Who Needs Fixing?: A New Perspective on Native American Missions

Jonathan_Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703 -1758), Puritan pastor and missionary to the Mohawk and Mohican Indians, and author of The Life and Diary of David Brainerd

Are the best days behind us? Have we missed out on a golden age of missions to Native America? The history of missions to Indigenous peoples of North America is extremely complicated with much to rejoice and lament about.  One particular lamentable observation came from the revered Jonathan Edwards in the early 18th century while reflecting on his predecessors. He said, “The English of Massachusetts were too interested in fixing the Indians…than giving them the gospel.” How true that was then, and sadly, that sentiment was an underlying motivation for many churches all throughout the history of missions in the U.S. And where has that actually brought us?

Why bother?

I’ve been reading Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life lately. It is truly one of those books that makes you want to pray. Really. I have been recognizing my own personal shortcomings in prayer. One thing in particular that Miller points out is that many of us have become cynical regarding prayer. After pondering that idea, it hit me. I realized that I was able to identify something I have been sensing over the years regarding a common attitude toward Native American missions. I just could not put a name on it, but now it is clear — cynicism.

Too often when I bring up the topic of Native American missions, I continually hear the predictable mentions of casinos, animism, alcoholism, and government handouts. When folks hear of the plagues in Native America such as alcoholism, addictions, violence, and suicide, they are so quick to attribute it all to government handouts that are keeping Native Americans lazy, which in turn causes them to drink because of all the time on their hands, and so goes the vicious cycle.

With that as the accepted backdrop, the shrewd potential donor would ask, “What is the point in sending missionaries to Native America? They are not really poor, just lazy.” I don’t have enough space to address that position, but if I am reading the tone correctly, it seems that many Christians simply have become cynical regarding Native American missions. Why do we keep giving to them? Is it really helping? We will never fix them.

Then there others who, although seemingly hopeful, speak very fondly of a short-term mission trip to a reservation where they helped build a porch, paint a house, or met some other material need. I hear those stories again and again, and I rejoice with them.

As much as I wholeheartedly believe in those outreach efforts, I am afraid that that is all those people imagine Native American missions to be about. I am proposing that they, too, are affected by cynicism without knowing it. They don’t really think there is anything else to do but to ease the pain in Indian Country with mercy ministry efforts. Is it that these folks don’t really expect anything more out of Native Americans other than to be passive recipients of a generous church group?

Let’s fix our perspectives

How about this? Let’s stop trying to “fix” people. Let us not be condescending or paternalistic. Let’s come along side our Native American brothers and sisters and walk with them. Let’s expect great things from the Native Christian church. Is it possible that such a suffering people empowered by grace can display and proclaim God’s kingdom in ways that we have not witnessed in a long time? Let’s believe that God can heal the brokenness in Native America.  Let’s believe that the Native Christian church can strengthen the rest of the body of Christ and teach us something about forgiveness and perseverance. Let’s actually believe that the best years are ahead of us starting today.

To learn more about how can help serve Native America, click Five Things You Can Do.

To learn how best to give to our mission and support us, click GIVING.

Footnotes:

*Source: Jonathan Edwards DVD series by Dr. Stephon Nichols, Ligonier Ministries.

**Tribal sponsored sign in the Crow Nation. Source: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com

What Does the Constitution Have to Do with It?

us-constitutionAre 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?

Worldview Adjustment

From the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

From the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

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

Glen Douglas, Lakes-Okanogan Indian, (February 1, 1927 - May 23, 2011) joined the U.S. Army when he was just 17, the start of a long and distinguished career that saw him take part in three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. He was with the 101st Airborne in Belgium in 1945, was injured by a grenade in 1953 during the Korean War. During his first tour in Vietnam he was an intelligence analyst with a Special Forces team...

Glen Douglas, Lakes-Okanogan Indian, (February 1, 1927 – May 23, 2011) joined the U.S. Army when he was just 17.

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!

When Irish Eyes are Smiling: A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney, part 1

Carl Guiney

Cold Morning
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.

Warm Welcome
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.

Sacrifice
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.

A Reflection
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:
http://104067.agchurches.org/?TargetPage=4DBBF6F3-D87F-49C0-887A-86F02AAC7DA8
http://www.woonsocketcall.com/node/2436