A History of Covenant Bible Camp in Unalakleet, Alaska

Covenant Bible Camp located on the North River 10 miles from Unalakleet, Alaska is a “natural place to meet with the supernatural God and super people.”

1960-1977: Before “Covenant” Bible Camp

The precursor to Covenant Bible Camp was a group of Christians (not all Covenant) who met for about 10 years at Iron Creek outside of Elim to put on a Bible Camp for young people of the region. Heidi Ivanoff (Erickson) recalls that in 1969, her father, Pastor Donald “Don” Erickson went to serve at the camp. This may have been the first Bible Camp, or certainly one of the first. Heidi also recalls the Joel Oyoumick (who went on to become Pastor of Unalakleet), fresh out of High School, was the Sports Director that year. Pastor Howard Slwooko was the Camp Director for a number of the early years. Don and his wife Kathy as well as a couple from Anchorage also were reported to be Directors in the early days. Christina Perrigo (Nagaruk) served in 1974-75 in Iron Creek as a “kid” (20 or 21 years old). At the time there were about 35 students (all ages together). One of those years Howard Slwooko was a speaker. Chris also recalls that Jack and Ruth Koutchak were helping and Coke Olson was a young adult leader. As a cook Chris remembers cooking pancakes off of a wood stove, hiking to the top of the mountain, and swimming in the creek.

The Official Start at Iron Creek


Covenant Bible Camp officially started as a Covenant church ministry in 1977 under then Field Director Don Erickson. Don’s predecessor, Pastor Norman Barram had previously been in prayer about the camp with Pastor Earl “Chip” Swanson of KICY in Nome and Harold Dimmick of Elim, who owned a reindeer herd near Moses Point. The location made sense as there was already previous Bible Camps that were happening at Iron Creek and the reindeer close-by provided a food source. Pastor Chip Swanson had come to Alaska in 1961 as a short-term KICY volunteer and returned to stay in 1963 as a long-term KICY volunteer. At the time, Chip recalls that various irregular Bible Camps would happen throughout the region by various church groups, usually in connection with fish camps. However, there was no official “Covenant Bible Camp.” In 1977 Chip answered the call to become the first official Camp Director of the newly formed Covenant Bible Camp. Many, including Christina Perrigo, who lived in Elim in the early 1970’s, consider Chip the founder of Covenant Bible Camp. Christina notes that Chip’s prayers while walking the camp have sustained camp through many years. Interestingly, Chip was always bi-vocational as he also answered the call to be Pastor of White Mountain and Golovin in 1978. Chip was one of the last “circuit riders” for the Covenant Church in Alaska as he also served Council, Solomon, and Fish River Flats. When Covenant Bible Camp was in the process of being officially formed under the leadership of Director Chip, the Bible Camp was held at Iron Creek. There were no permanent structures for the camp at the time. Tents and stoves had to be brought in and out each year. The only building that stayed was an old abandoned galvanized sheet metal building to escape to if the elements got too bad. Chip recalls that in the early days they mostly found out the needs as


they went. At the time “There probably wasn’t a list of 20 needs the youth had: I don’t think there was a list of 1!” The needs of the youth were determined more on an individual basis. However, camp was always looking for ways to improve. For instance, camp did not stay at Iron Creek for very long. While the location made sense for a Bible Camp, it also made sense for other groups of people as well. Commercial fishing took place at Iron Creek and sometimes would cause distractions and occasionally would involve alcohol. Looking for “an unspoiled spot,” Chip moved the camp over to Next Creek (on the Nome side of Elim) for 2 years (1977-1978). Pastor Fred Walton from Fairbanks was the camp Pastor and speaker. He was especially notable because he preached in a red blazer. Chip recalls with a chuckle that he has never seen anyone else in the villages preach with such a red blazer since. At Next Creek the camp had 3 tents; an old army tent that leaked and 2 new white walled tents that didn’t leak. Of course, the youth did not mind if the tent leaked; they were having fun! Pastor Nathan Toots served at camp during this time as well. The 2nd year at Next Creek, Pastor Al Folden from Nome (originally from Minnesota) was the camp Pastor and speaker. It was Al who first had the idea of providing some staff training and ordered books for camp counselor training.

