We live and worship on land that once belonged to a diverse mission field. Living on this beautiful continent, which we now call North America, were many civilizations — great and small, peaceful and warring, admirable and some less admirable. We now commonly lump them together as one people called American Indians or Native Americans. They lived here in great numbers until the American experiment decided to forcibly take it in the name of a superior civilization and progress–often with the blessing of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, under the pretense of God’s work. Rome’s Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave birth to the Doctrine of Discovery along with the millennial theologies in Protestant circles created the perfect environment for Manifest Destiny and euphemistically, ‘westward expansion.’
Living Up to Our Values
We have told ourselves and the world that our country was built on Judeo-Christian values, yet when someone found gold in Georgia, for instance, the Cherokee and other tribes were removed from their home lands, marched away on the infamous Trail of Tears. Many of them were our brothers and sisters in Christ. I thank the Lord for the missionaries like Presbyterian missionary Samuel Worcester and the Moravian missionaries who fought tirelessly for the rights of the Cherokee and served among them for the kingdom of Christ.
American missions was once an exciting venture for our early forefathers like Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd, while the country was forming. It just seems strange to me that now our country is established, and so much damage has been done by a nation that declares itself to be Christian, that our zeal for missions to Native America has waned. Yet they remain. More than that, their populations have rebounded from 250,000 by the end of the 19th century to over 5 million today. Some chapters have closed, but the story is not finished.
Isaiah 52:10 tells us that our God is a God of the nations:
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
Our Lord Jesus tells us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18). There are 566 sovereign Native nations within the borders of the US, and many more to the north and south of our borders. The Great Commission is to every tribe, tongue, and nation. To not recognize the 566 Native nations is to not recognize Jesus’ authority over the Great Commission.
By Grace, It’s Not Over
Let’s have a better ending. The first 500 years of missions in this country is a story of praiseworthy successes and dismal and lamentable failures. Sadly, it seems our failures have had the most lasting effect. But I believe we are in a new and exciting chapter of Native missions. There is a better ending to be written in Native American missions. The fields are ripe for harvest. The door is open, and the Lord bids us go.
“God’s people ought to be a singing people.” This was the conviction of Pastor Carl Guiney. My first introduction to him was when I first walked into First Assembly of God in Woonsocket, RI, on a cold winter morning back in 1990. As I took my seat, some dear singing soul behind me handed me a hymn book opened and awaiting my participation. Embarrassed to say, I didn’t sing a note. I can’t even remember the song, but I know it was joyful.
A Musician’s Musician
The singing was led by Pastor Raymond Shepherd while his wife, Edna, played the organ. On the piano was Pastor Guiney, a man small in stature, but full of joy, wisdom, and meekness. I didn’t know he was the pastor until he took his post at the pulpit when the singing concluded. As a musician, I was very impressed by his musicianship. He had full command of that piano. He could play every hymn in the book and many more from memory. Not only did he play what was on the page, but he also had the ability to improvise and create beautiful bridges into other songs all the while admonishing the people with words of encouragement. He had excellent technique, full of power and finesse. His style was lively, tasteful, and reverent. Not only could he sight-read with ease, he could also transpose the song on the fly if it were in a key too high for us to sing. He would then call out the key to Edna on the organ with hand signals like a baseball catcher calling pitches to the mound. He really was a musician’s musician.
A Singing People
The music at First Assembly was a combination of hymns and praise songs. During those years, I was completely oblivious to the so-called worship wars. Under Pastor Guiney’s leadership, I developed a real appreciation for hymns mostly and other styles of music as well. I will resist a long discussion on the old debate of “traditional vs. contemporary,” except to say that as a young bass player in a heavy metal band during those years, I had no hang-ups about singing those “old-fashioned” songs. It was in that church where I first sung “What a Day That Will Be,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” and “Sing Oh Sing of My Redeemer.” And our praise songs were usually taken directly from Scripture, “Therefore the Redeemed of the Lord” (Isa 51:11), and “As the Deer” (Ps 42:1). We sang every Lord’s Day morning and evening, as well as Thursday night Bible study — before and after. In fact, every time we were together, we sang. We were a singing people.
Pastor Guiney had a great team to lead us. Pastor Shepherd, who was Pastor Guiney’s father-in-law, chose many of the songs for worship and led us in singing with a powerful voice that really did not need amplification. Pastor Shepherd’s wife, Edna, faithfully played the organ. We were also graced by Pastor’s wife, Faith, as she offered songs of encouragement and praise, many times in duet with her mother, Edna. It was a family affair, of which we were all welcomed to join.
Pastor Guiney truly was inspirational and encouraged everyone to use their musical gifts. One day Pastor Guiney asked me to consider playing my bass in service. I was honored and terrified. I did not sight-read very well, and even when I was able to decipher the music, I had to figure out how to take piano bass clef and play it in a way that made sense on a bass guitar. So I set up my amp next to the piano and followed Pastor Guiney’s left pinky when I got lost, which was often.
