Survivor Speaker: Dr. James Wisland


Dr. James Wisland, founder of ARCSP, has a passion to teach faith leaders from a Biblical perspective the theology of suicide and suicide prevention. The loss of his own son propelled him into an intensive study of suicide. He is available to preach on Sunday mornings, to present differing half-day seminars, or, to teach a semester long college level course. 


Bob Parr, Assistant Professor; UAF Community and Technical College:
Jim Wisland has been a guest speaker in my Human Services Course, Crisis and Grief Counseling, HUMS F210, 3 Credits, for the past two years. His topic addresses the survivors of a loved one that has taken their own life. While he brings his personal story to the class he also provides excellent education on suicide prevention efforts and how to work with people that may be thinking of committing suicide. He gives the class a detailed overview of the services provided by the Arctic Resource Center for Suicide Prevention. Each class has been engaged with Jim in a very positive way and the students encourage me to continue bringing him in to future classes. Jim talks with me before each presentation to ensure that he makes appropriate adjustments to his talk depending on situations that can vary with each group of students. He enhances the course content and I look forward to his continuing in this capacity.”

Janet Schichnes, Professor at UAF (now retired); Psychology in Action Course
In 2013, I taught Psychology in Action, an upper level service-learning course at UAF. The goal of service-learning courses is to enhance academic learning through community engagement. Our topic that semester, Suicide Prevention, was chosen because it is such a difficult problem in this state. My community partner was Dr. Jim Wisland from Arctic Resource Center for Suicide Prevention. He and I worked closely throughout the semester to develop substantive learning opportunities for the students, including research and community involvement. In addition to providing several lectures, Dr. Wisland allowed the class to contribute to the development of a fledgling non-profit by guiding several committees, such as fundraising, resource development and outreach. He was generous with his time and worked with the students both in and out of the classroom. The students not only learned “the facts” around suicide and prevention models, but they were able to experience the challenges and satisfaction of starting an organization to address a significant issue under his mentorship. This was a rare and valuable experience for our undergraduate psychology majors, many who will go on to work in non-profits. Of the many community service classes I taught, I consider this one of the most successful.

Amanda Kempthorne, Pastor of Lord of Life Lutheran Church; North Pole
For people to advocate for and support those contemplating suicide, it must be talked about frankly and openly. Jim Wisland provides a Biblical perspective on suicide, recognizing the deep ache and missing hope people face, and invites us into understanding and compassion. For those seeking more information, the Arctic Resource Center for Suicide Prevention provides quality materials and helpful guidance as we walk with those who suffer.

Linda Moyer, Student at Alaska Bible College; Palmer, Alaska
Professor Wisland has a heart for seeing that churches and individuals are prepared for dealing with the difficulties of suicide. In the Suicide Response and Prevention Course students will look at how suicide was addressed throughout history by the church theologians. A great emphasis of the class was spent on Psalms, specifically the Psalms of Lament. In my ministry to wounded women, I often refer to the Psalms as I encourage the women to journal their own laments as they work through their woundedness and move toward healing.

Derek Dickinson, Pastor of Journey Christian Church; Fairbanks
Jim Wisland is an excellent resource for churches and the community when it comes to addressing suicide, mental health issues and the church. He has walked through the fire of his own son’s suicide and instead of letting it destroy him has allowed God to give him great wisdom in helping others who deal with these tragic issues. He is a thoughtful speaker who tackles these difficult subjects with wisdom, grace and compassion. I strongly recommend him as a speaker and resource person both before and when your faith community faces these painful issues.

James W. Barefoot, Associate Superintendent
Alaska Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church
In the Spring of 2016 we were blessed to have Dr. Jim Wisland as one of our teachers at Western Alaska Ministry Training (WAMT), a biannual training program for pastors and ministry leaders in western Alaska. Dr. Wisland spoke to us from the plaintive Psalms and particularly from the despondency of Psalm 88; addressing historical and traditional ideologies, and fears and prejudices concerning suicide. Suicide is a devastating problem throughout our great state. Dr. Wisland’s invitation for students to share their observations from an Alaska Native cultural perspective and promoting dialog was well-received in this cross-cultural classroom environment.

Howard Taylor, Retreat Participant
In the fall of 2013 Jim Wisland served as chaplain and spiritual adviser at a 4 day retreat I attended. Since it was a non-sectarian gathering, we had people from all beliefs in attendance. Jim made it clear what his background and approach to spirituality was and he covered a broad range of Biblical topics applicable to every walk of life and faith. Through his teachings and informal talks with participants he displayed a kindness and openness to the views of others and showed how both the Old and New Testaments related to the topic at hand. Not a job for the faint of heart! The response by the group was overwhelming and I, for one, had a profound spiritual experience thanks to Jim’s insight, faith and patience. I am grateful to call him a friend and fully support his work through the ARCSP.

