The story of InterAct begins in some of the most remote parts of Alaska before the region even became a state. At that time many missionaries that had been sent out independently by different churches were ministering in the Alaska Bush. Over time, as they connected and saw that they were all working towards the same goal, they began to discuss banding together to form a mission organization.
The 1940s - The Groundwork is Laid
John and Nadine Gillespie answer the call to mission work in Alaska. Married for just seven weeks, they board the SS Denali from Seattle, Washington to Valdez, Alaska.
After serving in Chintina, Copper Center and the El Nathan Children’s Home in Valdez, the Gillespies move to Anchorage to help start Youth for Christ. They begin attending The Church of the Open Door (TCOD).
John Gillespie is called as pastor of TCOD. Seeing the need for more cooperation among independent missionaries in Alaska, he helps organize a missionary conference to bring them together.
“From our first summer in Alaska in 1941 we realized that the independent missionary force in Alaska was made up of a fragmented group of missionaries, each working in their area with little contact with one another, and no coordinated plan for reaching Alaska as a whole.” – John Gillespie
The Gillespies establish Victory Bible Camp on 40 acres of land near Index Lake. This camp would later be run as part of the ministry of Arctic Missions (InterAct).
The Alaska missionaries attending the conference at TCOD are challenged by the speaker that year to organize and begin working together. John Gillespie continued to urge the missionaries to establish a mission board there in Alaska.
The 1950s - The Mission is Founded in Alaska
Sixteen missionaries come together to form Alaska Missions Incorporated. The first meeting takes place at the home of Marvin Webber, a member of TCOD.
“We were sitting around discussing missions, and Jim Vaus made the comment, ‘Johnnie, you’ve talked about missions long enough. Let’s do something about it.’ So [Jim] reached in his pocket, and pulled out his billfold and laid a $50 bill on the table. Ken Hughes also put money on the table, and they said, ‘Let’s organize right now.’ So they did. That was the beginning of what is now InterAct Ministries.” – Marvin Webber
The mission quickly grows as seven new missionaries are added.
It is discovered that another organization was using the name Alaska Missions. Because of this and other reasons the name is changed to Arctic Missions. The mission releases the film Call of the Arctic highlighting the great need for pioneer mission work in Alaska.
As the mission grows, the need for an administrative base of operations in the “lower 48” in order to respond to requests and inquiries from churches, furnish literature, screen missionary candidates and represent the mission at conferences becomes evident. The Gillespies move to the Portland, Oregon area to establish a home office.
Alaska becomes the 49th state! Victory High School (VHS) is opened with the goal of providing a Christ-centered education to Native Christians so that they would be prepared to teach others, especially their own people. Scholarships are provided for students who needed financial assistance. No student is ever turned away for financial reasons.
The 1960s - The Mission Grows
VHS continues to grow. A sophomore class is added and a new school house is built.
Missionaries Russ and Freda Arnold start Kokrine Hills Bible Camp (KHBC) on the Yukon River, about 200 miles west of Fairbanks. The camp is established so that children from Alaska’s Interior can have a summer Bible camp experience. Though KHBC now functions independently of InterAct Ministries, it continues to impact the lives of children throughout Alaska’s Interior.
The ministry of VHS expands and more students are enrolled. Missionaries continue serving in the villages, evangelizing, discipling and church planting. The importance of trusting relationships in the communication of the gospel is seen early on.
“The Alaskan Native is more at home in the great outdoors. Cutting wood, hunting moose, or visiting a trapline brings us closer to the men. Fishing gives opportunity for sharing: nets, fish wheels, fish and work, but more important–sharing our knowledge of Him who said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Missionaries must often prove themselves to those whom they would win. We may enter men’s homes without having access to their hearts. Here true friendship and love mean more than great talent and ability…Our attitude is important. A missionary who is willing to learn from his men will find more willing ears when he would teach…So men must see Christ in us.” – Barney Furman, Arctic Mission Family News, Summer 1961
Arctic Bible Institute (ABI) opens on the campus of VHS as a residential training facility to equip and train church leaders for ministry in villages and urban areas.
