Native Americans celebrate growth

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Wednesday, June 21, 2017 (one year ago)

PHOENIX (BP) -- The Fellowship of Native American Christians (FoNAC) celebrated significant growth at its ninth annual meeting, which took place June 12 at the Phoenix Convention Center. The group gathered in the city prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting.

Gary Hawkins, executive director of the Fellowship of Native American Christians, gives a report during the group's annual meeting June 12 at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Photo by Matt Miller
The fellowship hosted its first regional training conference June 10-11 at First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix, where Shaun Whitey is pastor and a FoNAC board member.

"There is a new day coming for our people," the fellowship's Executive Director Gary Hawkins told about 100 who had gathered at the first training session. "All glory to God the creator."

In addition to an expansion of its outreach across the United States and internationally, the 80 people present at the fellowship's Monday morning annual meeting heard reports of solid financial support -- though more is needed for further expansion of FoNAC's ministry that networks Native Americans and others reaching Native Americans. They also heard reports from those wanting to align their ministries' goals with those of the Southern Baptist Native American fellowship.

Expansion

Molline Jackson and Joyce Hamblin sing with Native Praise during the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Native American Christians June 12 at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Photo by Matt Miller
Baptists from South Korea met earlier this year with Hawkins to express their interest in reaching out to Native Americans in the United States. A missionary in Russia working with unreached and under-reached indigenous people also recently contacted FoNAC to discuss similarities between Native Americans and native Russians, particularly those living in remote areas. Hawkins also has been asked to preach next January in Melbourne, Australia, at a gathering of Aboriginal Christians.

A group of Native American men from Oklahoma led by Phil Lawrence, a member of Native Stone Mission, a church plant in Tulsa, traveled to Sisseton, S.D., to develop a ministry network with Pastor Milton "Nippy" Owens. The intent is to strengthen, encourage and open a line of communication of "Native men to Native men" crossing many miles, Hawkins said.

Also during the last 12 months, Hawkins connected with Native Americans on several reservations in Washington state when he spoke at a Global Impact event in Seattle. He presented native worldview studies in South Carolina, and FoNAC leaders met with Native American leaders in San Diego and Los Angeles.

"FoNAC serves as a catalyst blending cultures, a conduit for ministry and those who want to do ministry with Native Americans, and a connector between Native Americans, denominational and tribal leaders, and others ... to develop synergy for greater impact," Hawkins said.

FoNAC seeks to serve those with an interest in Native Americans because "if a person seeks to do ministry with an ethnic people group they have little working knowledge of, they risk making many mistakes because of their pre-conceived ideas and assumptions," Hawkins added.

Financial support

FoNAC's 2018 bare-bones budget of $66,460 is similar to that of 2017, but it reflects a growing support base from individuals and Southern Baptist churches that worship in Native and non-Native cultural contexts, reported FoNAC's Treasurer Tim Chavis, pastor of Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Pembroke, N.C.

FoNAC Chairman Ledtkey "Lit" McIntosh, pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, gave a plea for more financial support, to enable continual expansion of the fellowship's Kingdom-growth ministries across North America's 567 federally-recognized tribes in the U.S., and 634 federally-recognized First Nations groups.

"If 500 churches or individuals each gave $200 a year, that would be $100,000," McIntosh said. "Consider how you can help." He spoke of David facing down Goliath. Native Americans need that same mindset, that with God, nothing is impossible, the chairman noted.

Hawkins reiterated the "nothing is impossible with God" theme when he spoke of Billy Graham's and Henry Blackaby's reported proclamations in years past that the next Great Awakening would start with Native Americans. Hawkins noted that just 1.7 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Native American.

Networking

Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, stopped by FoNAC's annual meeting to bring his personal greetings to the Native American fellowship.

"I love all of you," Page said. "The Executive Committee is committed to Native American churches, peoples and pastors. We want to come alongside you, to work with you.... Your leaders have a direct line to me, cell phone and email."

Several other guests were given a few minutes to describe their ministries to Native Americans, including Morning Star Ministries, Gaits to Heaven, and a ministry to Natives living in 17 pueblos in New Mexico, among others.

"We have one common goal," preached Chavis during FoNAC's annual meeting sermon. "We are working together to declare the Gospel across a lost and dying world. We're working for the God who created the world."

Native Praise, a group of Oklahoma women from 23 tribes in traditional dress associated with their culture, led worship at the annual meeting. They sang hymns in Native American languages as a way of helping preserve those languages, since "this is the last generation to speak the languages," said Native Praise Director Augusta "Gus" Smith.

The annual meeting followed two days of training in reaching Native Americans. In addition to Native Praise, a quartet from First Indian Baptist Church of Phoenix and a duo from First Nations Baptist Church in Phoenix all led in worship during the training conference and Sunday morning worship at First Indian.

Sessions included one on reaching Native Americans through understanding their worldview, led by Mark Custalow, a Native American who is a church planting strategist in Virginia.

"Our mission is making disciples," Custalow said during the training conference. "The limitless power of God resides in us."

It is in conversation that people learn about each other, Custalow said. Knowledge gleaned from that learning, he noted, can be a bridge to sharing the Gospel.

"Ask questions," Custalow said. "Take time to listen. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason."

Karen L. Willoughby, who makes her home in Utah, is a national correspondent for Baptist Press and SBC Life.
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