Lost at sea, found in Christ

By John W. Kennedy and Scott Harrup*



Shawn Bouchard and Jim Mills lived in central Montana most of their lives. They met in grade school and grew closer as they aged. Both got into trouble with the law. They found the Lord about the same time; then they joined the same Assemblies of God church and zealously evangelized. And, in the end, they died together, drowning as crew members of an Alaskan fishing boat.

Shawn, 25, and Jim, 23, eagerly anticipated serving the Lord through Assemblies of God ministries. Shawn planned to enroll in the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in Pensacola, Fla. Jim was preparing to move to Phoenix to join Master’s Commission, an evangelism and discipleship program. But first, Shawn and Jim figured nothing would ready them for the rigors of missions work like a three-month tour as fishing processors in the icy waters off Alaska.

The income would enable them to whittle away debts and start their missions training with a clean slate. The job paid well; the work was excruciating. On the deck of the 92-foot-long Arctic Rose, Shawn and Jim cleaned fish and prepared the catch for freezing. Often they labored 16-hour days.

The Arctic Rose worked in a remote area of the Bering Sea, 210 miles west of the Pribilof Islands west of Alaska. What happened that early Monday morning of April 2 is a mystery. The winds didn’t appear stronger than usual, nor did the waves seem particularly choppy. The Arctic Rose sent its last radio message to a sister ship at 10:30 p.m., Sunday. Five hours later the vessel vanished, with no disaster signals sent by crew members.

With only two weeks of their three-month job remaining, all 15 men aboard drowned in the worst U.S. fishing-boat disaster in the past 50 years. Recovery efforts yielded only one body, the captain’s.

Relatives of Shawn and Jim are grateful the year was 2001, not 1998. Since starting to live for the Lord less than three years ago, Shawn and Jim had been testimonies to how God can redeem wayward souls. Along the way, they evangelized family members, friends, co-workers and even strangers, bringing many into the kingdom of God.

In high school at Harlowton, Shawn excelled in wrestling, baseball, swimming, basketball, football, track. Trophies filled his bedroom. He received a full athletic scholarship to attend college in Jamestown, N.D.

Shawn had attended Sunday school occasionally as a child but he had no personal relationship with Jesus. After Shawn’s younger brothers, Ryan, now 23, and Brad, 17, came along, visits to church became less frequent.

"His dad and I didn’t have a strong faith," Joan Branger, Shawn’s mother, says. Shawn’s parents divorced during his first and only year in college.

Shawn slipped into using and selling illegal drugs. His behavior led to a four-year battle with addiction, run-ins with law enforcement officers and two drug rehabilitation stints.

With the divorce pending and his eldest son addicted to drugs, Shawn’s father, John Bouchard, started drinking – heavily. One night in a barroom brawl he ended up with his head seriously injured. Doctors said he likely would die from the injuries. He awoke in the hospital three days later to news that friends and neighbors had put him in "chains." None of the then-unchurched family members understood the concept of prayer chains. His father’s recovery planted seeds of faith for Shawn.

The life-threatening injuries also made Bouchard, now 50, receptive to God. He accepted an invitation to Faith Chapel, the Assemblies of God church in Harlowton, a town of 1,100. "From the first time I was there people loved me like I was family," says Bouchard. He is now a board member at the church that has tripled in size to 120 since he began attending five years ago. After his own salvation, Bouchard started praying for family members.

At that point Shawn’s pursuits focused on burglarizing homes to support his drug habit. But God had other plans, sending friends, relatives, churchgoers and the sheriff himself to confront Shawn with his need for the Savior.

Dennis Parisi, a member of Faith Chapel, became the first to witness to Shawn behind bars. Ironically, Parisi had Shawn arrested for breaking into his home, in part because of concern that Shawn’s drug addiction had caused the youth to lose 100 pounds off his 240-pound, 6-foot, 6-inch frame. "I didn’t have him arrested to be mean," Parisi says. "I didn’t want to see him die."

"We prayed together in my office, and he confessed to the burglary and other crimes," says Wheatland County Sheriff Steve Riveland, also a member of Faith Chapel. "From that point on God turned his life around."

Despite his four years of drug addiction and thievery, neither parent gave up on their son. Bouchard visited Shawn in jail and noticed the change. "When I saw his face I knew he had found Jesus," Bouchard says.

Bouchard also served as a father figure to Jim, whose father died of leukemia in 1987. Jim, then 10, rebelled and ended up in a home for delinquent boys, en route to years as an illicit drug user.

Faith Chapel Pastor Andy Raatz knew both Shawn and Jim before they joined the church in Harlowton.

"My first experience with Shawn was sitting looking at him through the bars of the jail," Raatz says. "My first visit with Jim was when he got arrested."

Jim made a confession of Christ while reading a Bible in an Alaskan jail in 1996. But because he was not discipled, old habits remained. Deliverance didn’t come until two years ago when Jim began working a construction job — with Parisi — at Glacier Bible Camp, an Assemblies of God lodge near Hungry Horse, Mont.

Afterward, evangelism became Jim’s passion. "God had rejuvenated his mind and body," says his brother, Chuck Mills, 25. "He wanted to tell people about God’s love.

"He was always with God," Mills says. "Ministry wasn’t separate from the rest of his life."

Both Jim and Shawn often spent more than an hour a day reading the Bible and participated in all-night prayer meetings. They evangelized on street corners. Their transformed lives spoke volumes to their families. Jim’s mother, Annie, and brother Chuck became Christians after he witnessed to them. Shawn brought his brother Ryan to the Lord.

All six remaining members of the two families that had been torn asunder are now Christians, in large part because of the efforts of two sons who died.

"God changed them," Raatz says. "Sometimes people say they turned themselves around, but it was God who did it. They just wanted to be used of God."

Seth Breding, 23, says Shawn and Jim helped set him straight. "God put them in my life at a time when I was struggling and really searching. They helped me through some really hard times in my Christian walk."

"You could just see them both growing in their faith," Raatz says. "They told everybody about the Lord."

Jim had a passion for music, playing bass and drums. He led the youth worship band at the church and hoped to become a youth pastor.

Shawn witnessed to everyone, from preschooler to retiree, from business executive to homeless person. He gave away Bibles — sometimes expensive leather-bound editions that had been given to him — to new converts.

In looking to the future Shawn didn’t forget his past. In a town of 1,100, a person’s past, especially a notorious one, is grist for public consumption. Yet after his born-again experience Shawn apologized to everyone he had harmed.

If anything, the rigors of life on the Arctic Rose strengthened the faith of the friends. They told relatives they had been the only two Christians when the journey began. But the strange calm the pair exhibited in the high-pressure job led to converts. At Shawn’s request, his mother mailed three "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets to the boat’s dock site.

"I know they went up there to be fishermen, but they were fishers of men," Raatz says.

More than 500 people attended a memorial service for Shawn and Jim in Harlowton on Good Friday. Scores raised their hands during a salvation invitation.

Breding couldn’t attend the memorial service because he is training with Youth With a Mission in Hawaii. He senses his friends would have understood that his calling took priority. "I know they’d both be kicking me out the door," he says.



*John W. Kennedy is an associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. Scott Harrup is general editor.


From: http://www.pentecostalevangel.ag.org/