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  • Writer's pictureJanet Richey

Meet the Team!

But First, Pray

As I write this, I am less than 24 hours from a ridiculously early morning flight to Anchorage, Alaska. Please pray for safe travels and unity within the team. Pray for Mel, our team leader, who is already up there and trying to make the paths straight. Finally, I ask for prayer for each team member. By name. Including their families and loved ones back home. Satan is aware and working, and each of us is likely dealing with something that questions our purpose. And maybe our sanity. We are Mel Miller. Jim Rowell. Lee Barkus. Mike Leonzo. Jason and Jacob Dunkleberger. Mae Spradley. Cheryl Lytle. Lynn Peters. Janet Richey. I can’t wait to share all of the ways God answers those prayers.

 Time To Build a Team...

and a really big shelf.

It was a dress rehearsal, a way to get to know each other, and a project that would benefit the church. On an early Saturday morning in March, God parted our calendars like the Red Sea because all ten members were in attendance. We met in the church lobby, where we handed over our driver’s licenses like criminals (and then returned), and I looked around for a police officer wielding an ink pad for fingerprints. This is air travel in a post-9/11 world. After Mel led us in our first team devotional, he designated a few leadership roles, and we went to work.

I am not opposed to traditional gender roles, almost to a fault, so I admired how Lynn, Cheryl, and Mae jumped right in. However, I am left-handed and have almost no depth perception due to a lazy eye. So, I tend to shy away from sports, construction zones, and anything that requires spatial awareness. I helped by being out of the way.

Lee, reloading. Cheryl, a pure delight, and Mel demonstrating the classic foreman pose.
Father and son Jacob and Jason, Lee giving patient instructions, and Mae taking possession of the power drill.
Lynn gets a turn with the power tools, with Jim guiding her steps.

Jason and Jacob, the father/son team, worked alternately between the circular saw and the construction zone. True to his reputation, Pastor Mike instinctively jumped in wherever needed, while Mel took on a hands-on approach as foreman. Lee and Jim were particularly patient, teaching those of us with less experience,and guiding us through the intricacies of a power drill.

Jim taking notes on Jason's absolute control over the circular saw.
Mel Miller, our humble-in-spirit leader, with a gentle sense of humor.

The beauty of that day was watching us navigate through awkward small talk and differing personalities like we had a job to do that was bigger than ourselves. I instantly saw the Holy Spirit in action as we intentionally got along with one another, and it gave me hope.

At the same time, it was a deflating moment as I felt how little I had to offer. But people were patient and kind, which God used to provide a moment of clarity. I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures, and a long-ago prayer was answered. I have always wanted to write stories about Reverend Lewis's travels to Jamaica as they happened. Now, I would get to write about my own mission trip in a completely different climate.

Oh, for the goodness of God.

Itineraries, Packing Lists, and the Official T-Shirt

Two months later, the team gathered in the welcoming home of Mel and Carol Miller. Mel handed us a blue informational folder, as though it were a top-secret mission packet with an issue of Alaska magazine tucked inside for each team member that he thoughtfully selected based on what he knew about us. And then he gave us the coveted navy blue LightShine t-shirt we would wear on travel days. Somehow, the t-shirt made it official.

Tools of the trade, and a magazine selected just for me.

As the sound of shuffling papers filled the air, my eyes zeroed in on the list of places we might visit during our downtime. Downtime? I was only aware of the 3.5-hour scenic drive on the Glennallen Highway on our second day that would take us from the base camp in Palmer to Copper Center. These acts of tourism included places like the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitors Center, the Ahtna Cultural Center, and the infamous Valdez terminus of the Alaska Pipeline. It felt indulgent.

The Countdown Begins

Since that meeting, the days have been flying by like a runaway train. Mel started a “30 DTG” email (Days To Go) to the team, which, in building the excitement, has been filled with personal stories, fun facts about Alaska, and sobering insights into the stronghold of addictions among Alaska residents. He began each email with a fitting passage of scripture, and I found myself looking forward to these Apostle Paul-like letters, incorporating them into my daily devotional time.

