Yup’ik Missionary Work Begins

On the Chukotka Peninsula


The Rev. Elmer E. Parker wrote his colleague Rev. Victor Alfsen on July 15, 1947:

We had a group of Siberian Eskimos here over the 4th and the following Sunday. Got them in for three services: prayer meeting, Sunday school and worship services. They had never attended a service of worship before -- were much impressed. They were much interested in the hymn singing and I had the choir give fifteen minutes of Gospel singing extra for them on Sunday. Some of them expressed the wish to have services like ours but that the Russians had taken away all Bibles and they could have only books and magazines that were issued by the government.

"Elmer Parker married John and I in 1948," Yup’ik Elder Della Waghiyi of Anchorage smiles in 1998.

While still in Savoonga, John and Della Waghiyi became involved in the "Mariners", a church group for young married couples. As part of the group, they participated in a radio project started in 1960 by the Covenant Church in Nome. The church had established a radio station and broadcast prayer, singing and Scripture. The "Mariners" sent in tapes for the program, called "The Eskimo Hour." The Islanders could then listen to themselves on the radio from Nome. They learned much later that others were listening to them, too -- cousins from east Siberia.

Some thirty years later, the “cousins” were to meet thanks to ecumenical work begun by the Yukon Presbytery and others. Neil Munro has offered his memories regarding this effort. What follows are the overtures and motions pertaining to this ministry recorded in the Yukon Presbytery minutes.

Whereas recent efforts by Rev. Willa Roghair have resulted in opening dialogue with Soviet Officials regarding expansion of Presbytery work into the areas of the Chukotka Region near Nome, therefore, be it resolved that Yukon Presbytery in cooperation with other Christian bodies expand ministry into the Chukotka Region of the Magadan Oblast and engage in continued conversation with appropriate officials and, if possible, expand Aywaan Parish to include the Chukotka area. Passed at January 28-19, 1991 meeting of Presbytery Council.

March 1991

Council Meeting: Russian Overture

Whereas, the mission of the Presbytery of Yukon to the Siberian Yup’ik people of Alaska, primarily on St. Lawrence Island and at Nome, has been almost exclusively Presbyterian;

And whereas, the roots for the Siberian Yup’iks living in Alaska stem from the west coast of the Russian Far East, mainly on the western shores of the Bering Straits, and only thirty-five (35) miles from the Gambell Presbyterian Church of Gambell, Alaska;

And whereas, historically, as a result of comity agreements established by Sheldon Jackson in the 1880s, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Synod of Alaska, and the Alaska Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church who have shared a mutual ministry with the indigenous Native American peoples of Western Alaska (Yup’ik and Inupiaq), wish to share with the Presbytery of Yukon a mutual mission to the Native peoples of the Russian Far East;

And whereas, the language spoken by the Siberian Yup’ik people living in the two communities on St. Lawrence Island, Gambell and Savoonga, is unique and different from the Yup’ik from the Yup’ik languages spoken on the mainland of Western Alaska, and is the common language of the Yup’iks living in Eastern Siberia;

And whereas, a product of contemporary Glasnost allows for Native American Yup’iks to travel to the Siberian shores without visas, with the reciprocal opportunity for Russian Yup’iks to similarly travel to St. Lawrence Island, the Diomede Islands, and Nome;

And whereas, American air taxis are constantly flying between Nome, St. Lawrence Island, and the East Coast of Russian Siberia; and whereas, Alaska Airlines will begin scheduled jet flights three times a week between Anchorage and Magadan starting mid-June, 1991;

And whereas, the Alaskan Siberian Yup’iks had been denied contact with their relatives in the Russian Far East for over forty years;

And whereas, the Alaskan Siberian Yup’iks have used the two radio stations at Nome to broadcast gospel messages to their relatives in the Russian Far East for nearly forty years; and

Whereas, there is a great will and desire by the Alaskan Siberian Yup’iks to take the gospel to their families and friends in the Russian Far East now that entry has been made free;

And whereas, there has been no evangelism in the Chukotka region by any Christian body;

And whereas, dialogue leading to this program was initiated by Dimitri Koravye, Minister of Ethnic Affairs of the Far North and Igor Pavlov, Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs of Magadan Province to Rev. Willa Roghair;

And whereas, the Presbyterian Church (USA), thought the former Board of National Missions and the Presbytery of Yukon, has had a continual ministry to the Siberian Yup’ik people of St. Lawrence Island since the 1880s, and is knowledgeable and experienced in affecting ministry to the indigenous people in Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions;

And whereas, this is a moment of “Kairos” providing an opportunity to minister the gospel to related and neighboring people;

The “Land Grab” Motion

The Presbytery of Yukon, in meeting March 8-9, 1991 at Delta Junction overtured the 203rd General Assembly:

To grant permission to extend the western boundary of the Presbytery of Yukon to include the Province of Magadan of the Russian Republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with particular interest in the Arctic regions populated by the Yup’ik and the Chukotka peoples;

And further, that the Presbytery of Yukon be encouraged to explore the possibility of developing and extending an ecumenical mission to the Yup’ik and Chukotka peoples living within its new boundaries, working to the end of developing an indigenous Christian Church in the region;

And further, that the 103rd General Assembly meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, authorize $15,000 for the purpose of such exploration to begin in July 1991.

