CHIEF Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship Training Native Americans to reach Native Americans
An Interview with Rev. Tom Claus
We are very pleased to present the following interview with Rev. Tom Claus, President and Founder of Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship (CHIEF) Inc. located in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a Mohawk Indian from the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy in Brandford, Ontario Canada. He has worked among the Native American people for 49 years -Rick WoodMF: What is the Native American population and how many tribes are there?
TOM: Before the European explorers first arrived on the shores of America it was estimated that the aboriginal population of the Western Hemisphere was somewhere close to 100 million. Today in 1994 there is estimated 51.1 million Native Americans that represent close to 1,200 tribes and of those numbers there are still close to 500 tribes that are classified as "unreached".
When we look at our own country of North America it was estimated that 12 million indigenous people lived in this land representing 300 different languages on the eve of Columbus' arrival. At the turn of the century less than 250,000 still remained. And today there are close to 2.5 million Native Americans representing about 250 native languages in the U.S. And as of January 1993, the official Bureau of Indian Affairs count of politically recognized Indian tribes was 515.
MF: Do many Native Americans live on Indian Reservations?
TOM: Less than 35% live on legally designated reservations or associated trust lands, yet close to 90% of all missions work is directed to Native Americans on reservation lands. Over 60% of the total population of Native Americans live now in the urban or suburban settings. A vast majority of these Native Americans reside in large cities, yet there are very few native churches and native pastors for this growing number of people. As an example, Los Angeles has as many Native Americans as the entire state of Alaska, 98,000. Yet there are only six native churches who are together reaching about 1,000 Native Americans and still there are 97,000 Indians unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In many of our cities across America there are large numbers of Native Americans, yet not one native church to minister to the needs of these dear people.
MF: What do you see are some of the felt needs of the Native Americans today?
TOM: In spite of a growing population, Native Americans are still America's forgotten people. Native Americans continue to struggle for survival with many of the same problems they have had for decades.
Alcoholism: Native Americans have a rate of alcoholism six times that of all races in America.
Poverty: A decade ago the median household income for Native Americans was $11,471 compared with $16,841 for all races. There is no evidence that over the last decade the gap has narrowed.
Suicide: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaskan Native adolescents. Suicide rates for 10-14 year olds are approximately four times higher than that for U.S. all races (1990).
Family: Native American youths have a familiarity with suffering comparable to few other young people in our society. Death is not the only threat to Native American families. Far fewer teens growing up in Native households live with two parents. Unemployment is more prevalent; and both physical and sexual abuse are reported with greater frequency by Native youths than by other groups. Even though our people have faced these giants for years I believe there can be change and hope for a brighter future through the examples of Christian Native American men and women who have placed their hope in Jesus Christ-Native people who have let Christ penetrate every area of their life and culture.
MF: In 1975 you started an organization called CHIEF. What is CHIEF?
TOM: CHIEF actually stands for Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship. In March 1975, I felt led of the Lord to call together 100 Christian Indian and Eskimo leaders from different areas of the hemisphere to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we prayed for our people, discussed the spiritual, physical and social needs of the Native Americans, and planned a course of action how we could minister to their needs. God worked in our midst and brought into formation the effective ministry of CHIEF. Our purpose is three-fold. First, it is the primary goal of CHIEF for every Native American to hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in this generation. Second, the motivating vision of CHIEF is to encourage, strengthen and disciple Native American Christian believers, church leaders and pastors by providing effective Bible training in a manner uniquely suited for their culture and the ongoing needs of the indigenous church. Third, CHIEF is endeavoring to give practical assistance to help meet the felt-needs of the Native American community who are suffering from hunger, poverty, alcoholism, drugs and suicide, not in a vacuum, but in the context of God's love, shown through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1987, in order to accomplish these ministry goals, CHIEF established the Chief Shepherd Discipleship Center on an eight acre campus in north Phoenix, Arizona. We are still in the process of raising funds to pay for the campus and conference center. At this training center CHIEF currently offers a curriculum of Bible courses, discipleship methods and instruction in dealing with cultural issues that affect the native church. We have around 25 that go through the program each week with 15 hours of specialized training. The program is designed to meet the needs of busy pastors. Around 400 have gone through the program so far.
