In July, Arctic Barnabas was voted and approved as the newest cooperating ministry of the Charis Fellowship. Arctic Barnabas has a mission to strengthen and encourage pastors and missionary families serving in remote Alaska so they can more effectively advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Arctic Barnabas was founded in 2000 by Joel Caldwell, owner of a local aviation company. While traveling with another ministry throughout remote Alaska, Joel realized a need among the people they were serving that wasn’t being met. Many aviation ministries focus on transporting supplies and people to where they are needed. While this meets a great need for anyone living in a remote area, Joel recognized people had a deeper need than physical transportation. They were craving the ministry of presence. Joel gathered others who caught his vision, and Arctic Barnabas was born out of a desire to minister and serve pastors and missionaries living in remote villages in Alaska.
While this ministry was forming and growing, God was planting seeds in the heart and mind of Rob Bearden, who became the executive director of Arctic Barnabas in January 2023, on the other side of the world.
Rob served in the United States Air Force for 25 years, part of the time stationed in Alaska where he met his wife, Lisa. During his last deployment in Afghanistan, he had a conversation with his brother-in-law, who was an Army chaplain deployed in Iraq, that raised the question, “Who do chaplains turn to when they need help?” The Lord put on Rob’s heart a desire to minister to those in ministry. From that point on, whenever Rob was stationed at a new base, he and his family would befriend the pastor at their local church and seek ways to serve him.
Rob and his wife, who was born and raised in Alaska, had a dream of opening a retreat center in Alaska for pastors and missionaries after Rob retired. “Our plan had more of us in it than God,” Rob said. “We had to have a hard conversation about letting this dream go and we came back to a ‘yes’ we had put on the alter year ago about ‘whenever, whatever, however.’” The next morning Lisa found a job posting for the director of operations at Arctic Barnabas.
Rob and Lisa moved back to Alaska, near Lisa’s family and where Rob was previously stationed, in October 2022. A few weeks later the executive director announced his plans to retire sooner rather than later, and Rob was offered his position. They later found out Arctic Barnabas owns property with plans to develop a retreat center; Rob and Lisa are excited to see how abandoning their plan for their dream opened the door for God to work out His plan for their dream.
Practically speaking, Arctic Barnabas ministers to those serving in remove Alaska through three major events a year as well as ongoing weekly and monthly interactions. The three big events of the year are men’s and women’s retreats, a fishing camp to catch sockeye salmon, and a Ministry Family Retreat that provides practical services (like dental and chiropractic care) and spiritual refreshment and investment.
Arctic Barnabas has 136 families they serve. Every week someone from the ministry checks in on a family to pray with them and find out their needs. The team then assesses needs and plans ministry trips out to meet those needs, sometimes something as practical as flying an electrician out to fix the wiring in a home.
“Ministry is tough anywhere, and even tougher in remote Alaska,” Rob said. “It’s not only spiritually dark, but it’s physically dark and cold. It’s a hard place to minister.” There are 200 remove villages that are only accessibly by boat or air; only half of those have a Gospel presence. “Our heart is to keep the folk on the field to see the Gospel spread to the other half. Our vision is to see a thriving Gospel presence in remote Alaska.”