Pastor Paul Riley - A Loyal Friend

By Vic Kohring

October 12, 2015

One of the darkest and most terrifying moments of my life was facing prison in June 2008. I had just been wrongly convicted thanks to cheating prosecutors who bamboozled a jury into thinking I was guilty of bribery that centered around a $100 cash gift to buy my step-daughter Easter eggs. The erroneous conviction was eventually overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but not before I suffered behind bars and had a full year of my life stolen away by the government.

Two days before I was ordered to turn myself in to armed U.S. Marshall's to begin a multi-year sentence, I was invited by family friend Glen Fryfogle to attend a prayer breakfast at Crossroads Community Church in Wasilla to seek support. It was a non-denominational group of Christian men from church's across the Valley. 

I gladly accepted the offer as I urgently needed prayer with less then 48 hours before I faced the uncertainty of incarceration. But after the attendees finished breakfast and began taking prayer requests, I learned that the group's leader - a local church pastor - controlled the agenda and refused to allow that I be prayed for or even permit that my name be brought up. It turns out he opposed me politically from my years as a legislator, and worse, apparently believed what he read and heard in Alaska's anti-conservative, mostly Christian-hating press that I was supposedly a bad guy.

I was stunned to be rebuffed so rudely, especially by a leader in the Christian community who's supposed to be a man of God, as I've always believed that the hallmark of Christianity is to love your fellow man unconditionally and to be forgiving even if you thought a person did something wrong. After all, Jesus himself, while dying on the cross, forgave the man hanging next to him who was accused of a criminal act.  

As I sat dejected with my heart sunk into my stomach, someone quietly approached me from behind and gently touched me on the shoulder. It was Pastor Paul Riley, who came to my aid after having just learned of his colleague's dreadful decision to deny me prayer. Pastor Riley was appalled and asked if he could pray with me separately from the group.

Paul's concern and his prayer for my safety and well being in the coming days and months was so sincere and heartfelt, that it brought me to tears. No politics, no juvenile, personal vendetta and no using one's position of authority in a church to hurt someone. I shall never forget that moment and will always be grateful to Paul for his love and support. 

Pastor Riley passed away unexpectantly last month. It was shocking to receive a phone call with the news from my same friend Glen Fryfogle, the one who invited me to the 2008 prayer breakfast seven years ago where the fiasco involving the angry "pastor" occurred, a man whom I've long since forgiven and hold no animosity against. I had known Paul since 1981 when my father and I helped drywall Wasilla Assembly of God's new building, the church he founded 30 years before. To this day it still has the largest sanctuary in the entire Mat-Su Valley, an enormous, beautiful, even stately facility.

When attending Paul's memorial service a week after his passing, I wasn't surprised to see the place packed and hear special memories from so many who saw the same qualities in him as I did. Pastor Riley was an extraordinary, one of a kind friend whom I'll always remember and whose memory I'll cherish. May God bless him.