Meet the Team. In Their Own Words:

These are people you worship with on Sunday Mornings. More introductions will follow in the coming blogs.

Mel Miller: Goes by the names of Husband, Dad, and Papaw.

Loves camping, hunting, ebiking, building things, woodworking, and attending antique tractor shows.

Favorite Bible story: Joseph

Why this mission trip: I am a LightShine team leader who once went to Alaska and can't stop going back! I enjoy watching others experience Alaska for the first time and seeing their vision for missions expand.


Lee Barkus: 69-year-old retired development engineer/ manager. Goes by the names of Dad, Husband, and Pappy.  

Loves everything outdoors (fly tying/fishing, photography, archery hunting, spending time in nature), woodworking, and helping others. 

Favorite Bible story: Jonah and the Whale.  I’m so much like Jonah. 

Why this mission trip: God has blessed me with so many talents and abilities that it’s almost unconscionable for me not to use them for Him. Plus, it’s Alaska!


Mike Leonzo: Goes by the names of Husband, Dad, and Granddad.

Loves to turn chaos into order and flying.

Favorite Verse: Philippians 2:1-11 - it helps me keep life in perspective.

Jim Rowell: Goes by the names of Husband, Dad, Papa, and business owner.

Loves family, outdoors, teaching, and building things.

Favorite Bible story: Nehemiah

Why this mission trip: When I heard about this opportunity, it seemed to capture most of what I love. So it made sense to me to offer the gifts and talents God has given me in service to Him.


Lynn Peters: Goes by the names of  Wife and Mom.

Loves hiking, backpacking, nature and cats.

Favorite Bible story:  Gideon

Why this mission trip:  Alaska has always been on my “bucket list,” and going to meet and serve the local people is so much better than a tourist trip!!


(Not So) Fun Facts

Statistics are varied and tricky to nail down, but Alaska comes in as one of the highest-ranking states for drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and suicide. This is because of the long stretches of darkness, isolation from other states and each other, and a lack of access to medical care. Further, for many, their walk with Christ is influenced by native Alaskan culture and, interestingly enough, the Russian Orthodox religion from when Alaska was still owned by Russia prior to 1867. These borderline pagan beliefs serve only to confuse those seeking the Truth. This is why LightShine Ministries partners with organizations like The Dream Center, Cross Road Health Ministries, and Celebrate Recovery.  It is also a driving force for The Living Water Team as we support those who support their Alaskan neighbors.

Finally, a Big Hug and Thank You

In my previous blog, I mentioned how uncomfortable I felt asking people to support this trip financially. The response to my requests is still one of this journey's most mind-blowing and humbling experiences. For me personally, a good portion of my funds came from people within Living Water Community Church. I have never felt so loved. So, these blogs are for those who have encouraged us, taken time to pray, and also given us your resources. Though filled with flawed people like myself, this is what the Body of Christ should look like.

And A Little Bit of Housekeeping

As God wills, I will continue to share my journals throughout our week. If you would like notifications when new blogs are posted, you can check out Living Water's Facebook page at If you would like notifications sent to your inbox, please reach out to me at, and I'll put you on a mailing list. These posts will be raw, mostly unedited, and hopefully not as long as this one.

Get ready, Alaska. Here we come! L-R, Lee, Mike, Cheryl, Jacob, Mae, Jim, Lynn, Mel, Janet, and Jason

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Carol Apgar
Carol Apgar
Jun 06

So excited for all of you! And see, Janet - God was faithful in helping you get this post done. Look forward to learning all about your adventures! May the love of Christ shine and may you all have the unity of His Spirit!

Janet Richey
Janet Richey
Jun 06
Replying to

Thank you for your faithful prayers and encouragement. I am blessed to have you!

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