission takes precedence over personality and preference.” He said that when people catch a heart for missions and serving, they usually do not leave it on the mission field.

The women on the Alaska Team held a sewing day on August 31st and made “kuspuks” to send to the college for the fall fundraiser. Some took fabric home to make even more “kuspuks.”

Their goal is to mail more than one dozen of them to the college by mid-October for the fundraiser. If you are interested in sewing a “kuspuk” or making a donation towards this project, email or call the He’s Alive Church office at 980-781-4920.

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