Native American network spreads its wings

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Tuesday, June 21, 2016 (one year ago)

ST. LOUIS (BP) -– A woman in Kingfisher in western Oklahoma started crying when she encountered a prayerwalking team of Native Americans from eastern Oklahoma last year.

A mini-concert by the Native Praise acapella choir was among the highlights of the Fellowship of Native American Christians meeting June 13 in St. Louis.
Photo by Chris Carter
"She asked what we were doing, and when we said we were praying about starting a church for Native Americans, she started crying," said Emerson Falls, chairman of the Fellowship of Native American Churches. "She said she'd been praying for a church to be started there."

Falls spoke during FoNAC's annual meeting, June 13, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's 2016 annual meeting in St. Louis.

The Kingfisher encounter, Falls said, is one example of how God is leading in the growth of the FoNAC network.

Gary Hawkins, the fellowship's executive director, said FoNAC's mission is "to serve as a catalyst, seeking and praying for a movement of God starting among the indigenous people of North America and extending to all nations."

"We're a faith-based, Christ-centered, 501(c)3 organization," Hawkins told the 70 or more in attendance, a sizable increase from the 2015 annual meeting. "Please pray about ways you can partner with us in doing this God-sized task."

Emerson Falls, one of the co-founders of the Fellowship of Native American Christians, announced he will step aside as chairman of the organization but underscored FoNAC's ongoing importance in Native American outreach.
Photo by Chris Carter
Though the largest numbers of Native Americans live in New York City, Phoenix and Los Angeles, the two states with the largest numbers of churches are in Oklahoma (200) and North Carolina (70), Hawkins reported.

In Oklahoma, the majority of Native American churches are in the eastern part of the state. Through the awareness raised by FoNAC, however, a church planter and his family have gone to Kingfisher, northwest of Oklahoma City, to start a new work. Similarly, another couple raised up from FoNAC connections is planning a two-month stay in Tucson, Ariz., to see if God is moving in a potential Native American church plant there.

Hawkins' travels over the last 12 months took him to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Nationwide, about 430 Southern Baptist congregations identify as Native American.

A World View Summit for First Nations and Native Americans took place last September in Big Sky, Mont., Hawkins reported. Participants represented tribal people from the Creek, Cherokee, Modoc, Mayan, Navajo, Otoe and First Nations from Quebec. It was cohosted by FoNAC and Great Commission Initiative led by Tim Ahlen.

Falls announced his resignation as FoNAC's chairman during the meeting. He is Native American strategist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, church planting pastor of a Native American church -- Circle of Life in Oklahoma City -- and is in consultation about other projects, all of which have caused him to examine how to be most effective, he said.

"I think FoNAC is in good hands," Falls said in reiterating the need for the fellowship he helped start in 2007. FoNAC's first annual meeting was in 2008 in Indianapolis, a day before the SBC annual meeting there.

"It's time for us as Native American churches to step up to the plate, to involve Native American churches in planting Native American churches," Falls said. "FoNAC is a catalyst, a channel for you to be involved. … When Indian churches help Indian churches, we can get it done."

Falls noted that eastern Oklahoma churches have stepped up and now three churches have been planted in western Oklahoma.

"We don't have Native American mega-churches, but we do have people who love the Lord," Falls said. "If we do it together, there's no reason we can't do what God wants done."

At least 100,000 Native Americans can be counted in each of 14 states, Hawkins said. Less than 30 percent of the nation's Native Americans live on reservation lands, with most scattered nationwide, assimilating somewhat to the culture of the city or town where they live. A high percentage -- estimates exceed 90 percent -- of the Native Americans living anywhere in the nation have minimal or no connection to Christianity, Hawkins said.

FoNAC has prayed and strategized to change that figure. Its new paradigm is to work with -- not for -- Native Americans to reach others within their circles of influence.

"We are trying to take the approach not to be people going to them but people coming from them, and that's a slow process -- to evangelize and from that develop leaders," Hawkins said.

Ledtkey McIntosh of Oklahoma City was unanimously elected chairman of the FoNAC board. Two other board members were added: Shaun Whitey of Phoenix and Warren "Junior" Pratt Jr. of Oklahoma.

Hawkins announced the formation of an advisory council to assist him: Bill Haas of Wisconsin, Leon Lusty of Oklahoma and Charles Locklear of North Carolina.

Secretary/treasurer Timmy Chavis of North Carolina presented a $65,000 budget for the next year. It passed unanimously.

A mini-concert presented by the 40-voice Native Praise acapella choir led by Augustus Smith prepared the gathering for the preaching of Mark Custalow, church planting team leader for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and a Native American.

"The vision you cast for us is that of a grassroots movement," Custalow said. "It's a movement driven by God as churches and individuals are motivated by God to make disciples.

"Everything we do needs to be about making disciples," Custalow continued. Every church is to be a missions-sending center. Every believer needs to be a missionary. Every believer's home "needs to be an outpost for evangelism, a missionary outpost."

Notice was given of a two-day training conference June 11-12, 2017, before FoNAC's next annual meeting at First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix. Workshops will include creative insight into spreading the Gospel; evangelism using Native American storytelling; native women discovering and developing their God-given leadership skills; coaching and mentoring new believers; and pressing issues encountered by reservation and urban Native Americans.

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.
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