Native Americans expand missions engagement
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- As Native American Baptists are playing a greater role in sending missionaries to evangelize the world's native peoples, the International Mission Board is helping train those missionaries for maximum effectiveness.
Participants studied people group engagement and the role worldview plays in sharing Christ cross-culturally, in the first training of its kind by IMB for Native Americans.
Daniel Clymer, Native American strategist for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, said the conference was part of an effort to mobilize Native American Baptists by building what he calls "Mission Response Team" churches. Such congregations become prepared for local and global missions through training in four key areas: prayer, evangelism and discipleship, leadership development, and missions and multiplying.
Understanding concepts such as worldview is critical for ministry in New Mexico, Clymer said, because the state isn't a stereotypical North American mission field.
"I tell people who come here to New Mexico that we are international missions," Clymer said. "We have so many different cultures and peoples, and they don't think like mainstream America thinks; they think like their people group. To be able to effectively reach them, we've got to have a whole new set of tools on board."
Those new tools will prove helpful as Native American believers increasingly travel outside the United States, Clymer said.
"There are requests coming in for Native American Baptist mission teams to come and help with other people groups elsewhere in the world," he said, noting their ethnicity makes them uniquely effective at reaching other native tribes.
"Native American people have very much in common with other aboriginal peoples around the world," Clymer said. "There is an instant connection."
For Edna Romero of Taos, N.M., the Oct. 3-4 training was a confirmation of the new direction for Native American Baptists in New Mexico. Romero is the missions leader for the Native American Baptist Partnership of New Mexico; her husband, Bennie, is pastor of First Indian Baptist Church in Taos.
"Many times we've been taught, 'Bring the people into the church.' But the training emphasized 'Go and tell,'" Romero said.
Many Native Americans don't feel comfortable going to church, Romero said, evidenced at First Indian Baptist Church's annual Vacation Bible School, which draws many children but few parents. Statistics show that as many as 95 percent of Native Americans in the U.S. don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Being equipped to share the Gospel at home is the first step to sharing overseas, Romero said.
"We're emphasizing to go beyond our own Jerusalem," she said. "If you can't go the first 12 miles, how can you go 12,000?
"I've been trying to encourage our churches to do local missions so that they get hands-on experience, and when the opportunity presents itself, they're better equipped in reaching out to another community, another state or even outside of the United States."
The type of training IMB offered is critical to effective cross-cultural witnessing, said Terry Sharp, who helped lead the event as director of urban strategies on IMB's team of missional church strategists.
"We have to let Christ supersede culture," Sharp said. "Without it, we may unintentionally be offensive, we may stereotype, and those things can get in the way of someone hearing the Gospel."
The training was the brainchild of Randy Carruth, who partnered with Clymer and IMB to organize the conference. Carruth leads I Am Able Ministries in Forrest Hill, La., and has championed a vision for Native American Christians to take a greater role in fulfilling the Great Commission.
"All the way from Northwest Territories, Canada, to the Mayans in Chan Chen, Mexico, God is opening up the hearts of native people everywhere," Carruth said. "Our vision is this: If we can get our native people trained, they are the one people group that is accepted almost anywhere in the world. And if we can encourage churches to get behind them and send them into the world, they'll go."
In 2011, Romero and her husband took their first international mission trip, sharing Christ among isolated native villages in Canada's vast Northwest Territories. She learned firsthand that sharing the Gospel with unreached, unengaged people groups usually means getting out of one's "comfort zone."
Temperatures of minus 30 Fahrenheit were a shock for the Romeros, who were used to New Mexico's hot Southwestern climate. Despite the couple's discomfort, God opened many doors among villages that previously were closed to non-native missionaries. The couple shared the Gospel many times, often over traditional meals of dried fish or caribou stew.
Romero was particularly touched by the words of a village chief she met who lived next to a Catholic church. "I see my people coming and going," he told her, "but they aren't changed. What can I do to make a difference in their lives?"
It was a perfect opportunity for the Romeros to tell the chief about Jesus.
"We need to lift our horizons and look beyond our own local community," Romero said. "The Lord loves all people of all races and colors. Someone reached out to us, and we need to return the love."
Don Graham is a senior writer for the International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).