Calvary Chapel in the Arctic

Calvary Chapel Ministers in the Arctic
Calvary Chapel Ministers in the Arctic

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To the Ends of the Earth: A Family’s Mission Legacy in the Arctic Circle—Part 1

Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos courtesy of David Markey

This is Part 1 of a three-part story about missionary David Markey and his family, serving the native people of the Arctic Circle. He is the son of the late George Markey and his wife Pam, veteran Calvary Chapel missionaries in Eastern Europe for many years. Look for Part 2 coming soon.

Some names have been modified to protect ministry in this sensitive area.

Missionary Pastor David Markey was used to the area’s often minus 50-degree Fahrenheit winters, but as he hunched over his snowmobile, desperately trying to see through the fiercely blowing snow, he wondered for the first time if his eyeballs were going to freeze. Unable to use snow goggles, which frosted over in moments, David had to leave this one area of his body vulnerable to the extreme cold.

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A request had come to him from a small fishing village more than 80 miles away. An elderly Christian widow who attended the church during summer months needed firewood—a matter of survival on the frozen tundra. “There’s no wood around the village,” David explained. “Firewood is delivered by big trucks and left beside a highway plowed on the frozen river. They have to pick it up on snowmobiles, stack it, and chop it.” Transporting all the firewood needed for the widow and two other village families required nine trips, roughly five miles each way, for David and two others. The trip there, with the wind at their backs, was bearable. On return trips, however, 20-mph winds blasted snow in their faces. “My face was numb, but right on my cheekbones I had a weird sensation,” David remembered, “like there was ice inside my cheeks, under my skin.”

Man walking with log

Braving minus-40-degree Fahrenheit weather, Calvary Chapel missionary David Markey rushes to deliver firewood before the next snowstorm hits the village.

Vitalik, the Christian fisherman David was staying with, suddenly stopped his snowmobile and ran back to David. “You’re getting frostbite on your cheeks! Rub it!” he exclaimed, motioning urgently.

Vitalik’s help prevented permanent damage, but David still had severe frostbite on his cheeks, the bridge of his nose, and one wrist too numb for him to realize a sleeve had pulled up. “My tissue actually froze,” he remarked matter-of-factly. “I’ve had frostbite before, but never like that.” For David, however, the trip’s take-away was what came after: sitting in Vitalik’s teepee watching The Chosen, a television drama series about Jesus’ life, on David’s laptop with Vitalik’s family and a group of non-Christian neighbors. “They were on the edge of their seats,” said David. “They were very interested in Jesus healing all these people.” An elderly woman, Grandma Lida, asked them to pray over a calcified growth on her toe. David finds it encouraging that in their reserved culture, kind but standoffish to outsiders, “they want to spend time with us. We’re their friends now.”

Since 2012, David and Deborah Markey have been sharing God’s love with the native people who live in the extreme northern regions. Despite its numerous challenges, the barren landscape has become the backdrop against which God has revealed His faithfulness to multiply resources and melt cold hearts with His love.

Selfie in snow

David’s face is frostbitten after delivering firewood in a snowstorm.

Persevering through the Pandemic

The area’s name means “the end of the earth”, and just stepping into its sub-zero temperatures confirms how literally the region is named. Mid-winter, there are only a few hours of dim daylight, and temperatures can drop below -50. The frozen river becomes the main highway; beyond that, travel must happen by snowmobile. Alcoholism is epidemic among the native peoples, resulting in many deaths, whether from suicide, drowning, or freezing. “Because of the idols, we do see demon possession here,” added David. “These are people very aware of the spiritual world, and the spiritual enemy has a strong grip on their lives.” The government is suspicious of non-governmental groups and has intimidated people by calling them in for questioning.

The number of attendees at their little church, named Good News Birchcape, nearly halves in winter, as people who came for the fishing season disperse to more traditional, isolated villages. Only eight adults remain year-round. While challenging, it is also a blessing, creating connection points for a much larger outreach range than the Markeys could have established alone. The tiny church has ongoing outreach in six villages, with touchpoints in more. Most are joint efforts with its parent church, Good News Capetown, where the Markeys still actively serve. “We encourage people to use the connections God has given them to reach those around them,” David explained, “because we want them to be the ones doing the ministry. I’ll be honest, they’ve been scared to reach out—so was the early Church. But when they take these steps of faith, I’m encouraged by how excited they are.”

People standing by car

David with his hosts, Vitalik and Natalya, outside their home in the tundra village.

Outreach seminars at Good News Capetown inspired two women, Natasha and Nadya, to begin ministering to others in a 2,000-person town in 2019. “They’re both native to the core; one was even born in a teepee on the tundra,” David reported. “They came back and said, ‘The people have drinking problems; we want to offer alternative activities.’ They rented an apartment, started doing projects like sewing reindeer skin, and invited people to a Bible study. The first one had 10 people, which is huge! It’s wonderful to see locals reaching their own people.”

By awesome deeds in righteousness You will answer us, O God of our salvation, You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth. Psalm 65:5a

Because the winter highway makes remote villages accessible, David’s busiest ministry season happens during the area’s coldest weather. Teams from other Calvary Chapels join him for numerous trips, working to forge spiritual and relational bonds which can outlast the summer separation. 2020’s visits ended on a high note. A Good News Capetown member had donated her family home in a remote town for ministry. Often broken into for drunken binges, it had been filled with graffiti, broken bottles, and human waste. A team worked tirelessly to transform it into an outreach hub. After their first service, David was amazed when Luba, a local woman, asked to receive Jesus as her Savior, becoming the first person in her 1,000-person village to accept Christ.

Family photo

David and Deborah Markey and their children—Abigail, 12; Selah, 10; Gabriel, 5; Moriah, 3—minister to mostly unreached native people in the Arctic Circle.

However, COVID-19 greatly extended the normal separation period’s length and breadth. David and a church member, Rostislav, returned last August to find Luba relapsed into alcoholism and too ashamed to see them, and the house retaken by drunken youth. With no way home until their ride returned two days later, the men stayed that night anyway. The youths graciously crowded into one room so the Christians could have the other and shared their swan soup. “We kept trying to love on them,” David related. “They were drunk the whole time, but they still listened. We answered their questions about smoking and drinking and talked with them about the Bible.” It was not how they envisioned their outreach hub, yet they connected with many locals that they otherwise would not have reached. Many have stayed in touch. Most originally wanted money for alcohol, but after realizing they will not get it have continued calling with spiritual questions.

Their last night was spent with the homeowner’s brother, Andre. A non-drinker, Andre is an anomaly in the area, which is “known for being a black hole where everyone goes to drink,” David explained. “Usually people are skeptical of outsiders, but they were super excited to have us. We shared the Good News about Jesus with them and continue to pray for them.” Luba has also gotten back in touch. Though struggling with her addiction, she still desires to faithfully follow Jesus.

Selfie of three men

David, Borya, and Vitalik enjoyed watching The Chosen during David’s visit.

Another acquaintance, Zhenya, contacted David recently. “He asked if I would bring a refrigerator from the city to their house,” said David. “I almost said, ‘No, I don’t have time for that,’ but sometimes God gives us these opportunities to show people we care. Practical acts of love speak louder to them than words. His wife had always rejected us, but when we arrived, she met us with a big smile and made us tea. One helpful act changed her whole attitude.”


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.