Rev. David Baldukas, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kodiak, has gone from one island adventure to another. He and his wife, Lisa, an emergency room nurse, came here from French Island in Wisconsin.
“We’ve been blessed with 25 years” on French Island, said Baldukas, “and now we’re on a new adventure. We’re excited to be on another island.”
Baldukas said that he’s on his second career.
A native of Racine, Wisconsin, Baldukas worked for the Kmart corporation in several Wisconsin communities. And, although he had a two-year degree in business, he needed a four-year degree to advance to the next level.
While working for Kmart in Kenosha, Baldukas attended Carthage College to obtain that degree. He was required to take religious studies. “I had none of that at all,” he said.
But once he enrolled in religion classes, he “was fascinated by the study of the Bible, Christian theology and history. I kept on taking more, and more and more” courses, he said. “My advisor in the business division said, ‘You’re doing great in school, but you’re not taking any business courses.’ ”
Baldukas changed his major from business to religious studies.
After much prayer and discernment, Baldukas decided to move to Dubuque, Iowa, to attend Wartburg Seminary. He had already married Lisa by then. “She was my date at the high school prom. We married young, and we haven’t changed at all,” he laughed.
Baldukas’ choice to enroll in seminary required some sacrifices.
They left Racine, where they had purchased Lisa’s dream home and remodeled it, and headed for Dubuque.
“We went from a nice situation to a cut in income by 75 percent. That was quite a shocker,” said Baldukas. He fulfilled a year of internship at McHenry, Ill., and was later called to serve at Olivet Lutheran Church on French Island. He began serving on French Island in May 1995.
“The church was in arrears five months on its mortgage, and the bank was going to foreclose,” said Baldukas.
The congregation trusted God for the outcome and marched ahead, said Baldukas. Eventually, the debt was paid and the congregation built a new church and made various improvements.
“We were very blessed, said Lisa.
During his tenure, church attendance increased from an average of 40 to 450-500. Besides having Sunday morning services, the church also had a service on Saturdays.
When Baldukas reached the age of 61, he decided to retire, “because I could,” he said. “But I realized that I wasn’t quite ready for retirement.”
When the COVID crisis hit, Baldukas moved into an online ministry, airing Reflections with Pastor Dave. “That was a bridge for a lot of people,” he said. His online ministry included homilies, Bible studies, devotions and something that appealed to kids.
“I did that about a year,” he said. “Things were going well with” the online ministry, said Baldukas. “Lisa and I started talking about the possibility that God was calling me back into ministry.”
Although Baldukas wasn’t serving in a church, he said he “never left” the ministry.
When the Baldukases saw an opening at St. Paul Lutheran Church in a place called Kodiak Island, they laughed about it. “Is it possible that God is calling us from one island to another?” They wondered. Through research they discovered that the population of Kodiak was similar to that of French Island.
“We were interested in pursuing a conversation” about serving in Kodiak, said Baldukas.
The congregation at St. Paul “wanted to talk right away, so we did a formal Zoom meeting,” said Baldukas.
Lisa, who often is the voice of wisdom, said, “ ‘Let’s go through the doors that God opens. If He doesn’t want us there, doors will close.’ We kept on walking through doors as they opened.”
Indeed, the doors were opening in Kodiak.
“It’s amazing how things opened up,” said Baldukas. “Housing, Lisa’s job opened up, all these opened up for us in an amazing way.”
Lisa, who is of Hispanic and Apache Indian descent, said that she always wanted to work in the medical field, as a doctor or a nurse. She has been an ER nurse for 30 years.
Since Lisa finds a lot of peace of the water, island life is quite suitable to her.
The Baldukases concluded that Kodiak is full of great people. “Somebody said that Kodiak is filled with hard-working, play-hard people,” noted Baldukas. “That’s where we came from. We prayed about it, and accepted the call.”
As Baldukas reflected about his time in the ministry, he said he had a lot of parishioner role models who showed him the Christian life while he was “wet behind the ears,” he said.
“There were some dear saints of the church that were amazing Christians. They taught me about patience, perseverance, kindness and mercy.”
Baldukas said the biggest issue for the church is to “point to the message of hope that we have,” he said. “We live in a hopeless society. People are filled with despair, and loneliness, and we have a message of hope. We’ve got to get that message out.”
While living in Wisconsin, Baldukas ministered to hopeless people, including those who had addictions. In every case, those caught in drug and alcohol addiction credited their “higher power” for delivering them from the bonds of addiction.
“They later came to realize that this ‘power’ was God or Jesus,” said Baldukas. He noted that a therapist in Kenosha said, “he’s never once known anyone to break free and stay free (of addictions) without God.”
Baldukas concluded that the church needs to address the glaring needs of our society. “The church has been very good at communicating and offering people ‘church,’ when we should be communicating and offering Jesus,” he said.