‘Singing and Making Melody from Your Heart to the Lord’
I appreciate Pastor’s graciousness toward others like me who wanted to participate in the music. Because of that, we were blessed by a lot of great singing. All of us came with different skill levels, and we all played and sang a lot of bad notes. Now of course Pastor Guiney knew that the Bible teaches us that singers and musicians ought to perform skillfully, but he also knew that God did not require perfection to be pleased. So we sang and played at our varying skill levels with hearts to the Lord offering our sacrifices of praise.
I have heard people express the belief that it is not proper for the pastor to be a musician during Sunday worship. Somehow, as the reasoning goes, the people will not be able to transition in their minds from the musician to the pastor, therefore the pastor will lose his authority and respect among the people. I can’t say this emphatically enough: If you believe that, you simply didn’t know Pastors Carl Guiney and Raymond Shepherd or the congregation they served. Their love of song and praise only added to our respect and admiration for our leaders. If anything, they set the bar too high for other pastors, but I speak in jest.
I have been in churches that excel in musicianship. I have heard great choirs and ensembles. I have heard the giant pipe organs bellowing out heavenly and thunderous sounds that move the soul (O, how I wish Edna could have had one!). But for all that it is worth, I still hold those early years with Pastor Guiney at First Assembly most precious. It was there I joined the singing people of God and learned to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
Pastor Guiney was brought up in church and did not remember a day when he was not singing. Now ‘with no less days to sing God’s praise,’ he is singing with the heavenly choir in the Church Triumphant. I thank the Lord for his life, his deep love for music, and his ability to shepherd his people with ‘hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs’ (Eph 5:19).
You may read Part 1 of A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney here.
Are you an American who loves your country? Do you believe in a nation of law rather than a dictatorship or the tyranny of the majority? Do you love your Constitution? What part of the Constitution are we allowed to ignore?
I ask these questions because I have spoken to so many Christian voters over the years who have wondered, how much is enough — when will we stop giving the Indians government money? They have their casinos, don’t they? In a world where people are conquered though out history, how can we be expected to keep paying for our sins as a country? Can’t we just say that bad things happen in this world, and they are lucky they were not completely annihilated?
I hope the following will help folks answer those questions for themselves. As Christians, especially those who defend the premise that our country is built on Judeo-Christian principles, we ought never argue from a “bad-things-happen-in-this-world-therefore-get-over-it” perspective. As Christians we know that God holds governments, i.e. ministers of justice (Rom 13), accountable for the upholding and the maintaining of justice. As such earthly governments represent our covenant-keeping, law-giving God. The “bad-things-happen” view is simply not the premise we should begin with when considering Native American relations, or any other people group. Most American Christians I know would never accept this premise when their opposing political parties ignore the Constitution.
What About the Constitution?
Recently I was reading the new book, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, by Suzan Show Harjo. As the title suggests it traces the history of Native American treaties. I would like to commend it to any Constitution-loving Christian. The first thing that struck me at the very outset of the book was this clause from our Constitution:
“The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States, which shall be made in Pursuance thereof: and all treaties made, which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” –United States Constitution, article 6, clause 2
This is the same Constitution that so many Americans died defending, including thousands of Native Americans. The treaties with Native nations were made in perpetuity. The U.S. government has broken its treaties again and again. But breaking a treaty does not dissolve it, and time does not forgive. The treaties are still legally binding today. If you are a Christian who loves the Constitution, you should be all the more eager to recognize these things and even demand those who represent us in Washington do so as well.
More than a Political Issue
But lest you think this is political-activist post, let me assure you that I don’t wish to spend too much time in the political arena. My place is in gospel ministry. I bring it up only because I believe that false assumptions, ill-informed political opinions, and basic ignorance in our churches are dampening our missionary zeal to Native America. These ideas are prohibiting our mission efforts to the 567 Native American nations within our borders. And yes, they are real nations, and are part of the “all nations” to whom the Lord has sent us (Mt. 28:18-20). It just doesn’t seem fitting to me that so many churches who worship on land that was once Indian country do not have a line item in their missions budget for Native America.
I hope to awaken as many people as possible to the need in Native America, and how we as Christians should put the kingdom of Christ far above our earthly kingdoms. Please prayerfully consider being part what we are doing in Native America. The harvest is ripe and the doors are open. Please read About our mission to Native America here. All for His Kingdom!
“I don’t believe missionaries should have to raise their own support. It is an unnecessary burden for them. The church should be sending missionaries, therefore I will not support you.”
This was essentially the answer I received from someone who was invited to partner with us. I was saddened for a number of reasons, but the one that troubles me the most was the reasoning he gave. And not so much that it was his reason, but it was once mine, too. He was firm in his conviction and for me to insist on a longer discussion on the matter would have been pushy and argumentative. But I have been challenged to think about the matter more and hopefully the following will be helpful to others.