Arctic Missions begins work in Canada among First Nations peoples in British Columbia. The potential for this expansion was envisioned from early days of the mission.
“Though the Mission is beginning in…Alaska, the entire Arctic region lies within the scope and prayers of the organization.” – Principles and Practices for Alaska Missions, March 1953
Canada missionaries begin to discuss the need for a training center in Canada, similar to ABI.
The 1970s - The Canada Field Grows
In Alaska, Victory Bible Camp (VBC), originally founded by the Gillespies in 1948, becomes part of Arctic Missions. The Mission is also given the Lazy Mountain Children’s Home and the surrounding property near Palmer, Alaska. In Canada, the vision for a training center becomes a reality as the Native Institute of Canada (NIC) is opened. This ministry includes both a high school as well as a Bible institute.
In Alaska, ABI relocates to the recently-acquired property on Lazy Mountain. In Canada, the number of students enrolled at NIC increases to eighteen. In Oregon, the mission purchases property in the town of Boring, a rural area about 13 miles east of Portland, and plans are made to construct a new office that will serve as the Mission’s headquarters.
Multi Media Productions begins on the Lazy Mountain campus to better meet the needs of spreading the gospel through radio and audio recordings.
Arctic Missions celebrates its 25th anniversary. The mission reflects upon God’s blessings over twenty-five years: church planting work among Native communities in Alaska and Canada is ongoing. Institutions like ABI, VHS, VBC and NIC continue to train and equip people for ministry, making a significant impact in the lives of Native people in Alaska and Canada.
All of the Mission’s training institutions, ABI, VHS and NIC, experience record high enrollments.
The NIC high school is closed, but the ministry of the Bible institute continues. The name is eventually changed to Native Bible Centre (NBC), and the focus transitions from residential students to extension courses.
The 1980s - The Mission Explores New Ministries
The Mission receives its charter in Canada, and Arctic Missions of Canada is official founded. While a distinct legal entity, Arctic Missions continues to function as one mission organization in both Alaska and Canada.
“One of the highlights of this year is that, every place we have missionaries stationed, Native people have come to know Christ as Savior. Now many of these are involved in a personal discipleship class and are maturing in the Lord.” – Dan Woodkey, Canadian Field Annual Report, June, 1980.
With new initiatives undertaken by the Alaskan government to establish public schools in remote areas, leading to more students going to school in their villages, enrollment decreases at VHS. The decision is made to close the school. Looking back over the years many students came to know the Lord during their time at VHS and grew in their Christian lives. Missionaries who served at the school continue to stay in contact with alumni today.
A videography department is established to further the work of church planting and leadership training.
Becoming increasingly aware of the large, unreached immigrant populations in the urban areas of western Canada, the Mission begins to explore reaching out to Punjabi-speaking Sikhs from India.
Camp Li-Wa joins Arctic Missions under the umbrella of VBC.
John Gillespie steps down as General Director of the mission. Alaska field director Gale Van Diest steps into the roll to lead the mission.
As the mission continues to spread across less “Arctic” regions of western Canada, the name of the mission is changed to InterAct Ministries.
As the “Iron Curtain” begins to be dismantled in Eastern Europe, opportunities to visit Russia open up. Going back to the Mission’s roots, when it was stated that “the entire Arctic region lies within the scope and prayers of the organization,” the Mission begins to pray about reaching across the Bering Strait to the Native peoples of Siberia.
The 1990s - The Russia Field Opens
InterAct General Director Gale Van Diest, along with several other missionaries fly to the city of Yakutsk, the capital of the Republic of Sakha. While there they connect with Russian pastors, speak on a number of occasions, share the gospel with people and witness a baptism. Upon visiting the nearby town of Olekminsk they are told that they are the “first American missionaries ever to visit there.”
