Jail Ministry Yields Baptism

Florie Jewel thought she was only coming to Alaska for one summer of adventure, but that was almost 11 years ago. She fell in love with bush Alaska—the warm-hearted people, the vast land and the unique simplicity of living on the edge of nowhere.

That place next to “nowhere” is Dillingham, Alaska, a village of about 2,000 people on the bank of the Nushagack River in Bristol Bay.

Seven years ago, Janet Sigh, the pastor’s wife, invited Jewel to go to jail, so she went for a visit. The local jail only holds eight people, and it was full.

Jewel is an accomplished musician so she played and sang with the inmates. Before long she was a regular facilitator of group Bible studies in the jail. She used the Native New Day study guides and led the inmates into a relationship with Jesus. At first, Jewel only went to jail once a week.

However, Jewel soon realized that many of the inmates were there only a short time, and she needed to go more often so that she could have more study time with them. Now she goes every night.

Alcohol-related crimes are the cause of 99 percent of crime in Dillingham. Thomas Coopchiak had been drinking heavily and ended up in the Dillingham jail. He attended a couple of the Bible studies.

When he was released from jail he returned to Togiak where he requested the Bible studies continue. Jim Bingman, an elder in the Dillingham Church who shepherds the Togiak group, took over and prepared him for baptism. On a beautiful clear day in March, Coopchiak was baptized.

The work in Togiak has resulted in a beautiful new church and parsonage. Now the village of Manocotak is open, and a team is studying with villagers there.

March 01, 2007 / Alaska Conference