The Boyd family at Portage Glacier, Portage Alaska.
(right to left: Hannah, Grant, James, Jim, Stephanie, Ethan, Joshua.)
By Karen L. Willoughby
A burly bear hunter who works in the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope is one of four church planters Jim Boyd mentors as he was mentored during his time from 2002 to ’06 at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.
Boyd also has planted three churches in the last three years, each of which initially met in his home in Soldotna on south-central Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
The team he’s gathered also ministers in two remote Native villages, and Boyd is building trust with Native Alaskans in his additional role as a radio personality on Voice for Christ ministries, part of the I Am radio network.
“We are a product of the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary,” Boyd said, including his vocalist wife Stephanie, a gifted musician, and their five now nearly-grown children in his statement. “We were trained for tough places and that is exactly where God has us.
“I am so thankful for the professors who discipled me at the seminary,” the church planter continued. “They taught me to love like Jesus, that lost sheep mattered, and to give my life away so others might know Christ.”
Life can be tenuous in Alaska, Boyd said.
“Multiple ministry colleagues striving to make disciples here in Alaska have died trying,” Boyd continued. “Earlier this fall a missionary pilot crashed into the Yukon River and died after getting disoriented in heavy fog. Last winter a ministry partner and his family crashed into a lake when ice formed on the wing of their small plane.”
Nonetheless, God keeps calling people to minister on the far side of the continent, west of Canada’s Yukon Territory, Boyd said.
“What I intentionally do is pray that God will bring to us entrepreneurs for God,” acknowledged the man who is in his third stint as a church planting missionary with the North American Mission Board. He started Tapestry, a church in Calgary, two churches in Southern California when he went there to care for aging parents, and an additional three so far in Alaska.
Men with “a heart for the lost and an entrepreneurial bent,” seem to find their way to him, Boyd said. Men like this enjoy the challenge of starting something from nothing. “They come alive doing it.”
Alaska is a land of untamed beauty and its people – Native Alaskans and others drawn to a frontier land – have learned to rely on their own strength and endurance, Boyd said. They live in isolated communities, scattered fishing villages, and small towns. Soldotna is one of the largest, with a little over 4,000 residents. The entire Kenai Peninsula has an estimated 55,000 people, recent census records show.
Another number is 41. That’s the number of people on the Kenai Peninsula who have been baptized by Boyd during the last three years.
“One computer programmer and his family were living in a camper,” Boyd said. “We led them to Christ; their kids too. That family is now fully integrated into their church family.”
Boyd’s skill set is that of a catalyst, the church planter said. He works with an apprentice lay-leader to establish the new work, until the “apprentice” becomes the pastor.
“Everywhere Jim goes, he or one of his kids lead people to the Lord,” said Butch Strickland, a NAMB church planting catalyst in Chugach Baptist Association on the Kenai Peninsula. “Evangelism, discipleship and church planting, that’s all they ever think.”
One of the ways Boyd has made inroads to Native communities is by partnering with Child Evangelism Fellowship and coaching their Good News Clubs. He and his family recently were invited by village elders in Quinhagak to lead a club in their village four times a year.
“The Lord opened a door from that,” Boyd said. Native Alaskan communities gather each year for communal “sings.” Boyd and his family – four teenage sons and a daughter – were asked to provide Good News Clubs during those events.
Boyd described the “great tension” he has seen in tribal villages, which at first glance appear to be “a third world country.” Barefoot kids will be talking on a cell phone. Next to a broken-down building will be a satellite dish that brings glimpses of a world villagers might otherwise never imagine.
“Village elders don’t want to lose their culture,” Boyd said. “But their youth … want the future. There is great tension because technology gives them aspirations that can’t be met.
“The key to reaching the villages is reaching the youth,” Boyd continued. “And through Good News Clubs and the multi-community sings, God is giving us a platform with the youth.”
Boyd’s professors and others he met at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary helped develop Boyd and his passion for growing God’s kingdom, said Jim Hamilton, executive director of Barnabas Ministries, a parachurch organization that spans Alaska and northwest Canada.
Boyd’s skill in reaching others, then discipling them as they become leaders in their own right, is how “Jim’s just getting the job done,” Hamilton said. “He’s a quiet leader who has impact.”