There Was Jesus
- October 13, 2022
Corey Schmidlkofer was 24 years old, but he wasn’t sure if he’d see his 25th birthday.
After more than a decade of abusing drugs and alcohol, committing crimes, and bouncing in and out of juvenile detention and prison, Corey had reached his lowest point. Homeless, addicted to heroin and cocaine, severely emaciated, and unemployed, Corey was sleeping on the floor of an abandoned house in Anchorage, Alaska.
Corey’s drug abuse was so out of control that even a fellow addict pleaded with him to seek help. Two weeks later, Corey’s best friend, Justin, died of an overdose. Corey knew he was headed down that same path.
‘More free than I had ever been’
On the day of Justin’s funeral, Justin’s father told a despondent Corey that Jesus could change his life if he trusted in Him.
“I did not know what that meant,” Corey says. “I remember telling him that God didn’t want anything to do with me. He assured me that Jesus died for broken sinners just like me. This was the first time I had ever heard that Jesus came to save sinners.”
For days Corey wrestled with the claims of the gospel. Then, late on the evening of November 10, 2009, cold and alone in the abandoned house, he cried out to God, begging the Lord to save him.
“All I can say is that I went to sleep that night an unbeliever and woke up a believer,” Corey says.
The next morning Corey called the police and turned himself in for drug possession. Because of Jesus, he now had a powerful reason to live. “I remember sitting in the police car more free than I had ever been,” he says.
Seeking God, extending help
After a short stint in prison, Corey entered the Salvation Army’s adult rehabilitation program to receive treatment for drug addiction. He voraciously read the Bible each day and began developing a biblical foundation for his new faith and a passion for the good news that had set him free.
“I knew I needed to tell everyone about what Jesus had actually come to do,” Corey says.
As he grew in his new walk with Christ, Corey became reacquainted with Erin, a woman he had dated briefly in 2003. In 2010, they enrolled in the same Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] class. Corey graduated from the program, but Erin still struggled with her addiction.
One day, out of desperation Erin called Corey. She confided that she wanted to die. Corey quickly drove to meet her and talked her through her feelings of hopelessness. Erin not only reentered AA but also committed her life to the Lord, where she found freedom from substance abuse.
“Corey took me to the bookstore and bought me my first Bible,” Erin says. “He believed God, and he wanted to share that with me. We would stay up late reading the Word together. I had read the Word as a child, but this time it was different. It was living and active and spoke to a super-deep place in my soul.”
Erin and Corey began dating again, except this time their relationship was based on what they were learning from God and the Bible. They married on April 9, 2011.
Discovering the Acts church
When Corey attended his first church service, he came away confused. “I remember asking a friend who invited me to the church, ‘Why does this not look like what I have been reading about the church in the book of Acts?’” Corey says. “This began a journey for me to experience the authentic biblical community that we read about in the Scriptures.”
As he continued reading from Acts, Corey became mesmerized by the first century church and its focus on community, relationships, and sacrificial love for one another. “I had no clue that this is what the church was about,” he says.
Preparing for God’s call at Moody
Corey Schmidlkofer with Jose Valcarcel, a fellow member of 247 Church.
Corey’s spiritual mentor encouraged him to research online Bible classes that would equip him to study and teach the Bible confidently. Corey eventually enrolled at Moody Bible Institute, earning a certificate in 2015.
“The certificate in Biblical Studies was such a great foundation for me to build on,” he says. “I learned more clearly who God is and how His plan was always to redeem all things in heaven and on earth through the blood of the cross.”
“Studying with Moody gave Corey confidence and taught him how to study and communicate the Word effectively,” Erin says. “He would get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to study and do school because he was working a full-time job and pastoring our small recovery community.”
‘Christ’s church right in our living room’
Moody also further energized Corey to build a community styled after the early church. Corey and Erin’s group welcomed and supported struggling individuals on the fringes of society—like Corey and Erin had once been. Corey and Erin began inviting addicts, the homeless, and recently released inmates to their home to share meals and discuss biblical truths. They also were invited by the Salvation Army adult rehabilitation program to share the gospel with members undergoing treatment, who in turn were welcomed to Corey and Erin’s mealtimes.
Corey, Erin, and a handful of other recovery group leaders began to include worship, prayer, and Bible study in these gatherings. Numerous men and women surrendered their lives to Christ in the Schmidlkofers’ home.
“I’m not sure we set out to plant a church, but Jesus was faithful to build His church right in our living room,” Corey says. “For the first time in my life I witnessed the church that I had been reading about in the Scriptures.”
