Giving the winds a mighty voice
In rural Alaska, on the brutal tundra, a small radio station staff is delivering hope in the peoples’ heart language.
In the words of Palmer Bailey, the Alaskan town of Bethel is not “postcard Alaska.”
“It is a vast barren tundra. There are no trees. The nearest road is 400 miles away. The only way in and out is by air… On the rare clear day, you can see mountains far off in the distance. But the isolation of Bethel is nothing compared to the isolation of these villages that we’re reaching.”
A tough, tough place
Bethel sits in the far west of Alaska on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. About 6,000 people call her home, two-thirds of which are Yup’ik, one of Alaska’s First Peoples. Palmer Bailey, and his wife, Bonnie, run the Christian radio station KYKD, serving Bethel and the broader region. While English is widely spoken, Central Yup’ik is also taught and spoken, with many considering it their heart language. KYKD’s broadcast incorporates a mix of the two languages, with teaching, music, and scripture readings in English as well as Yup’ik.
They have seen evidence that their work with KYKD has changed lives. For instance, a young Yup’ik man from Bethel came to know the Lord while listening to KYKD at his grandmother’s house. He is finishing up his studies in a pastoral program and is planning to come back and serve the Yup’ik church. This happened because of the faithfulness of the Baileys. But God had more planned for them.
“In 2015,” he remembers, “we felt strongly called to record the complete Yup’ik audio Bible.” This was a huge undertaking. As the only full-time staff members at KYKD, Palmer and Bonnie already had their hands full. But they were resolved, “This is a tough, tough place in many ways. There is so much hopelessness. Suicide is an epidemic, especially among young people…We can do better.” The Baileys knew that, if God’s Word was needed anywhere, it was here – in rural Alaska.
The Bailey’s vision was to use MegaVoice Envoy 2 Elite audio devices. These have both onboard memory (which would allow the whole Yup’ik audio Bible to be accessible) as well as radio capability (which would provide access to KYKD). “We want to proactively distribute these, far and wide, in as many rural Alaskan villages as we can get into.”
The first task, though, was recruiting a group of native readers to record the Yup’ik Bible. Palmer reports that after three and a half years of work, the recording is now over 75% complete. Thanks to a generous donation from Inspiration Cruises, the Baileys were able to begin this lengthy process and purchase the first batch of Envoy 2 Elites. They expect the recording of the Bible to be completed in 2020.
Once loaded, the audio Bibles embark on an epic journey. Carried by volunteers through all kinds of weather, across formidable terrain, by boat and snowmobile, the audio Bibles are hand-delivered to these remote villages. “[Our volunteers] go into villages and engage with the local population. Last winter two volunteers made a trip of over 500 miles in the course of a week in order to visit 7 different villages.” It’s a dangerous and challenging process but, once delivered, these audio Bibles quite literally become a lifeline for these remote communities.
“Some days, sitting behind the microphone, it very much feels like a one-way conversation. You feel like: ‘Hello? Is anyone out there? Is anyone even listening?’ But every now and then God will open up a window just enough for us to see that lives are in fact being changed and that we have not wasted ourselves.”