by Karen L. Willoughby

Native Americans from 15 states and three Canadian provinces participated in The Gathering for Spiritual Awakening March 2-4 at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills. It was an event designed to remove barriers and build bridges that would bring Native Peoples across North America to a personal relationship with Almighty God.
The tools presented would work just as well in non-native churches.

“We came from Nebraska expecting something miraculous because we need a miracle,” said Ron Goombi, a North American Mission Board missionary to Native Americans in Kansas and Nebraska. He brought people from eight tribes in the two states. “Our suicide rates are so high the tribe doesn’t know what to do. The water system is breaking down . . . . We need to live beyond the barriers we have.”

In the United States, 95 out of every 100 Native Americans do not have a personal relationship with God. This was a statistic repeated several times by different people. In Canada, it’s about 98 percent, said Donny Coulter, national advocate for First Nations people through the Canadian National Convention, an SBC affiliate.

Four keynote speakers addressed the event’s theme: building bridges over barriers that keep people from developing a personal relationship with Jesus. John 4:23-24 provided the scriptural basis.

Jay Jackson, with New Tribes Mission for 26 years before founding and now heading Global Empowerment, explained how to be an agent of redemption in a cross-cultural context.

“The Gospel is the power of God,” Jackson said. “The Gospel is the end of the story of all that came before . . . . As your message goes through their worldview, it changes.”

Bill Fudge, a missionary for 34 years with the SBC’s International Mission Board, explained the multiplication inherent in training trainers rather than just sharing spiritual truth.

“We need to share the Gospel,” Fudge said. “The first 300 years (of Christianity) it worked; it’ll work now. Any believer can be trained to tell others what he or she—don’t miss training women—has learned . . . . They need to obey what they know, and God will teach them the other things as they grow.”

Grant Lovejoy, an orality strategist with the IMB, described and then illustrated Bible storying, which he and others developed about 15 years ago in Asia. Bible storying is getting to know God through His story, Lovejoy explained.

“Two-thirds of the world’s population would not understand a clear gospel presentation even if they heard it in their own language,” Lovejoy said. That’s because it’s given from a western perspective and in sermon form, and the listeners are, for the most part, oral learners.

“Retain the story quality of the Bible,” Lovejoy said. “It has an appeal to people who would never listen to your sermon.”

Golden Gate Seminary’s President, Jeff Iorg, spoke on the Acts 11 circumcision conflict between Jews and gentiles.

“Confronting beliefs is sometimes hard, but sometimes part of preserving the fellowship,” Iorg said. In the same way that Paul first fought for gentiles not to be circumcised, then circumcised the half-breed Timothy, “Don’t compromise the Gospel, but be willing to do anything else for the sake of the Gospel.”

A platform decorated simply, with Indian tepee, two feathered headdresses and a native drum, set the stage for the event that was punctuated by Indian music—sometimes by people in Native attire—and led in each of seven sessions by Natives from the United States and Canada.

Tyrone Smith, worship leader at Oklahoma City, South Lindsay and a Creek Indian from Oklahoma, led the music with his resonant baritone voice. Alpha Goombi, a Kiowa/Apache who works with her husband, Ron, as a NAMB church planting missionary in Kansas and Nebraska, provided a dramatic interlude to each evening’s worship service. Speaker Alan Quigley, a non-native former evangelism director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he’d been praying with Eddie Lindsey—a BGCO church planting strategist, Creek Indian and pastor of Oklahoma City, Indian Community—for eight years for The Gathering, which first took place in 2006, and was repeated with new information this spring.

At the Wednesday evening opening session, Quigley asked his listeners to “cry out to God, saying, ‘This is what I want you to do in me over the next three days.’”

At the Thursday evening session, Quigley preached “We’ve had more than enough” from Psalm 123, about reservation suicides, drug and alcohol abuse and various forms of violence. At least half the 350 people registered for The Gathering responded to an altar call, some men with audible sobs, many women repeatedly wiping tears from their eyes.

“He drew the line in the sand,” said Alan Dial the following morning. He’s the Native church starter strategist with the Alaska Baptist Convention. “We have had enough . . . . We were crying out to God in desperation.”
The closing Friday evening session was one of resolve.

“I believe God called us here to see change—change in the way we walk with Him and change in the way we serve Him,” Quigley preached. “We have heard enough, we have experienced enough, to know no man can help us. It is by His Spirit, by His hand . . . . Jesus is waiting for us to do something. When you start moving . . . I (God) will give you the empowerment.

“We are going back to a barren land,” Quigley continued. “The land has been in a drought . . . . Despicable things happen where lands are abandoned . . . . In the most desperate situations, God can and will redeem His people. Whenever God’s people are praying for God to make a way, God is making a way.”

The speaker called for all the pastors to come to the front, and then called for those willing to get out of their comfort zones and tell their pastor they were willing to go with the Gospel—the power of God—with a greater fervor than ever before.

“Tonight, it’s time to do the right thing,” Quigley preached.

Nearly everyone in the pews walked to the front, and the few who remained bowed their heads. Intense prayer was taking place—some with hands gripped tightly around the shoulders of their pastor; some with bodies shaking with intensity.

The Gathering for Spiritual Awakening accomplished its purpose, said Lindsey, its chief architect.

“We worked hard, we prayed hard, but only God could have done what He did for us,” Lindsey said. “God brought the right people for everything . . . . It was impressive to see God bring the ones He did. We prayed for them. We prayed God would anoint them.

“We asked them to come and present not a program or what they’re working on, but something God wanted for our people,” Lindsey continued. “That’s what did it. It’s much better when it’s God’s anointing and God’s design.”

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.