Presbytery Overtures

Synod re: Boundaries

During the March 9 meeting, Neil Munro moved, it was seconded and passed, to send the following overture to the Synod of Alaska Northwest:

Whereas, the far eastern region of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is only thirty-five miles from our work at Gambell and Savoonga;

Whereas, the Siberian Yup’iks and the Chukotka people are related to the members of our Savoonga, Gambell, and Nome churches,

Whereas, these churches have for at least twenty years, been broadcasting in Siberian Yup’ik, hymns and scriptures over Nome stations KICY and KNOM,

And whereas, Dimitri Koravye, Minister of Ethnic Affairs of the Far North and Igor Pavlov, Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs of Magadan Province, invited the Presbyterian Church through Rev. Willa Roghair to start work among those peoples,

The Presbytery of Yukon Overtures the Synod of Alaska Northwest to enlarge the boundaries of Yukon Presbytery to include Magadan Province.


Russian Overture to General Assembly passed.


Neil Munro moved, it was seconded and passed, that the Presbytery of Yukon share with the United Methodist Alaska Missionary Conference, the Alaska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Moravian Church of Alaska in the endeavor to take the gospel to the Yup’ik and Chukotka people of the Magadan Province of the Russian Far East, to the end of establishing an indigenous Christ Church, and to invite all other denominations who share this same mutual concern.

Munro also moved that the Presbytery of Yukon proposed to those sharing a mutual ministry to the Yup’ik and Chukotka people of the Russian Far East that the Alaska Christian Conference be invited to coordinate the work of this ministry.

Willa Roghair moved, it was seconded and passed, to postpone action on this item.

Munro, Roghair Report

On Russian Trip 

Rev. Neil Munro and Willa Roghair spoke about their trip to Providenia, Anadyr, and Magadan in the Russian Far East during the October 11-12, 1991 meeting of presbytery.

Neil Munro moved, it was seconded and passed, the following recommendations concerning the mission to the Russian Far East:

1. that the Presbytery of Yukon endorse and encourage the member churches of Aywaan Parish to involve their congregations by attending an evangelism workshop in each location during the period of October 18-27, 1991.

a. The purpose of this workshop is for the equipping of the Yup’ik people, who can travel visa free to Russia, and for those who will host the Russians who come to the parish for one-on-one evangelism and to equip them with scripture and a mature use of the process.

b. The expense for this workshop will be shared by the participating denominations in the mission to Native person of the Russian Far East.

c. The schedule is to be October 18-20 at Savoonga; October 21-24 at Nome; October 25-27 at Gambell.

2. That an ongoing evangelism training program be developed within the Aywaan Parish that will make provision for training available to any Russian persons who come within its bounds.

The Revs. Jim and Willa Roghair

Churches Form Covenant

Re: Russian Far East Mission

In response to Christ’s emerging call to witness to his saving grace among the Native persons of the Chukotka Peninsula located in the Oblast of Magadan in the Russian Republic, USSR, we the undersigned, pledge to mutually support such a ministry. The nature of that ministry shall be in sending Yup’ik pastors to serve Christ by witnessing to their brothers and sisters in the Chukotka region. As the way is cleared, such a ministry could be expanded to include the Chukotka peoples and other Natives of the region. The objective of this mission is to establish an indigenous church that will be truly Native and truly Russian. To that end, we hereby agree to recruit persons for the task; to support them monetarily and materially as we are able; to provide basic governance agreed to by all parties; and to uphold them in prayer.

Neil moved, it was seconded and passed, that the Mission to the Russian Far East become an enabling paper for the organizing of the listed groups below:

Alaska Missionary Conference

United Methodist

Alaska Moravian Church

Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Presbytery of Yukon

David Dobler said the budget has $10,000 pledged for such a project.

Chukotka Ministry Gets

Official Name, Missionaries

It was announced during the February 5, 1992 meeting of Presbytery Council that the five-denomination commission and Wycliffe Bible Translators now have a name -- Chukotka Native Ministry to the Russian Far East. The ministry also has an executive committee and two mission couples: Rev. and Mrs. John Waghiyi and Rev. and Mrs. Howard Slwooko.

