The big picture of Native American ministry
by Karen L. Willoughby
Eddie Lindsey, church planter for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) and a Creek Indian, says he sees at least two barriers to reaching the 67 tribal groups across Oklahoma, 39 of which are federally recognized.
“We have tried to change him (the Native American who comes to Christ) but God is the one who changes him,” Lindsey said. “The problem we have faced was dealing with our culture. We were taught, to become a Christian, you had to put away your culture. . . . One man told me the other day that his father-in-law said, ‘if they didn’t want us to throw everything away, we would have become Christian a long time ago.’
“The thing we have to understand is that not all pow wow is bad,” Lindsey said. “We have to look at all cultures individually. Some dances are social, while other dances have a form of worship. Indian churches have struggled in addressing this problem.”
Jewish Christians faced the same situation, and lost out on a blessing, Lindsey said.
“If you read the book of Acts, the Jews had a terrible time going to the gentiles,” he pointed out. “The Jerusalem church couldn’t do it, so God raised up the Antioch church. It’s the same with us: the Indian churches need to address the cultural issues, or God will raise up others, and we will miss the blessing.”
The separation of evangelical Christian groups who work among Native Americans is the second major barrier, Lindsey said. To Native Americans, the fragmentation of the body of Christ decreases their interest in being part of it.
Another challenge: the need to respect tribal differences.
“I was born a Creek,” Lindsey said. “Let’s say I want to tell the people in another tribe, ‘This is bad,’ but I’ve never been a part of their culture. I don’t have the knowledge to say what is bad or good. The Christians in the tribe must determine what is bad in their own culture. We have to allow them (people in any tribe) to have a biblical worldview and to decide what’s right or wrong. . . .
“We are just trying to deal with a lot of things,” Lindsey continued. “If we don’t break these barriers and understand our people, the rest does not matter very much.”
“From Barriers to Bridges” is the theme for The Gathering, a March 2-4 event to be followed by a week of simultaneous revivals across Oklahoma, said Emerson Falls, pastor of Oklahoma City, Glorieta, president of the Fellowship of Native American Christians and past-president of the BGCO.
The suggested dates are March 6-9, but a revival can be held any time during the month of March. Preachers and musicians are willing and available to come and lead a church’s revival services at no cost. For additional information, contact the Fellowship of Native American Christians at 405/632-3365.
“We’re going to bring in people for The Gathering who have broken the missional code with tribal people around the world, and . . . discover what it’s really going to take to break through and reach Native Americans,” Falls said. As Native Peoples are reached, he said, they will reach others—to the ends of the Earth.
“My conviction is that God can use Native Americans just as well as others,” Falls said. “This movement is something different, something that empowers us.”
Some have asked, how it could be that God might work through Native Peoples as He brings the next Great Awakening to North America?
“God takes the weak, despised, rejected and uses them for His purposes,” Henry Blackaby said.
One example of a movement of God’s Spirit among Native Americans is a group of two women and one man —Navajo—who traveled in the summer and again near Christmas, 2010, from New Mexico to Northwest Territories, Canada, to talk with Native nonbelievers in four communities about the difference God had made in the lives of the Native Christians.
This was the outgrowth of a simultaneous revival thrust at every Native Southern Baptist church in New Mexico in October 2009. Several among the Navajo at that time said they believed they could do the same thing: reach out in a short-term mission trip. About the same time, a Native chief, Christian and Canadian, started praying for help with the Kingdom growth he believed God wanted him to do in far northern Canada. New Mexican and Canadian leaders in conversation realized the desire and need matched.
“When God wants to do a great work, He often does it with such a forgotten group as this,” said Richard Blackaby, who works with his father in Blackaby Ministries International.
“Two characteristics of Native Americans,” Lindsey said. “They are a very humble people; that’s why we got run over so easily. They’re also a people of prayer; prayer is very important to Indian people. But today, instead of being a people of prayer, we want people to pray for us.”
Second Chronicles 7:14 provides a recipe for spiritual awakening, Lindsey said, quoting: “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, pray and seek My face . . . then I will heal their land.”
“I tell our people we have to get back to being humble, we have to get back to praying and seeking God’s face, and then God will do what He wants to do,” Lindsey said. “Native Americans can go places” throughout the world and, unlike non-Natives, be accepted, he added. “We can do things, but we’ve never done anything. We’ve become a people who think we can’t do anything,” Lindsey continued. “But God can.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a special correspondent for the Baptist Messenger.