Attendance steadily grew. Soon, Corey and Erin’s living room overflowed with more than 70 people.
“Those who attended were sitting on the stairs and even lined up out on the deck,” says Jesse Moe, one of the group leaders. “There was no show, no performance. With so many people it was not even comfortable. It was just raw transparency. It was the Word of God sustaining people, drawing them in, and calling them into repentance and a life of true freedom.”
The grassroots house church expanded to start meeting in one of the roughest sections of Anchorage, an area known for rampant homelessness, alcoholism, and drug use. A few nights before the initial gathering, a man was killed in the restaurant that would host the church.
“Yet this is who we felt called to serve, so we trusted God would protect us,” Jesse says. “We wanted to be a light in that community which had only seen darkness.”
Corey and his wife, Erin, with their six children in Alaska.
Mission to multiply
Over the next three years, the house church multiplied several times. They believed God was calling them to train additional leaders so groups could begin meeting in homes across Anchorage. Their goal? To reach even more of the broken and lost with the hope found in the gospel.
This once organic community of believers is now known as Acts 247 Church. The church’s name was taken from Acts 2:47—“Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
After firmly establishing roots throughout Anchorage, God extended the church to Soldotna, a city to the south.
“Acts 247 came from a desire to see a community of Christ followers who were transparent in their struggles and who really loved and cared for one another,” Erin says. “We wanted a safe space for those who were struggling or lost or desperate to come and just be—a place where people would not feel like an outcast or too broken, a place to heal that was Christ-centered.”
Taking the gospel to Alaska natives
God’s next mission would be to use this unique church model to take the gospel to the unreached villages of Alaska. In 2019–2020, Corey and Jesse launched Frontier Alaska Missions to plant churches primarily among the Alaska natives.
“The Alaska native people have had so much pain, and there are individuals who really struggle and are led to depression, suicide, or dangerous coping mechanisms like drugs, who live on the streets and have been kicked out of their villages,” Jesse says. “The Alaska native people desperately need love. We know that there is no greater love than God’s.”
FAM made one of its first trips to the Yupik native village of Marshall in 2019. After weeks of fervent prayer, Corey and a team of young missionaries flew in a small bush plane to the tiny town of 461 people in southwestern Alaska. Without knowing any of the residents in the village, they were dropped off with no food, resources, or plans.
“They were just going to go and pray for the place and see if there was a person of peace in the village,” Jesse says. “They walked about a mile into a town that consists of probably no more than 10 non-native people among the Yupik natives. Everywhere they were going, people asked them what they were doing and who they were there for. I loved Corey’s response: ‘We are here because we believe Jesus sent us.’”
To their surprise, Corey’s team was immediately accepted by the Yupik people. “Ultimately Corey’s response disarmed the whole community,” Jesse says. “It is incredible what God is doing in that place.”
Corey and another member of Frontier Alaska Missions on a church-planting mission trip to Bethel, Alaska.
Special burden for the Yupik people
The Yupik are the largest native group in Alaska; 22,000 Yupik live in the state. An indigenous or aboriginal people group, they chiefly reside in small bush communities in western, southwestern, and south central Alaska, including Marshall.
“Our desire is to make church for the Yupik about a day-by-day relationship with Christ,” Erin says. “The native villages are full of addiction, a poverty of spirit, sadness, suicide, and loss. Jesus shines so brightly in those places where His name is really good news, where He is true comfort. We desire to be His light shining in the darkness.”
FAM has now launched three churches in the native villages of Stoney River, Dillingham, and Bethel, and hopes to plant a church in Marshall this year. Team members Billy and Erika (Van Kirk) Tjernlund ’06 are also preparing to start a church among the Athabaskan tribe in Nenana.
Zealous heart for Jesus
As FAM plants churches and presents the gospel to native villages in Alaska, Corey continues to lean closely on God as a believer, husband, proud father to five daughters and a son, and ministry leader. Corey is intimately aware of his utter dependence on the Lord and what his ultimate purpose should be.
“When I first met Corey in 2011, I remarked at how ablaze he was for the gospel,” Jesse says. “Ashamedly, I even told my wife this was the condition of a young believer, that eventually that fire would settle down and Corey would become like the rest of us—glowing coals. I love how wrong I was. The Lord has used Corey to ignite that same fire in me. In the years I’ve known him, Corey’s zealous heart for the Lord has never waned. In fact, it seems to grow in unique and beautiful ways.”