Timothy Gologergen was later commissioned as certified lay pastor for Chukotka Native Christian Ministry October 9, 1992; and was renewed October 6, 1995.

Gambell Church Hosts

Evangelism Workshop

The Gambell Presbyterian Church hosted a unique and historic event in March of 1994 – a two-week special Evangelism Workshop which brought together Siberian Yup’ik Eskimos from Nome, St. Lawrence Island, and the Chukotka region of Russia.

The leadership team consisted of the Rev. John Marx, from the Moravian Church in Dillingham; the Rev. Barbara Larson, Evangelical Covenant Church; the Rev. David Shinen, Wycliffe Bible Translators; the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, pastor of the Gambell Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Janice Stamper, pastor of the Savoonga Presbyterian Church; Lloyd Perrigo from Nome; the Rev. Howard Slwooko, and Commissioned Lay Preacher Timothy Gologergen, Alaskan missionaries to Chukotka.

Commissioned Lay Preacher Timothy Gologergen

The first week focused on training Gambell and Savoonga Yup’iks in basic discipleship techniques.

On Sunday, March 20, seventeen Russian Yup’iks from Anadyr, Sireniki, Novo Chaplino and Providenia arrived at Gambell. A trilingual (Yup’ik, Russian, English) service of welcome was held that evening.

The second week focused on the Russian Yup’iks. Between 30 and 50 people came to the afternoon sessions and between 75 and 100 to the evening worship and discussion.

The workshops concluded March 25 with the presentation of certificates to the Russian Yup’iks. A potluck supper was held for the guests and host families on Saturday, and two Russian Yup’iks were baptized during the Palm Sunday worship service. On March 28, the Russian version of the "Jesus" video was shown at the church. 

“There was a strong sense of God's presence and guidance throughout the workshops,” reported the Rev. Elizabeth Morgan of Gambell. “God's grace enabled us to overcome some unexpected and difficult circumstances. The day the Russian Yup’iks were to arrive, the church furnace quit. A brief and chilly Sunday morning service was held -- the temperature in the sanctuary was about 20F. Fortunately, the furnace was repaired by Sunday afternoon.”

Delays at Customs in Providenia held up the first flight to Gambell for a few hours, but eventually all three flights arrived safely. The back of the sanctuary was turned into a temporary Customs and Immigration station.

The week of March 20-25 turned out to be the coldest and windiest week of the winter. On Tuesday, wind chills dropped the outside temperature to -75F. The furnace worked overtime to try and keep the church at 60.

Then personal tragedy struck for the Rev. Barbara Larson. Barbara had come to Gambell to teach the Russian-speaking Yup’iks. On March 22 it was learned that Barbara's husband Keith had died suddenly and unexpectedly at home in California. Since Gambell's weather was good that day, Barbara was able to leave immediately. 

On Palm Sunday brought one of the worst storms of the winter. Blowing snow whipped up by 50 m.p.h. winds grounded all flights to the island for three days, stranding members of the leadership team and guests from Savoonga. Nonetheless, the workshop was a great success.

Russian Youth

To Alaskan Church Camp

Working with the Evangelical Covenant Church Camping program in Alaska, the Chukotka Christian Native Ministry was able to help provide a first ever church related camping experience for Russian youth from Chukotka. Lloyd Perrigo, who helped with the opportunity, reports as to the success of the Venture:

I would like to share a little of what has happened at Bible Camp in Unalakleet. Nine Russians from Sireniki, Novoye Chaplino and Providenia came to camp, six teenagers and three adults. The adults had all been at the conference in Gambell this spring. There were three boys and three girls. I interpreted and was the boys' counselor.

The teaching at the camp was very good, clear and challenging. The second week reviewed that built at the first. As a result, the majority made commitments to the Lord the first week, then gave testimony to it the second. Two of the adults had given their lives to the Lord at Gambell, and two of the youths said they had previously made some commitment to the Lord, which was reaffirmed and strengthened at camp. The others all said they made first-time commitments at camp, including Trofim, a man whom several have helped disciple over the last several years.

The Russians fit in well at camp. The other campers and the staff enjoyed them very much and demonstrated a lot of love to them. Several were able to communicate amazingly well in spite of the fact that only one Russian spoke more than a few words of English. All indicated a desire to return next year. The adults were all great, and very helpful. As a result, there was no significant problem with homesickness.

Yukon Presbytery

Financially Supports CNCM

"Russian Native Outreach" is the title of the line item in Yukon Presbytery's Mission budget for 1995, in the amount of $4,000. That's really a small piece of the 1995 CNCM budget of over $105,000.

Timothy Gologergen is OUR missionary to the Chukotka region of the Russian Far East, Commissioned by the Presbytery for this specific ministry.