1979-1980: The Move to Unalakleet

After 2 years at Next Creek it made sense to begin looking for a permanent home with a larger store, larger runway, and more land available. The village of Unalakleet made the most sense. A poll was taken of the village churches and it was almost unanimous to move to


Unalakleet. Covenant High School had land that Bible Camp could grow roots at. However, as roots needed to be planted, camp needed a final temporary home. Lowell and Betty Anagick had land up the North River just below the bridge across from the current camp site. Camp was there for 2 years in transition (1979-1980) as the permanent camp location was being prepared on the Covenant High property. The first work crew to work on the North River camp was a mixed group from the villages of Mountain Village, Golovin, and perhaps a few others. Ralph Willoya came from Golovin and the Alexie family came from Mt. Village. Both young and older men came to build tent frames which came from Fairbanks when tents were on sale because of the building of the pipeline at the time. Cooking was mostly done on a Coleman camping stove.

The 1980’s: Growing Roots

1981 was the first year that camp was held at its current location (also the first year of a camp T-shirt). God provided high water on the North River that year so that herring boats could bring lumber all the way up to the location of the Temple. The large boats could also take the entire tent frame over from the Anagick side of the river. No herring boat would even remotely consider going up the North River these days as the water levels are much lower. Those same herring boat crews who moved lumber also helped to build the first building (the Temple) at the permanent site. The Temple was designed by Dave Peterson who was living in Fairbanks at the time and Al White from Covenant High picked the location along with Native Pastor Walter Anderson. Roger Nanouk helped build along with a work team from Unalakleet Covenant Church who made it a “roofing party.” Originally the Temple had no walls and only a dirt floor.


Don Erickson would put in a permanent plywood floor circa 1985. Sheet metal was donated by the Golovin Covenant Church. Covenant Bible Camp was truly living into its name as many Covenant villages supported its ministry and development. The road system churches also were instrumental in providing financial support. Most of the staff at the time were local leaders, and often were village Pastors and church leaders. Camp also began to see the first batch of campers return as staff. Curtis Ivanoff, who came to Christ as a camper first served in 1986 as a Jr. Counselor while a senior High School student. From 1982 on, Heidi Ivanoff was up at camp pretty much every summer, beginning to serve as camp photographer and later as a counselor. She notes, “It was just a natural step in my Christian walk.” Others, like Chip had, moved to Alaska and became local leaders. Lloyd Perrigo came to Nome to visit his college friend, Joel Batchelder, in 1982 and visited Salmon Lake Bible Camp. Lloyd then moved to Nome in 1984 and Joel took Lloyd to serve at Covenant Bible Camp in Unalakleet. Lloyd commented that more than anything else, Bible Camp brought him to live in Alaska. Camp became so much a part of his life that he reflects, “I don’t really think about whether or not I will serve each summer, it’s just what I do.” The first major improvement to camp came in the mid-80’s with the building of the first cabins. The first 2 cabins to be built were the Gazebos with the help of Don Erickson, Dave Rose, Lloyd Perrigo, and others. Having a permanent sleeping building (and bunks) greatly improved camper comfort. At the beginning of Covenant Bible Camp at North River there were around 30 campers in the multi-age group. During the 80’s the age groups were split between High School and Jr. High. By the end of the 80’s there was as many as 22 High School campers attending (1989).


During the early 1980’s Covenant High School was instrumental in seeing camp grow. Not only did they help build the camp and staff it, they also cared for the spiritual needs of the youth during the school year, providing the perfect chance for follow-up ministry. Chip recalls two notable Covenant High staff that served: Ms. Johnson was a Camp Naturalist and Scott Swanberg (sic?) built the Camp Parsonage cabin which provided a nice quiet place to prepare messages. Unfortunately, Covenant High closed in 1985, so there was only a couple of years of crossover and left a real vacuum in youth ministry during the camp off-season and often leaving the spiritual needs of youth unmet until the next camp season.

