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.