After his last visit to Russia, Tim asked for prayers for the Native people in Russia: "They are at the bottom, spiritually and economically." It is truly a dramatic opportunity for the Gospel.

 Russian Yup’iks Celebrate Fourth of July

On St. Lawrence Island

Lloyd Perrigo was asked to go to Gambell on CNCM’s behalf and to minister to those who came by boat from Chukotka to celebrate with the people of St. Lawrence Island the Fourth of July. It was a big festival and one that allowed CNCM to participate in a special way. Lloyd Perrigo writes as to what happened:

“On July 1st, I went to Gambell to try to minister in some way to the large group of Russians who were there for the 4th and the festival that followed. Over a hundred were there. Sergei, a young man from Moscow who is working at KICY in Nome this summer, came for two days also. The first two days I visited many of the Russians around town, as there were no activities then. On the 2nd, Sergei and I had a meeting at the church, in Russian. About 25 came. We sang, Sergei shared his testimony, and I shared a little from the Bible. The next day we participated in the worship service, which several Russians attended. Later we showed the Jesus film to about 10 Russians. Several expressed a lot of interest in the Lord.

“The next two days were busy with lots of activities. There was less opportunity to share verbally because of that. Overall, the meetings and personal contacts were very good. I was also able to distribute quite a lot of literature, some of which I took, and some from Gambell,”Perrigo reported.

In Memoriam

In the spring of 1994, Chukotka Native Christian Ministry was grieved to learn of the illness and subsequent death of its coordinator Rev. Willa Roghair. Willa had been with CNCM from its inception. She had been an active participant in its development and her enthusiastic promotion of CNCM shall always be remembered.

With Grateful Thanks

So many changes have marked the growing pains of this most extraordinary year for CNCM (1994). Many of them have been exhilarating. Some a great loss such as the death of Willa Roghair. We shall also miss the significant contribution of others who served the Commission of CNCMand who have moved on to other pursuits of ministry. We thank Carol Seckel of the United Methodist Church, Henry Pearson of the Evangelical Covenant Church and Neil Munro of the Presbyterian Church, for their constant support of the work of our shared mission.

New Missionaries on Board

 Two new missionaries were welcomed at the August 29-30, 1994 CNCM Nome Consul-tation. Their efforts would compliment those of Tim Gologergen and Howard Slwooko. Susan Campbell from Gambell on St. Lawrence Island came to our ministry with a significant outreach already in place to the people of Russia's Chukotka Peninsula. She had an ongoing radio Bible study program in the Siberian Yup’ik language with Station KICY in Nome and also had contributed to the translating efforts of the Scriptures into Siberian Yup’ik.

Lloyd Perrigo’s emphasis was to be in outreach to Russian speaking youth. Lloyd was a resident of Nome and involved in many outreach efforts to peoples in the Russian Far East. 

Looking Forward

Going into 1995 there are several issues before CNCM:

1. Creating an effective program of training for Alaskan and Russian Siberian Yup’ik leaders that nourishes both their own spiritual growth and their ability to share the gospel with others as they work to form community.

2. Developing more effective reach out to additional Siberian Yup’ik and Chukchi Peoples.

3. Developing a program for youth in their daily lives as well as further camping programs, perhaps in Chukotka itself.

4. Providing a variety of resources that encourage the faith between mission-ary visits and what changes there are for community.

5. Telling the story well to the supporting churches.


Anchorage Daily News:

August 27, 1997

New Siberian Church

Names Alaskan Elders

The Associated Press NOME -- Three St. Lawrence islanders were inducted as elders in a new Siberian church, which founders say has flourished with help from Alaska Natives. 

The new church, in the Russian Far East community of Chukotka, has worked the past six years with several St. Lawrence congregations. 

Organizers say the new Church of the Living God is a departure from traditional Christian missionary work since the idea of the church came from the Siberians themselves. 

The churchgoers already have begun developing new hymns, in their Native language and in Russian.

"The idea was not to say, do this or imitate this one or that one," said Jim Campbell, the departing director of Chukotka Native Christian Ministries, which helped organize the new church.

While religious tradition is important, Campbell said, church founders also wanted to foster the things that are vital to the Siberian believers.

"It's the possibilities of what is new and coming from a Yup’ik experience," he said.

The Native ministry group involves St. Lawrence's Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Methodist and Covenant congregations. Some 30 church organizers from Chukotka and St. Lawrence Island attended a two-week religious conference earlier this month in Nome.

Three St. Lawrence residents -- Anders and Lucine Apassingok and Beulah Nowpak-ahok -- were named as leaders in the new church.

Campbell said the demise of the Soviet Union was an encouragement to believers who hoped for a new Siberian church. Founders envisioned a church that would embrace "the music, the prayers and the soul" of the Chukotka people, Campbell said. 

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