One Alaska Native’s Faith Felt for Generations

Nathan Noongwook was born in 1910 in the village of Savoonga, on St. Lawrence Island. A leader in his village, he drove dog sled teams between Nome, Savoonga and Gambell delivering mail. He also taught men in Savoonga to hunt and drum in the traditions of his ancestors.

One day in the mid-1950s, Noongwook woke up feeling weak and coughing up blood. Tuberculosis was raging through Alaska Native communities, and he feared he was infected. His wife Jeannette and village elders urged him to dog sled the 240 miles to Nome, the closest medical facility.

There, the doctors diagnosed Noongwook with TB and flew him to a sanitarium in Tacoma, Washington, for treatment. Each day was hard; there was no one to talk to about home, family and the Native ways. The only thing that gave him any comfort was a small transistor radio by his bed. From the moment he woke until he went to bed, Noongwook surfed the stations listening to music, talk shows and news.

One morning, Noongwook landed on a program that was different from the rest. The music was soothing and the message by H.M.S. Richards Sr. introduced him to Jesus and the Bible. Every morning, Noongwook listened to Voice of Prophecy while recovering in the sanitarium. In 1957, Noongwook was baptized, becoming the first Alaska Native Seventh-day Adventist on St. Lawrence Island.

Back home, Noongwook shared his new faith with friends and family, but it was not well accepted. People shunned him, yet he held strong to his beliefs. After three years of living his faith for all to see, Jeannette was baptized.

Slowly, a small group of Native Adventists began to form in both Savoonga and Gambell, resulting in two churches — one with 46 members and 16 nonmembers, and the other with 59 members and 49 nonmembers, respectively.

In July 2023, Noongwook’s influence was still felt in Savoonga as Kevin Miller, Alaska Conference president, baptized Noongwook’s grandson and two great-grandsons, along with eight others.

These baptisms were the results of the tireless work of Elouise Hawkes, Arctic Mission Adventure worker, who studied the Bible with these new believers over several years. This was only possible through the financial support of people whose passion it is to see the Three Angels' Messages taken to the furthest end of Alaska.

The Dec. 30, 2023 Sabbath offering is for AMA to continue to reach souls for Christ like Noongwook. Please consider giving, as a generous donor has provided a match of all offerings up to $25,000. 

Featured in: November/December 2023