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

Why Native America?

mokahum signPeople often ask me, why Native America? Of all the people groups in the world, what is it that makes you so concerned about Native Americans? Why not just pastor a church somewhere in Central Florida? The short answer is that God has given me a burden for Native Americans. Now that is the simplest and easiest answer I can give, but that does not exclude the countless secondary causes that God has providentially used in the course of my life. I will not list them here, but there are two things that compel me to serve the Lord in Native America.

  1. I believe Christ was poorly represented among indigenous people for five centuries in North America. This does not ignore the many, successful missionary endeavors of the various denominations, mission agencies, and good Christian neighbors throughout history. There are wonderful stories  But when we look at the overall scope of history, Jesus was poorly represented by His church. We must take a hard look at ourselves, identify our mistakes, learn what attitudes and thinking patterns caused those mistakes, repent, reform ourselves, and continue to pursue our Native neighbors with the love of Jesus Christ.
  2. We need Native Americans in the church. We don’t need a Native church, that is, we are not looking to create a separate Native church and/or keep the Native churches to themselves, although the location of local congregations may dictate that. All of us  in the church — both Native and non-Native — need each other. We are stronger when we are unified and diversified. That is New Testament 101. Part of the problem in the church’s mission strategy of the past (and dare I say ‘present’) to Native America was the notion that Natives need us. Well, they actually do need us, but we truly need them, too. Really! We need to be mutually edified as we unify with our Native brothers and sisters. This is where Jesus is glorified. He prayed for this in John 17. I want to worship and serve with my Native brothers and sisters and offer them whatever gifts our Father has given me to reach, serve, and build up more Native Americans for a stronger church.

I could list more reasons, but they would be sub-points to the two listed above. I will expand on these reasons in another post, but for now, I hope you would have a better idea of why Regina and I, with our family, are hoping to serve in Native America. Would it be enough to say that we just love Native Americans?

When will we get there?

We are still living in Sanford, FL until we receive our full funding. We cannot go until we have all of it pledged. We will be serving at the Mokahum Ministry Center near Bemidji, MN (the first city on the Mississippi). Please consider partnering with us with your prayerful and monthly financial support. We cannot do this without you!

To give sign up to be a pledged supporter or give a special gift, click here.

To learn about the different ways to give, please read the Fair Winds post.

To learn about other ways you can help, please read Five Things You Can Do.

Until next time…