The 1990’s: Expansion

The 1990’s saw huge growth in the camp’s staffing, facilities, and program. In the early 1990’s the majority of staff were local and many were mature adults. Among some of the most faithful staff was Chris Perrigo who first served as an “adult” in 1991 as camp Cook along with Lenore Nashalook. At the time there were 2 weeks of camp. Chris notes that the first time there were 3 weeks it was just her and Lenore the whole time, leaving them exhausted. Curtis Ivanoff continued to serve as a college student and in 1991 gave his first message as a counselor. That year he brought a friend from college who said “God really moved” as Curtis delivered the message. By the mid-1990’s Curtis was a regular speaker. Starting in the early 1990’s, Heidi Ivanoff began to serve as Program Director for all of the 2-3 weeks of camp. Heidi reflects that there were around 30 High School campers when she began as Program Director. Caroline Blankenship was another local counselor. The camp Elder program also gained momentum in the 1990’s with a job “just to sit there” in order to share their


wisdom in a traditional way. As Chip notes, having an Elder present at camp “spoke volumes to the kids.” Some of the camp Elders were Anna Walters and Maude Weston. Other leaders that were being built up in the 90’s as campers to serve later were Doug Swanson and Tom Mute. Tom Mute grew up since 5th grade attending camp. After High School he learned to play guitar while serving as Assistant Youth Pastor in Bethel. Most of Tom’s service at camp has been leading worship, though later in the 2000’s he also counseled, spoke, and was program director. Tom wanted to serve after High School as often as he could in any position they needed because of the impact camp had on youth. Another young local leader who came on the scene in the 1990’s was Byron Bruckner who was working with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska (ECCAK) to build a youth ministry initiative which would become Covenant Youth of Alaska (CYAK) in 1992. Byron was asked by ECCAK to go to camp and help Chip “in any way” that he could. Byron reflects that he doesn’t even really remember what his job position was in the first years as everyone just did any job that needed to be done. Everyone wore 2-3 hats and might help cook, chop wood, run recreation, counsel, or even speak. Facilities expansion in the 1990’s was massive. Although the 80’s had seen camp build deep roots, it was still very rustic in terms of comfort. In the early 1990’s everyone packed everything in to camp. There were no mattresses or pads unless you packed it yourself a mile in. Everything changed when the first Lower 48 work teams began to come to Unalakleet. With increased workers, camp upgraded the Temple in 1994 to have walls, siding, and windows. Many of the teams came up because of Chip’s connection to Minnesota (where he grew up). These work teams helped build the first cabins, such as the largest cabin (“Kay-Ash”) which was built by a Mankato, Minnesota and Ashland, Wisconsin teams. Arvada, Colorado also played a


significant role as they built the Upriver and Downriver Arvada cabins. Gig Harbor, Washington played the largest long-term role, however. All of these church connections also increased the number of individuals who would come to serve as staff during the camp season. Prior to work teams, North Park University in Chicago would send teams of staff, but the number of Lower 48 staff had remained small. The building of the well was perhaps the catalyst for bringing in the many work teams from the Lower 48. It all started with a Lower 48 volunteer nurse who threatened to have Camp shut down because of the current water hauling system, which she deemed a health hazard. Answering the call to build the first water system was Doug Olsen and the Gig Harbor Covenant Church. The Gig Harbor church would continue to help in building the camp infrastructure for many years. Gig Harbor came to camp as a result of Byron Bruckner’s connection to them. According to Doug, he was invited by Byron Bruckner to visit several villages in Western Alaska in 1990. Part of the visitation included travel to Unalakleet and the Bible Camp. He spent several hours at the camp where Byron explained its purpose and how it impacted the lives of needy rural Alaskan youth. He also explained the need for a reliable water source since the only fresh water at that time came from the river. God put upon him the call to come back the following year with a work team to drive well casing and install the water system which is still in use today. Several other projects were completed that summer as well. Local leaders like Tim Daniels and Dave Cunningham were also instrumental in completing projects. Doug and his wife, Linda, have returned every summer since. The Olsen’s served as Camp Steward and Hospitality Director for almost 20 years. Doug reflects on his first years at camp, “The Camp was conducting only two or three week-long camps at that time. Due to the lack of cabins, it was unable to accommodate many