MF: What are some of your plans for the future?
TOM: We want to be on the forefront in the development of strategies and resources for church planting and discipleship training in order to enable the Native American Church to reach out to Native Americans. We also want to see the development of many discipleship centers around the country with the one here in Phoenix acting as a hub to support them in their efforts.
MF: What is the greatest need among the Native Christian Church today?
TOM: Discipling the Leadership! Training Native American young men and women how to effectively reach their own people in their culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That has been the command from our Lord and Savior since he commissioned his disciples and I believe that could be the greatest help to our people today.
I hear often from individuals who say that they feel so sorry for the injustices of the past that Native American people have suffered. Then they tend to ask what can be done to heal that great hurt? It is interesting to note that every people group that has been effected by political, social, or religious injustices of the past has seen these greatly affect the leadership of that specific group of people. It is no different among the history of the Native American people. As I travel from tribe to tribe I hear often the need for training the Native Christian leadership who in turn can reach their own people and tribes for Christ.
Another great need among the Native Christian Church today is living examples of individuals and families who will stand up and proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ with sincere conviction and compassion. Many of our native people have been told that when they become Christians, they need to turn their backs on being Native Americans, and must look and dress differently. Today we need men and women who can exemplify to their native communities that you can be 100% followers of Jesus Christ and yet be very effective in their native cultures.
MF: How can an individual or church get involved in helping the Native American people?
TOM: You can begin by asking God to give you a heart of prayer and intercession for the spiritual needs of the 1,200 tribes in North, Central, and South America. There are estimated still close to 500 tribes un-evangelized with the gospel and many of our urban cities considered unreached areas. Pray for the native leadership that already exists. They face a great spiritual battlefield in many of their areas.
Secondly, I would encourage you personally to get involved in a short- term experience with a specific tribe or location by contacting a mission agency that is working with the Native American people. It would give you a great opportunity to see the needs of the people and the Lord will enlarge your heart as how to pray for the Native Americans.
You may also write to us here at CHIEF and request our Resource Directory which is a comprehensive guide to the ministries working among Native Americans and the resources available to help those interested in ministry to Native Americans. We also have a tape catalog of over 60 messages including those given at Sonrise '92 which give instruction on evangelism and church planting among Native Americans and many topics relating to this area of ministry.
Finally, I would encourage you to be a supportive partner to Christian Native American men and women who are training and purpose to go back to reach their own people for Jesus Christ.
Like Dr. Billy Graham, I, too, believe that God can use our Native people in world evangelism. We have been like that sleeping giant. But praise God that the Christian Native American church is beginning to rise in the Americas.
For Further Information regarding CHIEF, contact: Tom or Huron Claus 1644 E. Campo Bello Phoenix, AZ 85022 Phone: (602) 482-0828 Fax: (602) 482-0860
A Message from the Rev. Billy Graham
"As a result of the thorough airing of grievances during the past several years, beginning with confrontations at Wounded Knee in 1973, all Americans have been aroused and awakened to the needs of the Native American people. Their cause is just; government officials, commercial interests, and even missionaries have been less than forthright in representing us to them.
We Christians must also carry a special burden for the spiritual needs of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans. Regardless of the cause and extent of their physical suffering, we should have provided the spiritual support--that encouragement of faith--they have lacked in their hour of testing.
Our responsibility--and our opportunities--are greater than ever before. Native Americans are the fastest growing segment of our population today. They need our encouragement and friendship now more than ever before. And, in spite of the history of injustice, the great majority are still open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the most encouraging developments on the Native American scene has been the expressed desire of many mature Indian men and women to exert Christian leadership in all areas of Native American life and culture. This fresh response to Christian responsibility has best been demonstrated in the activities of CHIEF--Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship--the organization that resulted from the Albuquerque Conference on Native American Evangelism and Christian Leadership Development in 1975. I commend that group for your prayers and support.
The greatest moments of Native American history may lie ahead of us if a great spiritual renewal and awakening should take place.
The Native American has been like a sleeping giant. He is awakening. The original Americans could become the evangelists who will help win America for Christ!
Remember these forgotten people!"