A Christian movement, which some detractors have labeled a “cult,” founded by Preacher Sam Fife in the southern US in the 1960s, has ties to the Mat-Su Valley and at least one prominent resident here.
This organization has been called “The Move of the Spirit,” “The Move,” the IMA or the International Ministerial Association, “The Body,” the “Body of Christ,” the “End-time Body-Christian Ministries,” “The End-Time Ministry,” and “The Movement.”
“It takes a while, however, just to get members to tell me the name of their community,” wrote reporter Douglas Todd in a profile of the group headlined “Peace River commune awaits imminent apocalypse” in the Sept 22, 2003 edition of the Vancouver Sun.
“The little-known movement, I later discover, has thousands more members in other corners of the globe, from Alaska to Uganda, Ireland to northern Mexico, Singapore to Brazil. Members initially say they don’t really go by any name because they’re ‘non-denominational,’ just like the early followers of Jesus Christ, who shared everything.”
Here is the updated Vancouver Sun article about “The Move”:
Awaiting apocalypse in the Peace River Valley
Here is the Wikipedia entry for Sam Fife:
Mr. Fife preached that the End Times were coming and that money would be no good and that people needed to live “off the land” in isolated areas. The headquarters for the movement continues to be the Bowens Mill Christian Center in rural Georgia.
Mr. Fife’s followers started and moved to remote wilderness retreats in Alaska and Canada (among other places) in the 1970s.
These entities include:
The Covenant Life Center in Haines;
The “Mt. Bether Bible Center at Game Creek” located just outside of Hoonah;
Dry Creek (also called “The Land”), Whitestone Farms, and Eagle’s Ridge which are three separate entities all located fairly close to each other near Delta Junction;
Sapa Christian Center located at Mile 13 Edgerton Highway, Kenny Lake/Copper Center (Note: My research shows that this farm/camp was sold a few years ago and the remaining members moved to the Delta area locations.)
There was a dairy farm up on Lazy Mountain in Palmer during the 1970s (“Wilderness Farms”) that did not last very long.
The “Pioneer Christian Fellowship Church” in Wasilla (not a farm) also has ties to the original Sam Fife movement. According to some online comments, the Pioneer Christian Fellowship is not just a church, but also a “community” where people are living together.
Here is a picture of the Pioneer Christian Fellowship building:
Here is a list of “The Move’s” affiliated entities from a 2012 Whitestone Legacy (Delta Junction) newsletter (from Vennie Kocsis’s website):
NOTE: Alaska State Senator Shelley Hughes lived at the Mt. Bether Bible Center/Game Creek Farm with her mother and siblings from 1976 to 1981 according to her official biography. She moved there when she was aged 18 with her family members from the Canton, Ohio, area. More on the connection between Canton, Ohio and the Sam Fife movement a bit later in this blog post.
Sam Fife was killed in an airplane crash in Mexico in 1979 and his deputy, Carrell E. Cobb (C.E. or Buddy) Cobb, who was a commercial pilot by training, took over the leadership of “the Move.”
BOOKS, BLOGS, ONLINE FORUMS, and DOCUMENTARIES:
Several people have written books and blogs about life on these remote Christian farms.
Tom Botts was one of the original members of the Hoonah group. He has a book and a blog – both titled “Wilderness Blues.” He has mixed feeling about his time on the “Mt. Bether Bible Center” but he still attends their annual Thanksgiving reunion dinners.
Here are some highlights from his blog:
Vennie Kocsis has a book titled “Cult Child” and a blog – VennieKocsis.com. She lived on the Delta Junction farm and prior to that on one of the farms in Ware, Massachusetts, and she has strongly negative feelings about her time there. Her blog has a LOT of information and many pages about “The Move” and Cults etc. She has appeared on radio shows and written guest columns on other websites.
A History of Sam Fife’s Move of God Cult
Cara Cobb, who was the daughter-in-law of C.E. Cobb, has just written a memoir of her decades with the religious group. She left the group after 31 years. Her book was published in 2018.
Richard Kiers also recently published a book about growing up on one of the farms in Canada:
Mr. Kiers is also featured in a People Magazine documentary that aired this past summer:
Here is another documentary – from 2006 – by Julia Pimsleur about her brother’s experience at the Hoonah farm. It is called “Brother Born Again.” FYI – I googled and Marc Pimsleur is now a doctor practicing medicine on the east coast.
Here is a blog post by a woman named Lisa Kendall who also left “The Move”:
A woman named Glori Williams has a blog about her time as a child in “The Move” in Alaska at the farm near Kenny Lake/Copper Center:
This woman – who goes by BABYGRAPES – grew up on the Hoonah farm and has a blog:
At the Hoonah farm, they did not celebrate Christmas as it was considered a Pagan holiday. They do celebrate Thanksgiving because that was simply an American tradition.