youth or staff. However, those who came were well served, both spiritually and socially, by the volunteer staff. We were always amazed how excited the campers were to be returning for a week. We were also impressed how dedicated the returning staff was in seeing to the needs of youth.” The work teams throughout the 1990’s basically tripled the sleeping space at camp by adding multiple cabins. It did not take long for that increased space to fill up. By the mid 1990’s the youth that had come in the past were having kids who were old enough to go to camp and the parents would encourage the students to come. In the early years, campers were primarily Covenant youth. However, in the 1990’s camp saw significant growth in the number of villages and denominations reached. Campers from outside the Covenant really started coming when Curtis and Kristi Ivanoff were in Noorvik teaching and would bring groups down from the Friends (Quaker) Church. That momentum easily spread. At one point there was a focus on trying to reach a new village every year. From Barrow to Bristol Bay to villages near the Canadian border all the way to the Russian Siberian villages. Denominations represented have ranged from Catholic to Russian Orthodox, Presbyterian to Moravian. In fact, there probably is only a small handful of village church denominations that have not had representation at Covenant Bible Camp. One of the most pivotal points which fed the years of expansion was sometime in the 1990’s when Bruce Lawson, the national Director of Covenant camps came up to meet with several interested parties to form a strategic plan for camp. The plan was a call to move towards more organizational structure. Field Director Paul Wilson was one of the driving forces to organize a camp committee which would become a Camp Board of Directors later. Camp grew organizationally as it moved from 1 person in charge with Chip to having more leadership with the Camp Committee/Board of Directors and Program Directors with more responsibilities


In 1996, Curtis Ivanoff was given the vision to start a young adult camp for ages 1825ish. The camp was born simply out of God nudging Curtis Ivanoff and others to start it. Curtis and Kristi called the camp Vision, referencing Proverbs 29:18, “Without a Vision the people perish.” The focus of Vision was to help young adults make their faith their own as they were becoming adults. With increased staff, space, and campers came increased need to become more specialized in job positions. It would no long work for everyone to do everything. As a result, Bible Camp become more age appropriate. It used to be that multiple age groups would be together at camp and would often have one speaker for all age groups. As the 1990’s progressed, speakers who specialized on specific age groups (High School youth pastors versus Elementary Sunday school teachers) were hand-picked. Speakers also began to speak more on specialized topics that were relevant to the needs of the youth at the time. For instance, Pastor Rodney Sawyer from Bethel, before he was the Field Director, spoke about Creation and evolution. John Hege would give his relationship talks every year. Covenant Bible Camp was growing in huge ways as it approached 20 years at North River.

2000’s: Transitions

In the 2000’s camp continued to expand, but also had significant transitions occur. The early 2000’s were filled mostly with maintaining the continued growth, but by the mid-2000’s camp was bursting at the seams. Camp, which only 20 years before was serving about 30 youth each summer was now serving almost 300 youth. Camp needed to continue to expand.


In the 2000’s modern comforts also began to creep into camp. At least half of the bunks had mattresses or pads. Freezers and refrigerators came to replace the cooler that was essentially a hole dug in the permafrost. These required the generator to run for additional hours, which also provided opportunity for other appliances to be brought in. A washer and dryer were brought to camp for kitchen and transition use. The first camp shower was built in the late 2000’s, although it was a rustic set up which required the user to haul and heat their own water and was only to be used by staff on transition days. The most notable expansion was the addition to the Temple in 2006 which more than doubled the existing kitchen space and also provided additional space in the worship/cafeteria area. This expansion was in part brought on by the Jr. High camp (grades 6-8) having 120 campers (and 70 staff!) in 2004. At the time there were 3 main June camps; High School, Jr. High, and Trailblazers (grades 3-5). In 2005 the camps were split into 4; High School, Jr. High (grades 7-8), Trailblazers (grades 5-6), and Pathfinders (grades 3-4). This jump from 3-4 weeks caused a necessary transition for staffing and organization. While some staff could previously stay for 2-3 weeks at a time, asking them to stay for 4 weeks was a big sacrifice. As a result, more staff would come to serve for 1-2 weeks at a time and there was a much greater number of staff throughout the summer. From 2004-2006 the Christian Youth in Action Camp used the facilities to put on their camps in July to train Jr. High students to do Vacation Bible School. The staff for the camp was a mix of local Unalakleet volunteers and Child Evangelism Fellowship staff from Soldotna and Washington. In 2008, another new camp started called Leaders for Life, a leadership camp aimed for ages 15-25. In order to meet the demand for staff, there was a greater number of


