Native American missionary tackles heartbreak on the reservations
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third of eight stories highlighting North American Mission Board missionaries as part of the 2009 Week of Prayer, March 1-8, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, with a goal of $65 million to help support Southern Baptists' 5,600 North American missionaries.
LAWRENCE, Kan. (BP)--Daniel Goombi, as a full-blooded Native American, is proud of his heritage as a member of the Kiowa-Apache Indian tribe, originally nomads who left Canada to settle in Oklahoma.
"I am a Kiowa-Apache and I do live in a tepee," admits Goombi, 24, with a tongue-in-cheek grin. "It's just that it's a two-story brick tepee with central air conditioning, just a couple blocks from Wal-Mart."
Despite his self-deprecating humor, Goombi views his missionary work as serious business. He and his wife Kimberly, 23, serve as directors of Kansas Reservation Ministries, sharing the Gospel on four Native American reservations in Kansas among the Kickapoo, the Sac and Fox, the Iowa and the Prairie Band Potawatomi.
The Goombis, based in Lawrence, Kan., are two of the 5,600 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Cooperative Program. The couple is among the NAMB missionaries featured in the annual Week of Prayer, March 1-8. This year's theme is "Live with Urgency: Sowing Together for Harvest." The 2009 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goal is $65 million.
As Mission Service Corps church planters for the Kaw Valley Baptist Association, the Goombis must raise their own support among family, friends and churches. Although self-funded, they receive additional support from NAMB such as training and field ministry assistance.
Goombi is unique among Week of Prayer missionaries as the first second-generation missionary in NAMB's history to be featured in the annual emphasis. His parents, Ron and Alpha Goombi, who minister on Native American reservations in Nebraska, were Week of Prayer missionaries in 2003.
Daniel became a Christian at age 8 during a revival service led by his dad in Omaha. Although he lived in Omaha most of the time, Daniel remembers that "we pretty much grew up on the reservations. We traveled as much as we could almost every weekend. And we spent almost all summers on the reservations, working with the people."
Ministering on Native American reservations can be challenging, Goombi said, because each tribe has its own language, heritage, culture and beliefs.
And it can be heartbreaking, Goombi said.
"There are a lot of single-parent families with single mothers or even grandparents raising their grandkids. Alcohol, drug abuse and suicide are big issues. People are secluded from the outside world and when you're on a reservation, you're limited to what's around you, and it's really not much.
"The spiritual climate on the reservations is difficult," Goombi said, "because Native Americans have a misconception of who we believers are. They think they have to give up who they are to follow God, and they believe God is still a white man's God because of the history Native Americans experienced with organized religion." Goombi reassures his peers that "God has blessed us Native Americans with who we are, with our heritage, and would never take that away from us."
On some reservations, half a century has passed without Native American children having a church or even a Vacation Bible School to attend, Goombi said.
He's begun to change that, recounting, "In summer 2006, the first time we held Vacation Bible School for the Prairie Band Tribe, a lot of the elders of the tribe told us that it had been 50 years since an outside organization or church had come on the reservation. That's 50 years of children growing, living their lives and dying without a chance to hear about God.
For the most part, there are no Bible-based churches that meet on a regular basis on the reservations where Goombi ministers. They meet now and then, when a visiting pastor comes through.
"Our hope as church planters," Goombi said, "is to have four self-sustaining churches on each of the four reservations –--facilities that each tribe could call their own and a place where people would gather and worship the Lord and take advantage of the church's programs."
Parents of two daughters, Elizabeth and Sophia, the Goombis have a soft spot for Native American children on the reservations.
At the Prairie Band Potawatomi reservation near Mayetta, Kan., Goombi was spotted playing dodge ball, football and basketball with the kids there, while Kimberly spent time making "salvation bracelets," teaching and singing with the girls.
The Goombis subscribe to the phrase in Isaiah 11:6: "... a little child shall lead them."
"The kids on the reservation are really receptive to what we are doing," Goombi said. "It's amazing to see the kids grow, learn church songs and go home and sing them to their parents, who notice how their kids are changing. We offer them an opportunity to learn about God and have fun in a clean environment.
"Working with the kids helps us get to the families and get into the homes. The parents start asking questions and start coming around, and we're able to share the Gospel with them through their kids."
Because Goombi and his wife do most of the outreach on the four Kansas reservations, they plead for help from Southern Baptist volunteers across the United States -- those who can come to Kansas for just a weekend or the entire summer to donate their time and talents to reach Native Americans. It could be assisting with block parties, Vacation Bible Schools or Backyard Bible Clubs.
"In addition to Kansas, there are more than 450 tribes recognized by the federal government," Goombi said. "So many of these tribes are going unreached. We want to encourage churches and associations to remember these needs and take action. We need to live with urgency and together sow seeds on these reservations to further God's Kingdom."
"When people think of missions," Kimberly added, "they always think of Africa or foreign countries. But reservations are like foreign countries. They are their own sovereign nations. The people on reservations live differently and speak other languages.
"So we just want to get the word out to Southern Baptists that you don't have to spend money to travel overseas, when we have a mission field 20 minutes north of Topeka, Kan.," Kimberly said.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. For more information on this year's Week of Prayer missionaries and the ministries of the North American Mission Board, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.