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 Masters 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
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 didnt 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 captains.
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,
Shawn had attended Sunday school occasionally as a child but he had
no personal relationship with Jesus. After Shawns younger brothers,
Ryan, now 23, and Brad, 17, came along, visits to church became less
"His dad and I didnt have a strong faith," Joan Branger,
Shawns mother, says. Shawns 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, Shawns
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 fathers recovery planted seeds of faith for
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 Shawns 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 Shawns drug addiction
had caused the youth to lose 100 pounds off his 240-pound, 6-foot, 6-inch
frame. "I didnt have him arrested to be mean," Parisi
says. "I didnt 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
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
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 didnt 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 Jims passion. "God had rejuvenated
his mind and body," says his brother, Chuck Mills, 25. "He
wanted to tell people about Gods love.
"He was always with God," Mills says. "Ministry wasnt
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.
Jims 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
"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 didnt forget his past. In a town
of 1,100, a persons 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 Shawns request, his
mother mailed three "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets to the
boats 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
Breding couldnt 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 theyd
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.
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