Lower 48 staff that served in the late 2000’s. There were obvious positives and negatives to that transition, but Heidi Ivanoff notes, “Kids love to introduce their culture to others.” The greatest transition that occurred in the 2000’s was near the end of the decade. In 2007 Camp Director Chip Swanson retired. Byron Bruckner then took over as Interim Camp Director. As Lloyd Perrigo points out, the transition from Chip to Byron was very smooth. Byron notes that when he became Camp Director he tried not to change a whole lot but to have progressive change and organizational development. Byron looked more at liability concerns and moving from an organic administration to a more formal administration. As a necessity with more campers, registration became more organized, and transition days became more organized. With greater organization came increased capacity to do ministry. More staff meant even more specialized positions, like the Head Counselor role. More support staff meant that staff were cared for as well as campers. With the passing of time, the original guard of staff at Bible Camp began to retire more frequently. Long time High School and Jr. High cook, Judie Katongan retired from serving at camp leaving a big hole to fill. Chris Perrigo continued to cook for the younger campers. Joshua Mathlaw retired as Program Director for Camp Gilead, a substance abuse camp that was held for adults for many years. David “Smitty” Smith retired as Program Director for Upriver Uplooks (the canoe camp) and moved with wife Melanie (Griffith) to the Lower 48. A new generation of leaders began to take over the leadership of camp. In 2009, Doug and Linda retired from their positions as Camp Steward and Hospitality Director and became Handyman and Head Counselor respectively. Dennis “D.C.” Carlson and Mary “Mrs. C” came to take over the Olsen’s responsibilities the next summer.


Local leaders like Josephine Daniels, Michelle Fancher, Max Fancher, Myra Harris (Slwooko), Curtis Ivanoff, Tom Mute, Joshua Mute, James “Jamie” Rose (son of Dave Rose), and Doug Swanson began to take a larger role in running the camp. New leaders also arrived on the scene in the early 2000’s with the likes of Nicholas “Nick” Bruckner (who would later become Camp Director) and Adam London (who would become Associate Director from 20092012). Another big transition occurred in 2008 when the Camp Committee officially was incorporated as a Board of Directors. Some of those who served on the first Board were Phil Cannon II, Dave Cunningham, John Hege, Adam London, Chris Perrigo, Marta Thrasher, and Andrea Wilson. With increased organizational structure, Byron suggests came an increased feeling of safety for parents. Byron comments, “More younger campers have been coming in the last decade with increased organization and a feel that camp is safe and equipped to care for their Elementary age campers”. In many ways the program remained the same, but the intentionality of program became a greater focus. There was still a similar schedule but the before and after is very different with care of the staff. A detailed Staff Matrix for recruiting staff has been implemented. There is also a paid Director now. Another important change has been a focused effort to improve order to the operations of the camp. Procedures are better documented, job descriptions are in place and understood, and the camp is more orderly. 2010’s: The Ark

The 2010’s have been the time of the Ark. In 2009 after the camping season, Samaritan’s Purse donated time, money, materials, and labor to build a brand new worship area that was


