By Karen L. Willoughby
OKLAHOMA CITY – The difference between reaching Native Americans in the past and in the future could well be determined at The Gathering, in early March.
At this gathering of Native American leaders of Southern Baptist churches across the United States and Canada, the discussion will center around how to more effectively than ever before reach Native peoples on reservations and in urban areas with the gospel of God’s personal love for them.
“Southern Baptists have been working with us for more than 100 years, and we are still an unreached people group,” said Eddie Lindsey, a Creek Indian and church planter strategist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, in a conversation with the Baptist Messenger. “No way can the gospel that was brought to us be bad, but there are better ways to do it” that would be more effective than previous efforts.
“Now, when we reach one Indian it [the gospel message] stops,” Lindsey continued. “Awakenings come when we reach one Indian who reaches another Indian with the Gospel, and the gospel continues on. … We are trying to learn why Indians don’t share Christ with others when God comes into our life. Living without telling has made it difficult for Indian churches to make an impact in the lives of Indian people.”
And too often, Native Americans let go of God’s grip on their lives, the church planter continued.
“For a long time, I hear people say ‘He went back’ into the cultural things. Why is that? I think it is because what we have done is try to drag Indians out of where they are instead of allowing God to use him as a Christian where he is at,” Lindsey said. “That is where we have had trouble.”
Native Americans learned from missionaries and pastors that they had to give up significant parts of their culture in order to be Christian, Lindsey said.
With The Gathering – as well as the Summit to follow April 27-28 at Cross Church in Springdale, Ark. – the way of thinking that said all culture is wrong apart from the dominant culture is changing, said Gary Hawkins, a BGCO church planting missionary and Creek/Cherokee Indian.
“We can’t continue doing the same type of ministry with the same mindset to Native people and expect different results,” Hawkins said. “People have to have a better understanding of Native people. That’s what we need.
“The Gathering is informational and practical, exploring new possibilities, trying to see how ministry to Native people here in Oklahoma, and in each state in the U.S. and each province in Canada, might look contextually – relevant to the specific culture – while remaining doctrinally pure,” Hawkins said. “We’ve been working on this for two years, seeking the Lord’s direction.”
Henry Blackaby is the name of a man most Native Christians have heard of, and many have studied the best-selling interactive Bible study he wrote in 1990, Experiencing God, which has been translated into 45 languages, updated in 2007 by his son Richard Blackaby, and sold more than seven million copies to date.
Native Americans have been repeating since at least 1987 – that’s when Eddie Lindsey first heard Henry Blackaby say it, Lindsey said – that Native Americans were going to be part of the next Great Awakening.
Hawkins and Lindsey said they have watched as Native Americans took Blackaby’s words to heart, over time began to believe them and now want to see them come to pass.
“I believe that God is doing something that can only be explained by Him,” Hawkins said. “Could it be that the Lord is empowering the Native People to declare, ‘If not now, when, and if not us, who?’ My prayer is for the Native people to take advantage of what I feel is a God-given opportunity to impact lostness with the gospel of Jesus Christ among the 500-plus nations of original people of America.
“I don’t know the outcome but I look forward to what God is doing not only in the lives of the Native Americans but also to the people who have shown a passion in reaching out to them,” Hawkins continued. “Everywhere you turn there is the urgent cry of the people.”
Lindsey echoed Hawkins’ awareness of God’s activity.
“What is going on now is not what we are doing,” Lindsey said. “What you are hearing about, we had very little to do with. I realize God is doing things with other people too. I just hope we don’t miss it as Indian people. …
“I think this is about God allowing us for the first time in our lives to say we can help share the gospel to the world,” the Native American church planter said. “That an awakening will not be just for our people, but that maybe in some small way, God can use us. The sadness is that for the most part, we [Native Americans] are still lost. We have to take the gospel to our people. We are praying that once we do this, God will have more for us to do.”
With worship led by Tyrone Smith, a Creek Indian of Oklahoma City, and former BGCO evangelist Alan Quigley as keynote speaker, The Gathering mostly is to consist of small group discussions of different ways tribal people groups around the world are being reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The plan is that Native Christian leaders will go to their homes after The Gathering, and over the following eight weeks come up with a strategy of reaching the people in their communities and on their reservations, that they believe will work in their context.
Those same Native Christian leaders are to meet in Springdale, Ark., April 27-28, in an inspirational networking event called the North America Native People Summit, with non-Natives looking for places to serve at the direction of the Natives.
“The Gathering was a gathering of Indians who differ in their thinking and mindset, but who love God and Indian people,” Lindsey said. “The desire to see our people added to the Kingdom will bring the unity that is needed for Spiritual Awakening.”
Reprinted with permission from the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.