A woman named Suzanne McConnell who grew up on the Sapa Christian Center in Copper Center/Kenny Lake, is also a vocal online critic of “The Move.” She wrote a fictionalized version of her childhood experiences.
She also wrote a comment on the (Wasilla) Pioneer Christian Fellowship Church’s Facebook page in 2014.
THE CANTON, OHIO CONNECTION to Sam Fife’s “The MOVE”:
In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a Presbyterian Preacher in Canton, Ohio, named Milton B. Vereide left the Presbyterian church and started a new group which was part of the Sam Fife movement.
He was also involved in setting up a farm commune/religious community and Christian school outside of Canton which was the subject of several lawsuits.
Mr. Vereide eventually moved to British Columbia (likely one of the Move’s farms there.)
Rev. Vereide was a fascinating man according to his obituary from 2008…
Note: Timothy Vereide and Constance Vereide have been listed as officers over the years for the Pioneer Christian Fellowship Church in Wasilla. And a Joshua Vereide is on the board of directors of the Whitestone Community Association (i.e.Dry Creek).
The Akron Beacon newspaper covered “The MOVE” rather extensively in the 1970s.
Here is a front page Sunday feature from October 1, 1972:
Here is an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer from September, 1974, about all the turmoil caused in North Canton OHIO by the “Move”:
“The MOVE” held a large convention in Canton in 1976:
An anti-cult activist was present at the convention too:
Here are articles from the Akron Beacon dated 16 and 17 Sept 1975…A couple from North Canton, Ohio, Donald and Evelyn Arbuckle, were in a plane crash near Hoonah, Alaska. They were scouting for land for “a possible home for The Body, a religious sect that operates a school on the Arbuckles’ Lake Township (Ohio) farm.
Donald Arbuckle perished in the crash, but Evelyn Arbuckle survived along with another woman, Amelia Hundley.
Evelyn went on to live a long life. Here is her obituary which explains her involvement in the International Christian Farm community – including the Haines and Hoonah farms.
She also lived in PALMER ALASKA and ran the Move’s “Wilderness Farms” Dairy in the late 1970s…and then she ran a hospitality house in Anchorage affiliated with the same religious group.
Heather Lende, a well known Alaska author and newspaper writer and politician from Haines, also wrote a nice column on Evelyn. It is very interesting to note that Ms. Lende, who has been a resident on Haines for decades, had never been to the Covenant Life Center farm community before. “They are fairly private.”
Here is an article in the Akron Beacon when Sam Fife died in a plane crash in 1979:
UPDATE. I posted this blog post on the Mat-Su Valley News Facebook group and a man named Jim Walters left a great comment explaining his time on the farm in Palmer:
NOTE: According to my research on the Alaska Recorder’s office, the land which was the location of the Wilderness Farm run by Mary Evelyn Arbuckle under the name “Christian Ministries-Alaska, Inc.” may now be owned by former MSB Mayor Larry DeVilbiss and his family.
A conspiracy theory type blog post on Doug McClain who helped start the DRY CREEK group in Alaska:
Thanks for this piece. I wanted you to know I was on two farms in The Move, listed in “Cult Child”. The first was the Mt. Bether Ware, MA compound from 73-77. The second was Dry Creek aka The Land aka The Farm aka Living Word Ministry in Delta Junction from 77-84. I was never on Sapa North’s compound. Thank you!
Thank you. I updated. I was wondering – how are you related to the Kocsis couple who were killed in the plane crash? Were they your grandparents? I just realized now that you have the same last name.
I’m not related to Krys, but have talked with her on Facebook. It’s just a coincidental name via marriage. I get asked this a lot. I do remember the plane crash and subsequent transition to Buddy Cobb becoming the new leader.
Nancy, she’s not related at all to those Koscis’s who were killed in the plane crash, and her choice of a pen name is unfortunate; Vennie Kocsis is not her real name, and many of her wild claims in her story are just as real as her pen name.
It is my real name, and my stories are confirmed by a group of over 35 other child survivors who had similar if not the same experiences on different compounds, as well as newspaper articles and sermons. I’m right here, so you can speak directly to me if you’d like. What part of my book do you not believe? Let’s discuss it. 🌻
Although I am named in the forward of the book written by Richard Kiers, I do not endorse it, nor the many unverified and wildly inaccurate stories my brother wrote about his childhood, not to mention the 2nd hand stories that he exaggerated beyond recognition to fit into his smear campaign.
I sincerely hope that he can find the help he desperately needs for his mental illness, and someday finds peace.