more than double the size of the current Temple. The meeting space built was 40 feet by 60 feet with 4 meeting rooms attached to the rear of the building. Along with the Ark came 3 modern showers and hot water in the kitchen. The Ark is the only regularly heated building with in-floor heating and a wood boiler. The Ark was first used in the 2010 camp season. A new batch of local Jr. Counselors and young staff was raised up, including Hunter Dill, Donald Erickson, Katiya Erickson, Susie Fiskeaux, Tricia Ivanoff, Joel Jorgensen, Laurel Katchatag, and Roberta Walker. Laurel went to camp as a camper because everyone else was going and attended every year since 3rd grade. Laurel serves because of the Christian community and fellowship. She notes that, “Some people go because there is nothing else to do, but I go because I want to…Camp is a place where you can feel cared for and loved.” In 2010, Byron Bruckner officially became the Camp Director (dropping the Interim). However, Byron continued to be the Director of CYAK and had an overflowing plate. In 2012, Byron resigned as Camp Director and Nick Bruckner (his nephew) took over. Nick had previously been a Counselor and Program Director as he served for 6 summers. Nick accepted Christ at another Bible Camp and has a heart for camp ministry. Among some of the improvements made during the 2010’s include an improved website, and Emergency Action Plan, a specialized Staff Handbook, and a 10-week Cultural Orientation Manual for teams coming from the Lower 48. However, the 2010’s are still new (as it is 2012 when I write this) and with a new Director, there will surely be new history to record. The Needs of the Youth

In many ways the needs of the youth have changed generationally, but in many ways they are the same. Youth have always had a need to be recognized, cared for, and loved. As camp


met those needs, camp became a place where kids don’t want to go home. Of course, sometimes this was also because of a toxic situation at home. Chip once asked a youth on the drive up to camp, “Why do you come to camp?” and the camper answered, “Camp is the only place I can get a hug.” The youth always have had the need to trust in the Lord. Many people have noted as Chip has that “Bible Camp is overwhelmingly…where youth come to walk with the Lord” for the first time. Camp has always been an outreach as the majority of campers have always come with a minimal foundation of Biblical familiarity. Camp has been a place where kids are safe and feel loved; hear the Gospel of how God loves them and a place where they can have the best week of their year. Another constant need is in addressing alcohol and substance abuse. Alcoholism in families would cause dysfunction, neglect, and confusion. Depression and suicide have also often been linked to alcohol and family dysfunction. Unhealthy grieving also often leads to abuse. The topic of loss needs to constantly be addressed. The needs surrounding alcoholism have always been there for youth in the past 40 years. In the 1970’s and early 80’s the villages were not dry (in 2012, the majority of the villages are dry – meaning alcohol is not allowed at all, while some are damp – some alcohol for personal consumption can be brought in, but not sold). Chris Perrigo recalls that 30+ years ago in May (1981), in Elim there was a husband who murdered his family around alcohol and the village voted to go dry that year. Many villages followed suit. Since that time many staff have noted that the problem of addressing alcohol and substance abuse have moved more from how to deal with loved ones abusing to how to deal with the youth using and negative peer pressure. While the needs surrounding dysfunction have been there since the beginning, the needs have become more “tense” as there is less innocence. There is a much greater awareness of


issues of suicide and abuse amongst both the camp and the youth. Camp has responded by intentional thought, prayer, and program addressing them. Youth have responded by being very open to sharing their experiences of pain. Multiple staff have remarked that these issues were not really mentioned or discussed in the beginning because campers never brought them up. As Doug Olsen notes, campers in recent years are much more aware of social temptations and problems than earlier years. While alcohol has been a problem for years, we didn’t see many drug problems, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse, or other social issues. If such a problem arose, it was most often dealt with in private. Bible Camp has become more proactive in addressing many of the social issues experienced by Alaskan youth. Topics such as sexuality, family values, and drug and alcohol abuse are discussed both in group settings as well as one-onone conversations. Other needs have also changed throughout the years. For instance, when camp started virtually none of the campers came from homes with water and sewer. Youth had the responsibility to haul ice, water, wood and to chop wood. As the Perrigo's observed, there was meaningful menial labor for the youth which helped build a work ethic and ownership in them. Another major change was brought with the television set. TV changed the way the people socialized (TV came to the villages around 30 years ago). Chris recalls that before TV it used to be that when you went to someone’s house people would pass on stories and cultural wisdom and there were more healthy activities like sewing circles and women’s groups. As Heidi Ivanoff notes, in general youth work used to be introducing new things, but now it’s more about keeping youth away from things. As some have noted, the way youth present their needs are somewhat different with technology. Today with personal electronics and headphones it is very easy to escape reality.


