Pastor Alan Humphries and his wife, Miriam, and other members of the Soldotna Church of God raise their voices in song at the beginning of a service on a recent Sunday. The Humphries have been at the church for 20 years.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Leaving California for a remote place like Soldotna was not high on Alan Humphries’ list of things he wanted to do, but he came anyway. When he and his wife Miriam arrived with their two sons in the dead of winter 20 years ago, it was so cold that ice cube would have been a better way to describe the city.
“Everything was covered in a six- to eight-inch sheet of ice,” Alan said. “(We) couldn’t walk, it was horrible.”
He’d been working as the development director at his alma mater, West Coast Bible College, in Fresno, Calif., when the state superintendent for the Church of God offered him a position as pastor at the Soldotna church.
Humphries has shared his Christian faith with followers at the Soldotna Church of God for 20 years, but he has also brought teachings of the church to inmates at Wildwood Correctional Center and is now broadcasting across the state on cable television.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“I wanted Anchorage,” Alan said, standing in the church’s sanctuary gazing out the open back door at the new wheelchair ramp. He was tempted to turn the position down, but Miriam felt this was where God wanted them to be. After his first sermon, he agreed. “I wasn’t interested in coming to a little-bitty town in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “But it just felt right.”
Born and raised a merchant’s son in Union, S.C., Alan planned to follow in his father’s footsteps. But at 17, after a night of partying and drinking, Alan found himself on the sand at Myrtle Beach. He focused his eyes on the vanishing point where ocean meets sky when he heard a voice.
White and his wife, Michael, train video cameras on Pastor Alan Humphries during taping of a sermon for Soldotna Church of God's "A Home for the Future" television program. The church broadcasts two shows a week on KYES.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“The Earth isn’t flat,” the voice said to him, “but your life is. You’re either going to go up with me to heaven or you’ll fall off over the edge into the abyss.”
He walked away from a $500,000 family business that night and headed down a path that eventually lead he and Miriam to Soldotna.
“At that point I surrendered control of my life to God,” he said. “I felt God called me into the ministry, that I was supposed to pursue full-time Christian service, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time.”
That was more than 35 years ago, but Alan’s philosophy concerning God might give people a better understanding of how he wound up in a seemingly out-of-the way place like Soldotna.
“I liken it to driving from here to Anchorage at night,” he said. “You can only see the few hundred feet the light shines, then you see farther. Follow the Lord for a few hundred feet and you’ll go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you’ll see a little farther.”
So he went home later that week and discovered a new pastor had moved into his church, bringing with him his 16-year-old daughter.
“It wasn’t like one of those love at first sight ting-a-ling fairy tales,” he said of his first meeting with Miriam. “I came home back to church on Sunday and three and a half years later, we were married.”
Together Alan and Miriam went where they felt God call them. Loading a Plymouth Barracuda with garage-sale furniture, they set off across country for West Coast Bible College.
“It was weird to leave South Carolina for California,” he said. Alan said his dad had pinned his hopes on him going into the family business and wasn’t too happy about his decision to go to college. “He shook my hand at the airport, gave me two $100 bills and said ‘God bless you, I hope you do well.’”
When Alan graduated he searched fruitlessly for a job in the South, and even tried his hand at graduate school in Tennessee. He was finally offered a position as a youth pastor and day care director in Olympia, Wash., and, a year later, earned his first pastorship at a Church of God in Newark, Calif.
“(It) was a church of 13 in a town of 30,000 people,” Alan said. “But it was in the middle of the Bay Area, a lot of people.”
Today, if you ask Miriam why she thought God called them to Soldotna, she wouldn’t be able to say.
“I just felt, this is it, this is where God wants you to be,” she said. “No matter how ugly, awful and nasty it was I couldn’t stand up on both feet I just knew we were supposed to come back.”
Miriam expresses her love and devotion to God through music and sang in church with her mother and sister as a teenager. She wrote her first song, “My Friend Jesus,” as a young adult when she sang solo, but had no thoughts of recording them.
“I thought they were just about me,” Miriam said. Alan encouraged her to record and after three albums, she said she’s been blessed with the response. “God really spoke to me through the words of those songs. I realized you’re never alone in life, that he is with you always,” she said.
