In the early 1900s, Alaska drew more than just prospectors and explorers. Missionaries also ventured into the area and many churches were built in the remote villages. More than a century later, most of these church buildings sit empty and only eight percent of Alaskans attend an evangelical church (Pew Research, 2014).
Roger and Melissa Holl started VisionAlaska in 2013 as a way to meet the need for Gospel proclamation in Alaska. In the 1970s Ed Jackson, a Charis Fellowship pastor, had a similar vision for reaching Alaska and he helped plant four Charis Fellowship churches, but expansion efforts have stalled in recent decades. Since 1984 that has been one Charis church plant in Alaska, and there are currently four Charis churches ministering in Alaska, a state more than twice the size of Texas.
The mission of VisionAlaska is to start Charis Fellowship churches using Charis prescribed church models, as well as train and coach lay leaders, missionaries, pastors, and anyone desiring to serve ministries in the Charis Fellowship. “Churches start when someone loves the Lord and has a desire to reach out to others and bless them with the Word of God,” Melissa said.
Melissa was born and raised in Alaska and she attended Eagle River Grace Brethren Church, a Charis Fellowship church. “My church was my family support system,” she said. “As an adult I wondered, why can’t that family be all over the world?” Melissa and Roger met at Eagle River and took their desire to spread church family culture with them into the full-time ministry they now carry out in Alaska and other regions.
Roger’s circuitous journey to becoming a pastor gave him a background lay church ministry, and his work as an attorney, College Dean, Commissioner, and Commanding General helped him build strong connections with the community. In 2014 he earned his Doctorate of Ministry and PhD, and in 2015 Roger and Melissa planted Sterling Grace Community Church through VisionAlaska.
Sterling Grace Community Church has a sister church in Kenya that has adopted their statement of faith, and they are in the process of planting a second church. Along with the church, VisionAlaska helps support a local school and an orphanage that is serving 41 kids. VisionAlaska has provided a water well and has leased farmland for the church and orphanage. The farmland is utilized to grow maize to support and feed the children in the orphanage. They also have recently gifted them with Bibles in both English and Swahili.
Striving to be a ministry without borders, VisionAlaska is reaching people far and wide for the Gospel. One way they do this is through the Christian Radio Division which broadcasts the Word of God to Yupik Eskimo villages throughout Alaska. In 2015 a translation of the Bible into the local language of Yupik was completed, a project that took 100 years, and the radio now broadcasts reading of the Bible in the common language of the region. Solar-powered audio Bibles in Yupik are also available for the first time.
VisionAlaska works to build relationships for Gospel impact on individual and organizational levels. They have partnered with more than 40 ministries and churches to provide training, coaching, and workshops. VisionAlaska also hosts the Alaska High Adventure Wilderness Program for fathers and sons involved in Skywatchers. “I’m so glad to be part of what’s going on here,” Melissa said. “This is my home, and I love the purpose of the Charis Fellowship.” Roger and Melissa have true hearts for discipleship, and they long to see others join their mission.