Brenda Moore; Alaska Mental Health Board; Alaska Suicide Prevention Council
Background: Strategy 2.4 ~ Spiritual leaders will encourage suicide prevention awareness and training in their communities of faith/belief. This is a strategy of the Alaska State Suicide Prevention Plan. Faith communities are not immune to suicide. Ensuring that faith leaders are equipped to be more effective in their response to suicidal concerns is an important part of the reason why I serve as a member of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council. Problem: Trained clergy is vital to reducing suicide in Alaska. Research shows that individuals contact clergy more often for counseling than mental health professionals or general medical doctors, especially in small communities. This makes suicide prevention training for faith leaders in Alaska a vital need. In my more than two decades of experience as a faith-based and community liaison for Christian Health Associates, I have observed that pastors and church ministry leaders are less likely to participate in training that is not biblically based and focused on their specific needs. A variety of suicide prevention training for individuals and organizations is currently readily available, but lack the theological perspective many pastors and church ministry leaders value. Response: In my view, Dr. Rev. James Wisland’s course syllabus, Suicide Response & Prevention provides an excellent exposition on the theology and the science of psychology to the practice of suicide prevention and response for Christian pastors and ministry leaders. I especially applaud the interfaith participatory method he used to gain insight from pastors and faith leaders in the knowledge production process. Dr. Rev. Wisland is uniquely qualified in his role of curriculum developer and educator. He holds degrees in education, theology and ministry. He has served as an educator and a pastor, and is the survivor of his son’s death by suicide.

Ken Moore: Pastor of Community Covenant Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
I have known Dr. Jim Wisland for several years in a variety of settings. It is my privilege to heartily recommend him as a consummate professional who brings an immense amount of scholarly wisdom along with the personal perspective of pain and grief related to suicide. As a man of deep faith passionately committed to resourcing others in the issues related to suicide and mental health, Jim is a rich well to be tapped regardless of your course, event, group, or venue.

John DeRuyter (Psy.D), Executive Director for Hope Counseling
I’ve have known and worked with Dr. Wisland in a number of capacities for several years. Dr. Wisland and the agency he established, the Arctic Resource Center for Suicide Prevention, are center pieces in our community and across our State for those who advocate for, and provide supportive services for survivors, and those contemplating suicide. Dr. Wisland speaks openly and frankly about the pain of suicide as he describes the loss of his own son to suicide. He, and the resources he shares are powerful supports for those who have experienced the suicide of friends or family members. Perhaps Dr. Wisland’s most significant strength is his ability to address the topic of suicide and the pain that’s involved, from a Biblical perspective. For so many, when suicide occurs it results in a spiritual crisis for those left behind. Dr. Wisland is able to present a solid Biblical understanding of suicide that provides understanding and comfort. Dr. Wisland and the Arctic Resource Center for Suicide Prevention are solid and valuable resources for our community and our State.

Maia Bennett, NAMI Family-to-Family Class Member
In the fall of 2016, I was blessed to have Dr, James Wisland as an instructor for a NAMI Family-to-Family class given for family members and friends of individuals with mental illnesses. The class was a lifesaver for me on many levels and and got me through some very rough times. Dr. Wisland is an excellent speaker who draws you in with his vast knowledge and “heart” on mental health issues and suicide prevention. I found Dr. Wisland to be very informative, compassionate, positive and “keyed in” on family issues and concerns involving mental illness and suicide prevention. He not only covered the material in a knowledgeable manner, but also with extreme compassion and concern for the students. I highly recommend Dr. Wisland as a speaker and instructor.

Andy Ekblad, Lead Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
I’ve known Reverend, Doctor Jim Wisland as a close friend and colleague for over ten years. In that time I’ve come to appreciate the depth of insight he brings to many issues, including the subject of suicide. Jim is a careful scholar and a good thinker who brings a loving, compassionate heart, personal experience of tragedy, and many years of pastoral and other professional experience to bear on life’s issues. I’ve heard Jim teach and preach. He is an articulate, skilled speaker who brings helpful depth of insight out in a clear way to his listeners. I have a deep respect for Jim and would commend him to anyone seeking a strong resource in the area of suicide and the issues surrounding it.