Christian Native people talk of need to share the gospel
A recently-held summit for North American Native people held in Springdale, Ark. became an opportunity for dialogue, understanding and a deeper appreciation of the relevance of the gospel in their setting.
The North American Native People’s Summit was organized by the Southern Baptist Fellowship of Native American Christians, with the intent to bring together Natives and non-natives who are in ministry, according to the Baptist Press.
However, the summit also became an opportunity to give Native American Christians a voice, lend inspiration and encouragement; and to bridge understanding and learning in sharing the gospel among Native peoples, the BP reported.
Some 200 people attended the conference, most of them Native peoples. But non-Natives also came because of their interest in this ministry. The delegates hailed from 31 states and four Canadian provinces. They converged at Cross Church in Ark. For the two-day event that was held late April this year.
Stan Albright, one of the 13-member team that planned the event said told BP, “This is the first time Native peoples have had a setting in which they were free to speak their minds. And what’s on their minds is their desire to lead their people to the Lord.” Albright is also director of missions for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.
There were three keynote speakers at the summit, namely Henry Blackaby and his son Richard Blackaby (both recognized for their concern for Native peoples), and Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church, which plans to plant 50 new churches within three years.
Doug Sarver, who heads Cross Church’s global missions said, “I don’t know anything about reaching Native Americans—yet. Is it okay to say ‘yet’? Maybe the Lord will lead us to connect with you.” Some 2,000 volunteers have signed up with Cross Church for short-term mission trips next year, BP said.
Mark Custalow, a Native from Virginia said that he believes God wants Native Christians to be gateway people to other Natives. He said, “God wants to use us to be a gateway people, to be a blessing to all those who call this nation home,” the BP reported. He shared his experience using “story circles,” to spread the gospel with bible stories.
Alan Dial, a strategist for starting Native churches in Anchorage, Alaska said, “I think we really needed to do this conference. I don’t think Southern Baptists as a whole grasp the breadth of lostness. Native people have needed a voice to tell that story to their Southern Baptist brothers and sisters…. If we’re not praying for each other, we’ve already given up the fight,” the BP reported.
Eugene Baker, pastor of Native American Totah Baptist Church in Farmington, N.M. told BP, “On one end [before the summit] they were saying one thing, that we’d get opportunities to meet people and help people, and when we get here, we learn we are our own resources. That goes along with what I’ve been thinking. The Lord gives me a vision ahead of meetings like these — we just had one in Oklahoma City and then in Albuquerque — and the meetings give me assurance I’m on the right track.”
During the summit there was a testimony by Bez Bull Shows of Crow Agency, Mont., of Set Free ministry which ministers to people afflicted with drug and alcohol abuse. Bull Shows said, “I went home for a visit and started rounding up people from the res. Now we have prayer circles and meetings in several homes.”
Another pastor, Jimmy Anderson of Many Springs Baptist Church in Holdenville, Okla., said that missionaries on the reservations have a strong impact on people, and many of those whom they have reached out to on the reservation are leaders today.
Anderson, who has worked in Native ministry since 1956 said, “The early missionaries got the Gospel out and churches started on a scriptural basis. They helped get the churches organized,” the Baptist Press reported.
Anderson told the Baptist Press, “This summit was worthwhile and really needed. One thing we need is a burden to see the scope of the need among our own people. We’ve heard it before but I think we need to keep hearing it.”
Participants agreed that the summit has established a new, fresh start in Native American ministry. As a result, the Southern Baptist Fellowship of Native American Christians decided to have a succeeding event on June 13, at 10 a.m. to noon as one of the activities during the Fellowships annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center. All are invited, the BP said.