I did not grow up in The Move but joined it in 1980 at Hoonah’s Camp meeting and later lived at Edgerton. For me I learned a great deal about the truth of the Word of God and who we are in it. Sam Fife taught on the Bride of Christ, The Five Fold Ministry and the Types and Shadows of the Old Testament and the fulfillment in the New Testament. Really God had touched Sam with revelation by the Holy Spirit and it was not being taught or known by many at that time. Every and Any Move of God has never come out of the denominational church but instead those who God moved on were thrown out of the denominational churches. What God gave to Sam was correct how it got translated and applied had some unfortunate twist and turns to different degrees at different Farms. Am sure for some young people there was trauma and for some older people who really did not get the message but wanted a cult there was collateral damage. But lets not throw the baby out with the bath water! Considering where we are as a society now am sure many like me think the Farm would be a wonderful option about now.
There was an undeniable Holiness about the Move and most of the people and the presence of the Holy Spirit profound. As for Doug McClain, who I knew well there is more to that story, did he make big mistakes? yes. Is he a soulless monster? no. He lost a child and then a wife and then to some extent his faith, but never his heart. The devil was for sure after him because he was very charismatic and a natural leader, is God done with him? No I do not think so. Some of God’s most beloved went way off in sin but came back with a heart of David, or Paul. How about we seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness and then comment? Just saying…we are all still the Body of Christ and the Best is yet to Come! Much love in our Lord, Kathryn Reynolds 702 755 5677
BTW I read the MadCow article, what a piece of work this guy is that writes it. He writes poorly and twist and turns the facts. I was there for a lot of what he tries to weave together and it is largely fiction! He better be careful going after God’s people it never works out well in the end. God will not be mocked. Horrible fabrications and just a desperate stab at fame by slandering and embellishing….makes me wonder who ‘he’ is connected to and what would motivate such deception?! Who is he trying to take the real accountability off of??
He better be careful going after God’s people? Katherine you guys are mentally ill. Your pedophile god never saved us kids from abuse in the move, from being raped, beaten, child labored, education limited, brutal exorcisms; for 50 years that sick god has continued to let The Move traffic humans. We’ll see if they can pray away the FBI and Department of Justice since myself and lawyers are in talks with them to investigate the crimes of the move; human trafficking, labor violations, human rights violations, abuse and laboring of children and more. Dry Creek Construction just lost a 3 million dollar lawsuit after they swindled and screwed over a construction site. They swindled the wrong couple. They were forced to auction off their farm equipment, etc. You adults forgot we kids would grow up one day and tell the truth about what really happened to us And who all participated and who looked away and still looks away. Simply saying “you liars!” Isn’t enough. There’s so much proof it will bury the move and probably send some folks to prison. The storm is approaching and that swamp will definitely be drained.
You know Vennie Kocsis I realize there is nothing I can say to change your opinion of the beliefs of our church or your opinion of our communities. I realize you must have had some experience to make you hate these places this much and I was not there in your shoes to say anything otherwise. I will however, say that as a member of one of these communities, what you have described is absolutely not true of these communities at this time and you have twisted many facts to meet your narrative. I’d like to dispel a few of the myths you have created.
For starters these are not compounds. There are no fences keeping people in and there are no guards patrolling the grounds. I’d like to assure you that anyone who visits our community is welcome to a tour of it and that we frequently show our guests around. Our community does not necessarily allow just anyone to move to it however anyone is free to move away at any time according to what they themselves choose. There is no such thing as needing to “escape”. After becoming an adult I myself chose to move away. I married and after some time me and my spouse decided that we wanted to live at the community I grew up in, so we moved back of our own accord and are now happily living as part of the community. This sure seems like a far cry from your experience.
The community does have rules and guidelines by which it expects its members to uphold themselves to; similar to any other HOA around the country who might tell you you can’t leave your trash bag on the sidewalk or that you need to mow your grass once a week. If you at anytime you should not agree with these rules you are welcome to leave and no one will try to stand in your way.
A few things about the church. One, there are no exorcisms. While I do know that the church may have been more radical 30 years ago this simply is not the case today. Church attendance, while encouraged, is not mandatory and there are even members of the community who choose not to attend. All those who do attend are free to express their beliefs behind a pulpit open to anyone to speak. And rest assured, there is food now, in fact I think many people sit through the church service just to eat the food at the end.
Major decisions effecting the community are made by the group as a whole. And there are no cult leaders making decisions for you.
In summary what I’d like to say is that this “move” that you knew is not what the “move” is today and to be honest the falsehoods you are spreading are more damaging than anything I have ever encountered in this community. As a member of this community you have already labeled me as a brainwashed cult member without having ever met me. By posting this I simply wanted to dispel some myths and show my disapproval of the label you have given me and the web of lies you have spun about the place in which I choose to live and happily call home. Thank you
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