Camp takes away some of those escapes. Technology-centered youth have less experience outdoors and there is often more of a superficiality with the way they relate to one another. There is less knowledge of a subsistence lifestyle. In this changing relational landscape, camp can be a place where kids learn about face to face relationships and a relationship with God. The creation of CYAK has also drastically changed the needs of youth in connection with Bible Camp. After Covenant High, Bible Camp was often the only place all year that Christian village youth could connect with other Christians. With CYAK, camp is no longer the only place where they can connect. As Heidi Ivanoff notes, “The world was not easily accessible at the time, so Christian youth from different villages were not connected…the only other Christian exposure they had was with KICY.” KICY, the Covenant radio station, however generally only played country and Gospel which youth often had a hard time connecting with. CYAK created opportunities for youth to connect throughout the year with regular fall and spring regional youth activities. Now-a-days youth also connect frequently with drastically increased school sports and activity travel. With CYAK there was increased communication, promotion, and connections which have led to greater camp attendance. CYAK made an intentional effort to assign youth workers to each of the village sites creating a year round youth ministry which served as preparation and follow-up for camp. The opportunities for mentoring have become more central, although the needs have always been there, especially for young males. Church members mentoring youth people makes perfect sense as the tradition for the culture is to lead by example. Witnessing the year round walk of Christian has a deep impact on the youth. The increased connection of the church to the youth created enormous numerical growth in campers from 1992-2010 going from around 30 High School students to 100. Having more CYAK youth workers also helped increase


the staff to student ratio. The facility upgrades such as the Temple, the well, and the Ark have allowed camp to accommodate the needs of a larger group of youth and staff. Bible Camp has always tried to meet the core need of youth to know God’s love. The one constant has been the focus on the Gospel and on helping youth realize their own need for a relationship with Jesus and to be forgiven. Camp met that need by having loving Christian staff. Youth had the opportunity to witness service, worship, hear speakers deliver the Gospel, and experience God through Creation as Psalm 16 and 19 speak of. Activities in God’s Creation helped teach that God is good; activities like the hike or the Musk-Ox Run. These activities also brought structure and tradition campers would look forward to. Camp has always been a place of intentional encouragement as well. Morning staff meetings are designed to make sure that both the campers and staff are encouraged daily. In those meetings the needs of youth are discussed daily by asking what the needs are in each cabin. One thing you won’t see to try to meet the needs of you at camp is many flashy activities. The activities of Covenant Bible Camp can’t compete with the Lower 48 camps. The village youth have shown that they can get together with very little and really relate with one another. Nevertheless, as Doug Olsen notes, Camp leadership has continued to focus on the needs of the campers. Although this has been a long-standing commitment, current leaders remain resolved to look forward rather than be satisfied with the “way it’s always been done.” Beside the need for the Gospel, camper and Jr. Counselor Laurel Katchatag noted, another one of the needs that has stayed constant is the need for “Bug Dope” (mosquito repellent).

Into the Future


In Alaska the needs are somewhat unique with the Native culture. Native youth are trying to find their identity as their culture clashes with the Western culture. A subsistence lifestyle is often now mixed with video games, texting, and social networks. So how can Covenant Bible Camp continue to meet the needs of youth? Virtually all long-time staff agree that there is not a need to continue to grow larger as a facility or to add modern conveniences such as flush toilets or a bathhouse. Covenant Bible Camp needs to reflect how villages camp at fish camp and while hunting. In order to meet the needs of youth in the future, camp needs to offer more camps. As Chris Perrigo notes, camp can do more with Unalakleet kids easily and with very little cost, such as Boys camp, Girls camp, Cultural camp, Sewing/beading camp, or Subsistence camp. Bringing back a family camp (once called Fall Call), a substance abuse camp, a canoe camp, a men’s camp, and many others are only a few of the ideas for new camps. There will need to be some major improvements done in the near future with the continued erosion of the river bank, but those improvements will mostly need to be in moving and improving existing structures. With a growing number of staff each year, the need for greater staff preparation and follow-up throughout the year should be a priority: both in training local and Lower 48 teams. The cultural orientation of Lower 48 staff has been a great improvement and should continue to grow. Tom Mute notes that with gatherings like the ECCAK Annual Meeting and Fall Blast, many of the local camp staff are gathered in one place at the same time and could easily include a staff training component. Such opportunities could also help to identify specific gifts in local staff so that there may be a greater number of local Speakers and Program Directors, for instance. Doug Olsen even suggests that professional leadership training should be made


