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Alaska church uses roadkill to give meat to its outreach

SALCHA, Alaska (BP)–On a deserted stretch of Alaska highway, a late-model Ford Bronco maneuvers cautiously over patches of black ice. Suddenly, the car’s headlights lock the gaze of a 1,000-pound bull moose. A futile attempt at breaking, a 40-foot skid, then impact. The driver gets out to check the damage. The massive animal, now lifeless on the shoulder of the road, has crushed the front passenger side of the car.
It’s 12:30 a.m. Eager to report the damage to his insurance company, the driver calls the state police on his cell phone: “I’ve hit a moose.”
Twenty miles away, in Salcha (pop. 1,000), pastor Richard Faught and his wife, Sherry, are sleeping when the phone rings. A dispatcher tells Richard about the accident. “We’ll be right there.”
Faught calls Debbie Duncan, a church member who lives near the accident. He asks her to ward off poachers by sitting on the moose. With more than 600 pounds of usable meat on a bull moose, the Alaska law of giving roadkill moose and caribou to rotating charities is sometimes ignored by greedy motorists.
Faught heads to the accident scene while his wife begins the arrangements that have become a way of life for many of the 60 members of Salcha Baptist Church.
She calls Gary Johnson, asking if he can take his wrecker to mile 314 on the highway. Johnson separates himself from the warmth of blankets and heads out into the 30-below-zero night.
At 1 a.m., Johnson spots the pastor standing beside the road, waving both hands. Despite the freezing weather, Faught’s face is wet with perspiration and his jacket is unzipped. He has already field-dressed the carcass, strenuous work. He calls to Johnson, “Let’s get this meat in before it freezes.”
Fastening chains around its legs, the men hoist the moose onto the wrecker. They drive to Salcha church’s log parsonage, back the wrecker up to the garage and release the moose. They replace the chains with rope and hang the moose from a child’s swing set, positioned in the garage for this purpose.
In the morning, Sherry Faught calls Duncan and Ramon DeLeon, pastor of the Hispanic Baptist Mission in Fairbanks, 37 miles to the north, and sets a time for moose cutting. In summer, a moose must be prepared immediately to avoid spoilage. In winter, the garage is cool enough to protect the meat.
Early in the day, the Salcha pastor, Duncan and DeLeon begin cutting, grinding and wrapping the usable meant. It used to take a lot longer because they had only a grinder on an electric mixer until a church in Ocala, Fla., donated a commercial grinder, saving two or three hours on each moose cutting. They toss the scraps and the damaged meat into a bucket to give to dog mushers. “That’s a ministry in itself,” Faught said. “Providing meat for the dogs gets us in the door to invite the mushers to church.”
The November sun sets at 4 p.m., but the workers won’t be finished until late into the night. It takes 10 to 12 hours for two or three men and women to prepare a moose for the two freezers (total 52 cubic feet) in the garage.
As the men pack the last moose steak into the freezer, the outreach begins. The meat along with canned goods, salmon steaks members have dip-netted in the Copper River and perishable food items donated by the Fairbanks Food Bank will be distributed to hungry families in the area. And those families will have a better image of Southern Baptists. And some will decide to check out Salcha church. And some will make Jesus their Savior because of the love shown through Salcha’s 10-year-old roadkill ministry.

Reprinted from MissionsUSA Magazine, March-April 1997. Branson directs the Home Mission Board’s editing department.

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  • Mary Branson