Serving as the church’s first secretary, Miriam assists Alan in what she calls “in-house ministry.” She said she participates in musicals, but her second passion is speaking to women. Miriam does two Bible studies a week and attends women’s conferences in the Lower 48. She also participates in the women’s ministry group Women of the Peninsula.
“If I had to bottom-line my message it’s no matter what life dishes out, God is big enough to help you through it,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “You have an advocate to help you keep getting up and keep living. I can’t imagine not having him.”
When Alan and Miriam were new to Soldotna, the church consisted of the sanctuary and the pastor’s living quarters. Back then, Alan said, 85 people made up his congregation. Over the years it’s grown to 200 people. The living quarters were converted to the church office and the nursery, while a handful of classrooms were added in the basement. Two houses adjacent to the church lot are used as a day care while a third is the Humphries’ residence. As a pastor, Alan recognizes that everyone has talents uniquely their own and he said it’s his job to help them utilize those talents to serve God.
“My philosophy is that God calls every Christian to be a minister or a servant,” he said. “We’re each one uniquely given. My job as a pastor is to help them find their role, their place in serving God.”
For the most part, this philosophy takes him outside his church. This is just as well because Alan said a pastor’s job isn’t confined to the four walls of the church.
“I’m a fisher of men, not a keeper of the aquarium. I want to make people change. (To) communicate the love of God to people who are looking, hungry and hurting,” he said.
Fish were responsible for Steve Bonebrake’s friendship with the Humphries. Back in 1986 when Miriam and Alan were newcomers, an asphalt crew was busy paving Binkley and Redoubt streets. Bonebrake was the project manager. Alan and one of his sons had caught two king salmon, hung them on the stairs and were breaking chunks off of them, Bonebrake said.
“The asphalt crew was having a ball watching him,” he said. “I offered to fillet the king salmon for them and Alan said ‘Oh boy I sure appreciate that.’ That started a friendship that’s lasted 20 years.”
Every month for 20 years Alan has visited Bonebrake at the Soldotna City Hall, where he is the public works director, and invite him to church. He would drop his daughters off at the Church of God youth ministry, he said, but he didn’t go himself.
“I was a backslider for a long period of time before I started going back to church,” Bonebrake said. Raised in a Methodist church in Oregon, he said he attended church sporadically when he was in the military. He chose to go to the Church of God because he appreciated the warm welcome he received from the two pastors and congregation, he said.
“(It) was my daughter that got me started. I couldn’t quit, I look forward to going,” he said. “He goes through the verses one at a time and explains them, but does it in a down-to-earth, common-sense manner with humor.”
A survivor of two rounds of lymphoma, Bonebrake said the support of his wife, Alan and Miriam, youth pastors Thad and Michelle White, as well as the support of the entire congregation, helped him defeat cancer.
“All the pastors and the congregation have been highly supportive,” Bonebrake said. “Without their support I don’t know where I’d be.”
Alan’s straightforward approach to his ministry and the warmth of the congregation puts many newcomers at ease. Stacy Johnson, of Soldotna, said that she has just started attending the Church of God, but Alan’s ministry already has helped her make some important changes in her life.
“Sometimes when I’m around a pastor I feel uptight,” Johnson said. “They’re so accepting of everyone. Every Sunday I go there with a new rejuvenation.”
With each lesson, Johnson said she strives to be a better person. One lesson she said Alan taught her is that life is like a garden and in order to be happy you need to remove the weeds. “If I can get rid of the weeds things are much more simple,” she said.
Johnson met the Humphries working as a photographer at Images Fine Photography in Soldotna. After the death of her teenage son’s best friend, she realized she needed to be there at home for him.
“I needed to put my family a priority instead of a job,” she said. “I realized I have a year left with him and I need to be home with him.”
After going to Alan’s church for more than 17 years, Sandy Forbes of Soldotna now heads the children’s department and has been doing so for two years. She said she sought a relationship with God after being inspired by the change in her husband when he started attending church.
“I wasn’t a churchgoer back then so it was a little scary,” she said. “(The Humphries) were really friendly, they made us feel very welcome.”
When she first came to church, Forbes said she had low self-esteem and low confidence in her abilities. With Alan and Miriam’s help, she said she realizes God has given her a reason to live.
“I remember how positive the pastor’s messages were and how scared I was when I got there,” she said. “His message was more positive and made me feel better about myself.”
