Native American spiritual needs weigh on FoNAC
DALLAS (BP) -- Native Americans balance life in both the Native and white culture and too often lose to both, Gary Hawkins said in his executive director's report during the Fellowship of Native American Christians sixth annual gathering in Dallas.
"Fewer than 10 percent of Natives have an ongoing personal relationship with Christ Jesus, and a lot of them are dying without a clear presentation of salvation, making it so important we reach out today on our reservations and in our cities with ways of contextualizing the Gospel to best reach Natives," Hawkins said.
"The world system is against spiritual things regarding God's Kingdom work. But if you don't have a personal relationship with Jesus, you don't have anything of eternal significance."
The FoNAC meeting included a variety of reports and a display of the Gospel contextualized in Pawnee music, drums and dance led by Warren "Junior" Pratt, Pawnee chief and pastor of First Indian Baptist Church in Cushing, Okla. In their Gospel presentations, Pratt and his family are known as the Tribe of Judah Native Dance Ministry.
FoNAC treasurer Tim Chavis, a Lumbee Native from the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association in North Carolina, presented a budget of $75,720 for the coming fiscal year, including $10,000 for regional seminars for training Native pastors and those who want to minister within a Native context.
The first regional training was at First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix last year. Training on the East Coast or possibly in Oklahoma is planned for the coming year.
Hawkins opened his director's report by explaining FoNAC's scope:
"There are 567 federally-recognized tribes in the USA and 617 First Nations communities in Canada," he said. "The spiritual needs are tremendous among Native people. It's not that Native people lack spirituality. Many are very spiritual and very sincere, yet a personal relationship with Christ Jesus is sadly missing."
FoNAC has grown as people have begun to respond to the need and the focus of its board and advisory council, Hawkins said.
"FoNAC started six years ago with $3,000, and for the first time this year our income has exceeded $100,000," he said. "We're growing and we're networking, building partnerships."
The Native American fellowship is connecting denominational and tribal leaders, ministry partners with Native people of North America and other ministries for synergy that results in greater impact, Hawkins reported.
Some of the needs and opportunities include developing resources that are doctrinally sound and culturally relevant to be used in evangelism, making disciples and equipping leaders, Hawkins said, adding that these resources can be invaluable tools for those who have little or no working knowledge of ministry to Native People.
Bibles and commentaries for untrained pastors and emerging leaders have proven to be of great benefit to many newer Christian Natives, and FoNAC is discussing ways of getting donated resources to those who want them, Hawkins said.
"The biggest drawback besides cost is shipping and handling fees," he said.
Another challenge is the purchase or rental of properties in larger cities for use by Native congregations, Hawkins said.
Legacy church planting, he said, "could give a dying church the opportunity to live on through a new Native work that starts in their church building, by partnering with another church, the local association or the state Baptist convention."
New business consisted of electing an additional board member, Josh Leading Fox, a Pawnee and pastor of Indian Baptist Church in Immokalee, Fla.
"He's done a great work and is greatly attuned to what we're doing," said Ledtkey McIntosh, FoNAC president and pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
With Augusta "Gus" Smith concluding five years as a board member, McIntosh said, "I don't know how we're going to replace her." The board would like to add at least one woman as a member, Hawkins told Baptist Press.
Emerson Falls, Native American ministries specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, spoke to the group about the Robert Haskins School of Christian Ministry, a non-college, non-seminary training program the state convention has designed to help pastors with a lack of cultural understanding and a lack of people skills in a Native context.
Falls also noted the need for partnerships on Native reserves in Canada. Many of them are across the nation's northern tier, but they "all are very scattered," he said. "In winter, they're very isolated.
"We live in a time of good technology," Falls said. "You could provide a Bible study in their congregation through the internet." He also suggested a financial gift for a short getaway for a pastor and his wife or an expenses-paid invitation to speak at a church. "Maybe four or five churches could work together with one church in northern Canada," Falls suggested.
A vision tour is being planned for next spring for those "with the intent of being a partner," Falls said. "Honestly pray about it."
Ta Tumu, a Polynesian pastor ministering in Alberta and Saskatchewan, spoke of a Native church in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, that he described as the "Antioch Church of the North" because of its prowess in starting new churches and its Christian school of 31 students.
"God is working in the North," Tumu said. "We need resources. We need fellowship. We need partnerships."