available to selected Camp staff. Areas such as interpersonal management skills, social awareness, and facilities management are examples of specialized learning. Rising costs in travel will also cause a continued and greater challenge. In 2001, the roundtrip cost for a flight to camp averaged under $100. In 2011, the cost had gone up to over $500. Granted more campers were coming from further away, but the cost of flying campers to Unalakleet is still astronomical. Perhaps one of the ways camp could lower these costs is by seeking a way to have a Unalakleet based mission pilot(s) and airplane(s). As the original guard of staff continues to retire, the younger generation needs to take a greater look at those who have come before and take advantage of their wisdom while they can. The younger generation needs to ask for wisdom on how to meet some of the deep needs of youth today. How can camp help turn the tide of young men abandoning their families and the church? They need to ask how to address substance abuse, suicide, and family dysfunction. They need to hear the value of campers to chores. As Curtis Ivanoff notes, “There’s something really healthy about kids contributing to the life of camp.” As the new guard takes over, they also need to remember to focus on building local staff. One idea Nick Bruckner has is to have a local paid internship program in the future. Spiritually, Lloyd Perrigo notes that we are a generation farther away from when the Church and the Gospel were central in the villages. We must strengthen the partnership between camp and the local churches. Camp should press every village Pastor and church leader to serve at camp. So many youth start a relationship at camp it only makes sense that the church should be present so they can keep the ball rolling when youth return home. These new Christians need encouragement from their church to become leaders and to find their calling in Christ. As Doug Olsen notes, Bible Camp must continue to instill the hope of Christ in the lives of the campers.


Lloyd recalls that 30 years ago everyone was at least familiar with a Christian lifestyle even if they weren’t living it. Today a Christian worldview is not well known or understood. For instance, 30 years ago it was the norm for people to get married. Today the idea of marriage is no longer the norm in the villages. Approaching issues is more challenging now because the Christian worldview is becoming foreign and requires more teaching on basic foundational issues. As Lloyd states, “We can’t expect to say the same things in the same ways and expect the same results as 30 years ago.” The number one way to continue to meet the needs of youth in the future is to continue following the precedent of Chip Swanson; to walk the trails of camp and to pray. All staff should echo the desire of Chris when she states, “I don’t want to run a camp without the Holy Spirit.”

Personal Notes

A special “thank you” is due to all of those who agreed to be interviewed in order for this paper to come into being. Thank you to Byron Bruckner, Chip Swanson, Chris Perrigo, Curtis Ivanoff, Doug Olsen, Heidi Ivanoff, Laurel Katchatag, Lloyd Perrigo, Nick Bruckner, and Tom Mute. This is their history and their reflections. When I set out to do this project I had two goals: #1) to compile a written history of Covenant Bible Camp, and #2) to explore the growing needs of youth in the past 30+ years in village Alaska. While there is always more history to be recorded, I feel content with the history that is collected here. Perhaps this paper may be a launching point for another more detailed history. I was surprised by how many people I


interviewed expressed that the needs of youth hadn’t changed much throughout the years. Yet at the same time, the list of needs that could be rattled off is substantial. My hope is that this paper will serve to pass on the vision of Covenant Bible Camp to new generations so that the ministry will continue to meet the needs of youth. I hope that this paper will honor those who have sacrificed much to serve. I also hope that this paper might encourage the Body of Christ to know that God has worked in a mighty way and will continue to work. I would also like to make a shortened version of this history (2-3 pages) that may be more widely read at some point. My prayer is that Covenant Bible Camp located on the North River 10 miles from Unalakleet, Alaska will continue to be a “natural place to meet with the supernatural God and super people.”


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