Hi, I am a missionary. Please give me money…
Yes, there are times when I would rather just not go through all this traveling, and calling, and texting, and calling, and emailing, and calling, and writing, and calling, and asking. But, believe it or not, Continue reading
How many of us have ever gone through the age-old ritual of that standard, cliché, Indian greeting? You know the one where you put on your best blank stare, raise your right hand as if to take an oath in court, and with monotone voice, you say, “HOW.” In case you didn’t know, it’s not a real greeting, and it’s not real funny. But it is a real sign that you may be misinformed about a real people group living among us.
As non-Indian American Christians, let’s turn that around and get informed. Perhaps we can convert an uncouth greeting into a prompt for a series of questions that will better align us with Christ’s purposes:
- How can we better love our unbelieving Native neighbors?
- How can we be better witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to Native Americans?
- How can we avoid age-old, man-made stumbling blocks that get in the way of the Great Commission?
- How can we be better brothers and sisters to the Native American church?
- How can we change our assumptions, ignorance, and unchallenged ideas about Native Americans?
- How can we reach out to Native Americans as emissaries of peace for the kingdom of Christ rather than repelling them as just another misinformed generation of non-Native Americans?
- How can we better pray for Native America?
. . . and the list could go on.
If there was ever one video I would have Christians watch when considering Native American ministry today, it is this one. Let us not be comfortable with our ideas and opinions until we have them challenged and informed. This short video provides a quick overview of Native American and Christian relations in early America.
About the speaker
Linford Fisher is assistant professor at Brown University. He graduated from Lancaster Bible College in 1999 and received masters degrees in religion and church history from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2002. Fisher completed his doctorate in American religious history at Harvard in 2008. The topic of his dissertation—how the 18th-century religious “awakening” in New England impacted Native Americans—is also the subject of his first book, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America.
I remember walking into a church voluntarily for the first time when I was twenty years old. It was a very snowy February morning in New England. At that time I was anxiously searching for significance as a bass player in a heavy metal band. My life was a wreck in every direction. After reading the Bible for about a week or so, I decided that I should go to church. So I put on my best Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and black skinny jeans and headed off to church in my girlfriend’s car. The snow came down fast and hard. Unable get up the long steep driveway, I just slid backwards off to the side, put the car in park, and trudged up the hill on foot.
Already late, I was cheerfully met by a man who eagerly introduced himself with a smile and handshake. “Hi, I’m Marc,” he said, “Welcome.” The congregation was already singing as Marc found me a seat. The music was robust, beautiful, and joyful. As I was getting my bearings in this foreign environment, I looked over to the man playing the piano singing with all his heart. He glanced over my way and give me a warm welcoming smile. He seemed to know what the wind just blew in.
When the singing concluded, the man at the piano made his way to the pulpit. To my surprise, he was the preacher, too. There was one very impressed bass player in the congregation that morning. This was my first introduction to Rev. Carl Guiney. I later would call him pastor.
Mission: Woonsocket, RI
I could write pages and pages on Pastor Guiney’s impact on my life, which I intend to do, but for now, I want to highlight his influence on me regarding missions. Pastor Guiney had a heart for missions and it was contagious. He planted that church where he wholly gave himself to until the day the Lord took him home. That was no small task in a small New England city chock full of Catholic churches. Fresh out of Bible college, he drove from Indiana and went to Woonsocket, RI. He took different jobs to support himself and held Bible studies until a nucleus was developed and a church was born. He didn’t apply and wait for a job as a pastor; he simply planted a church where one was desperately needed. He tied himself to the mast and committed himself to serving the people of Woonsocket.
Mission: Native America
At our church we didn’t have to wait for an annual missions conference to meet missionaries. Pastor Guiney had them coming through the church all the time. I was always excited to hear what the Lord was doing throughout the world. He had them speak either Sunday morning or evening services or Thursday night Bible study. One particular missionary really got my attention as he talked about life on an Indian reservation. His name was Joe – “Injun Joe” as his Native friends dubbed him. He was actually Italian, but his heart was for Native America. He awakened me to the need in Native America. I would love to be able to say that it was that night I decided to become a missionary to Native America – that would make a really great story – but that is not what happened. I can tell you that it was because of that particular missionary and Pastor Guiney’s passion for missions that I am a missionary today.
During those years, First Assembly of God in Woonsocket struggled to pay the mortgage, and sometimes even the pastor. Yet Pastor Guiney was committed to missions. Some churches would never think of giving only $25 a month to a missionary. How would that look? Always willing to give more, First Assembly was not too proud to give a little. Pastor Guiney was not concerned with appearances in that regard. He simply wanted the name of Jesus exalted among the nations.
To my Reformed brothers and sisters, yes, I ultimately left Assemblies of God to pursue my studies in Reformed theology. Leaving that church was one of the most painful decisions I ever made. I am a confessional Calvinist just as much as the the next guy, but I must confess that I am starting to feel a chill, only this time it is not coming from outside. Yet my heart is warmed when I think of the day when I was welcomed by Pastor Guiney’s smiling eyes (yes, he was Irish). I am grateful to the Lord for his life example of sacrifice and faithfulness. He taught me to endure and wait upon the Lord – a lesson I need to learn again and again.
Until next time…
You may further read about Pastor Carl Guiney here: