Umqangaawen Deborah Joy Walunga

Umqangaawen, Deborah Joy Walunga

August 1, 1996 – April 15, 2023

Umqangaawen Deborah Joy Walunga was born on August 1, 1996, in Anchorage, Alaska to David and Merilys Walunga and was adopted by her aunt June Walunga. 

Her late grandfather, Willis Walunga, named her Umqangaawen after his late aunt’s Yupik name whom he met in Enmelin, Russia before she died. Her English name Deborah was after Deborah in the Bible who was a Judge and Prophetess of Israel. Her middle name “Joy” was because she brought so much joy. Her family called her Umqa for short, and her friends called her “DJ” for Deborah Joy. 

When she was three days old, her mother took her to City Church in Anchorage to dedicate her to God. Three Pastors laid their hands on her tiny little head and prayed for her. She grew up knowing the Lord in Gambell and was a wonderful and beautiful baby, always happy. 

She went to Gambell school and then Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka where she met her best friend, Shanelle Afcan. After that she went to Alaska Christian College in Soldotna for one year. She planned to return and graduate from ACC then go on to attend George Fox University where they offered acting classes, songwriting, and composition. 

She wanted to spend a few years in South Korea, Japan, and London to learn about their cuisines so she could open a take-out restaurant in Gambell. She also wanted to start a cooperative business that works for the benefit of the people, without a sole owner, where profit goes to operations and employees. Another venture in her goals was to build a greenhouse to grow vegetables and local plants like greens, roots, berries, and medicinal herbs for local people to benefit from.

Deborah loved her dog, Little Bear, so much, and had more love to spare. She wanted to open an animal sanctuary to rehabilitate abandoned pets. Little Bear lives on today, and like Deborah, is the sweetest around and learned so many tricks from her. 

She really enjoyed The Dream SMP, a way of storytelling through Minecraft because she wants everyone, even adults, to have play and fun. 

Deborah was skilled at this; even through hardships in her most difficult time she radiated positivity, sincerity, and love. 

Deborah’s mother June took her traveling across Alaska and out of state before she started school. Later, when the opportunity arose, she went to Christian Youth gatherings in Palmer and to other youth activities around the state. 

She loved her family and friends. She especially loved her grandparents who took her camping and told her stories to instill within her important life values. 

On June 2, 2016 Deborah was visiting a friend, preparing for her friend’s wedding. She was shot by an individual who was drunk downstairs at an apartment party. Against all odds, she survived, but became paraplegic. She forgave the individual who shot her completely and unconditionally in court, without hesitation. Despite becoming disabled and facing tremendous pain and suffering, she told that individual “I hope one day that I can meet you as a friend and that we can laugh about it together. And just so you know, I forgive you, and I hope that life becomes better for you.”

During the last seven years of her life while she was paraplegic, she got to know the Lord deeply and intimately and continued to grow with Him. God expressed His love, joy, generosity, forgiveness, humility, and peace through her. Even though she was suffering chronic pain, she was always loving and friendly to people she talked with, whether in person or not. 

She wanted to write a song then sing it to the youth. She was going to use different musical instruments, with both loud and soft rhythms- and crescendo using Yupik drums to aid in spiritual war and dance. 

One of her many wise quotes she shared on April 11: “When Death comes, Life begins again.” 

Deborah never gave up on a happy life for herself and for those around her. To honor her, use this experience to make a newer happier life for yourself, too. 



The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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