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The Never-Ending Summer

43 years after a short-term mission trip to Alaska, prison chaplain David Arestad is still ministering in America’s Last Frontier.

Driving up the rugged Alaska Highway from his home in Washington state in June 1974, David Arestad looked forward to a short-term mission with the King Jesus North Pole (KJNP) radio station near Fairbanks in North Pole, Alaska. As a Bible school student, he signed up for the summer months only.

“I guess the Lord had other intentions,” Arestad says. 

Now, 43 years later, Arestad still resides in Alaska, but serves in a different role as an endorsed Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain at the Spring Creek Correctional Center (SCCC). He serves as the head chaplain at the maximum security facility in Seward.

Arestad learned about prison ministry through KJNP radio’s outreaches. His compassion for inmates grew stronger by serving local prisons and jails as a volunteer chaplain while pastoring AG churches in Minto and Houston, and on staff at Sterling, Alaska.

“What drew me to prison ministry was seeing men basically warehoused behind bars and forgotten,” he says. “They need Jesus.”

Arestad joined Spring Creek as its first full-time paid chaplain in 2012. He is one of only three professional chaplains employed in Alaska’s entire correctional system. Located 125 miles south of Anchorage at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, SCCC houses 500 inmates. The majority are hardcore felons convicted of violent crimes and serving lengthy terms, including life sentences for murder. Many are sex offenders. About 40 percent of the inmates are Native Americans who come from isolated villages deep in the Alaskan bush.

The facility also has a step-down unit for those that have been in segregation for most of their sentences.

Daily Arestad deals with bitter felons, cut off from relatives without money for phone calls. Delivering the sad news of family members dying is another difficult responsibility.

As head chaplain, Arestad walks a fine line directing spiritual programs for all faith groups, overseeing counseling, chapel services, crisis intervention, music events, Bible studies, and managing volunteers from the community. He also monitors a separate multifaith dorm housing 53 inmates, most of whom are Christians. Many times an inmate from a nontraditional faith group will knock on his office door seeking help.

Manuel Cordero, senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries, recruited Arestad as an AG prison chaplain in 2008.

“David is doing a great job in a difficult facility,” Cordero says. “He is very relational, and connects well with the men.”

Arestad beams when talking about men he has mentored for years finally leaving prison and getting plugged into church. He urges AG pastors to invite chaplains to share the burden of prison ministries with their congregations.

“Jesus tells us to go into the prisons to reach the down and out,” he says.

Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.