The Mission releases Victory Bible Camp and it becomes known as Victory Ministries. It continues to minister the gospel today.
InterAct places its first full-time missionaries in Russia. Dave and Kay Henry move from Alaska to the Siberian city of Khabarovsk to study language and culture. The following year they move to the city of Yakutsk.
Gary Brumbelow becomes the General Director as Gale Van Diest steps into the role of International Consultant. With ministry to East-Indian Sikhs continuing to grow in Canada, InterAct opens up Northwest India as a field of ministry.
The gospel continues to spread in Russia. Among the Sakha people, more and more come to know Christ.
“Evangelical Christianity among the Yakut (Sakha) is very new. Yet they have experienced amazing growth and outreach. Now there are Yakut churches with Yakut pastors where a majority of the service, including preaching, singing and testimonies, is in the Yakut language.” – Dave Henry, InterACTION, Summer 1996
InterAct places its first full-time missionaries in India. Dale and Debbie Kenyon move to East-India to help Serve Ministries start Life Steps, a computer-training program for disabled people, that gives a platform for personal evangelism in the community.
The large, growing Muslim immigrant population in Canada prompts InterAct to begin ministry to these communities in the urban areas.
After much prayer and consideration, InterAct discontinues direct involvement in ministry in India.
The 2000s - The Mission Adopts a New Vision Statement
A new mission and purpose statement is adopted that focuses on reaching the peoples of the North Pacific Crescent (Russia, Alaska and Canada).
InterAct Ministries celebrates 50 years of God’s faithfulness!
Bold steps in church planting, missionary training and community development in the North Pacific Crescent are launched.
InterAct partners with the Institute for Bible Translation to help fund the completion of the New Testament into the Sakha language for the almost 450,000 Sakha speakers in Russia.
In Alaska, missionaries Alan and Linda Ross begin Hearts Going Toward Wellness (HGTW), a program designed to help believers who have suffered abuse in their past. Through five-day conferences HGTW has gone on to help many Alaska Natives as well as others to overcome the trauma of past abuses through faith in Christ.
In Russia, ministry begins in the Republic of Tuva, a region of Russia on the country’s southern border with Mongolia. Missionaries work in partnership with Russian and Tuvan churches to help disciple believers and further the work of church planting.
The 2010s - The Mission Focuses on Discipleship
Gary Brumbelow steps down as Executive (General) Director, and Dale Smith becomes the new Executive Director of the mission.
InterAct partners with the Institute for Bible Translation to help fund the completion of the first translation of the full Bible into the Tuvan language.
The EnGage! summer internship program is launched in Canada, emphasizing a relational approach to summer ministry. This internship model has now been expanded to Alaska and Russia.
New purpose, vision and values statements are adopted emphasizing a continued focus on the North Pacific Crescent, but with a stronger emphasis on discipleship and partnerships with like-minded churches and organizations.
Partnering with four other ministries in Alaska, InterAct helps start the LEaD (Leadership and Discipleship) program on the Lazy Mountain Campus. LEaD’s purpose is to be a Bible-based discipleship community, focused on training Native followers of Jesus in principles of Christian leadership, spiritual formation and life skills.
The Association of Christian Evangelical Churches (ACEC) celebrates its 25th anniversary in Yakutsk, Yakutia. InterAct missionaries worked in partnership with ACEC for many years to help plant churches among the indigenous Sakha people. Since the early 90s the number of Sakha evangelical believers has grown from less than 10 to almost 1,000.
“The light of the Gospel has penetrated our land, and the frozen hearts of our people are melting because of the warmth of God’s love." – Sayid Protopopov, Sakha Pastor
InterAct celebrates 65 years of ministry in Alaska. New strategies and goals for ministry in Alaska are put in place emphasizing discipling, church planting and facilitative ministries both in the villages and urban areas. In Canada, ministry expands eastward into Manitoba as Midway Christian Leadership (formerly Continental Missions Inc.) merges with InterAct Ministries of Canada.