It's a Gamble to Get to Gambell

April 13, 2015 | Jim Jensen

One of the most remote Adventist churches is located in Gambell, Alaska, located on the western tip of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, about 200 miles southwest of Nome and 35 miles from Russia. It sits just below a treeless bluff and is home to about 700 people. There has been an Adventist group meeting on the island since the early 1940s. Throughout the years, there have been mission families, student missionaries from Walla Walla, Wash., and often no one except the pastor from Nome to visit members once every month or two. Currently, Bible worker Viola Kaiser is living in the apartment attached to the church and leading the group in Gambell. Wendell Downs, Nome Church pastor, flies in about once a month.

At the end of February, Elden Ramirez, North American Division volunteer ministries executive director, and Jim Jensen, Alaska Conference vice president of finance, along with Jensen's wife, Teresa, and children, Ivan, Nadia and Alex, had the opportunity to visit Gambell for Native Camp Meeting. Another group was going to the town of Savoonga, also located on St. Lawrence Island. 

Travel to and from Gambell has always been challenging; this year was no exception. The Jensen family had planned to arrive Thursday morning. They finally landed at about 4 p.m. Friday afternoon and learned they were the first to get to either town. They had flights diverted from their original route, a missed approach on landing in Nome and delays due to volcanoes in Siberia.

The people of Gambell made the visitors feel very welcome, from the waiting room at the airport in Nome to getting acquainted aboard the 10-passenger plane landing at Gambell. The guests had invitations to attend the high school basketball game before they even got off the plane.

The airport at Gambell has one building. It is used to house the snow plow and equipment for the runway. When you get off the plane, you wait for someone to pick you up on their snow machine or four-wheel ATV. However, you may be surprised to see a small wind farm. It is expensive to haul fuel to generate electricity, and there always seems to be a strong wind.

Camp meeting built upon the work Kaiser has been doing in visiting with many of the people of Gambell. The visitors enjoyed a time of singing and telling stories of how each of them came to know the Lord. And everyone was inspired by Ramirez when he arrived Sabbath afternoon with his ukulele (much easier to transport than a guitar). Teresa Jensen held programs for the kids. Before the first meeting was over, kids were pulling out their cell phones to call other kids to come. By the end of the weekend, those in the kids' classes outnumbered the adults.