It used to be that Alan’s message was only available if he was there in person to give it. On Christmas Day 2005, with the help of his new youth minister, Thad White, Alan delivered the Christmas story across the state via television in his first broadcast on Alaska’s independent station KYES.
“It’s an awesome message of how Christianity began,” he said.
The idea for a show was sparked when an Anchorage businessman approached Alan with the plan. While the businessman’s plan never came to pass, White’s experience in video editing and cinematography put Alan’s show, “A Hope for the Future,” on the air.
“We’ve had overwhelming positive response,” White said. “As a Christian, we’re called to impact the world and I believe we’re doing that. The toughest part is we do so much there’s just not enough hours in the day to get it done.”
White also came to Soldotna from California. As youth pastor he oversees and administrates the youth ministry, as well as conducts Wednesday night Bible study for community teenagers. He said he always loved working with the camera, so when Alan approached him with the idea to do a TV show he was happy to help.
“It was just kind of a natural fit,” he said. “We usually tape the TV show on Thursdays and then I take the tapes and edit them together and get them broadcast ready and send them to KYES.”
Initially the plan was for Alan to preach to the congregation and the camera at the same time, but he said he wasn’t comfortable with that. Instead of filming a live broadcast, Alan preaches to the camera and the tape is sent to the TV station in Anchorage.
“Teaching God’s word is my passion,” he said. After teaching anger management across the state “from Barrow to Ketchikan,” he said he’ll utilize any avenue to get God’s word out. Each show is 30 minutes long and is aired at 10 a.m. Sundays and can be found on channel five.
“People here in the community come and say ‘I saw you on TV,’” Alan said. He added that his show is the first and only religious TV show on the Kenai Peninsula.
Miriam even lent her vocals to the show’s introduction, Alan said.
“I’m ecstatic,” Miriam said. “He’s a great teacher of God’s word. I love to hear him speak, and I’m not saying that because he’s my husband.”
In addition to his youth ministry and camera work, White oversees the Alaska Christian Retreat seven miles outside of Soldotna with his wife Michelle. “It’s gorgeous,” he said. “We have lake-front property that’s just absolutely beautiful.”
The facility hosts a variety of camps and retreats throughout the year. More information can be found on the retreat’s Web site, www.alaskachristianretreat.org.
Missy Bever attended Alan and Miriam’s church for 10 years before becoming Alan’s assistant. She’s been on the church’s staff for approximately three years and says she can’t ask for a better job. Before she was offered the position, she said she volunteered by putting together the bulletins, answering the phones and whatever else is needed.
“I feel blessed that I have the job,” she said. With two boys ages 6 and 9, she said he’s been very flexible with her schedule. “He’s a great boss. I couldn’t ask for a better job. I get to see my friends every day, everybody comes into the office and everything. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Bever came to church after a co-worker of her husband’s invited them. What she likes about Alan is he preaches in a way that is easily understandable and his sermons are applicable to daily life, rather than about something that happened a long time ago.
“Probably the biggest thing is that your walk with God is a daily relationship, it’s not something you do on Sundays,” Bever said, “You don’t come in on Sundays and do whatever you want the rest of the week.”
To Alan actions speak louder than words. He said if he didn’t live what he preaches, he would be called a hypocrite.
“My mission statement is communicating the life-changing power of Jesus Christ in a practical and relevant way,” he said. “We preach more by what we do than what we say.”
Alan and Miriam have taken the word of God to Wildwood Correctional and Pretrial Facility for 18 years. Alan’s message reminds the inmates that while they may be in prison, God still loves them. He said a lot of people choose not to know God because they think he’s angry with them.
“People can’t change in an atmosphere of condemnation,” he said. “God loves you, he’s not angry.”If you ask Alan what makes him different from other pastors, he’ll tell you that every one is different.
“I just celebrate those differences rather than get discouraged,” he said. “God wants me to be me, he doesn’t want me to be Billy Graham.”
Looking out at the wooded lot behind the church, Alan said one of his goals for the future is to build a community youth center with classrooms and an auditorium.
After 20 years, Alan and Miriam are in no hurry to leave Soldotna and will likely be here another 20 years.
“This is where I’m supposed to be happy,” he said. “I’ll stay in Soldotna till I go to heaven or until God tells me to go somewhere else.”
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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