Taking it to the Nations
Native Americans Making an Impact Around the Globe
As the curtain opened, the silhouette of two men began to take shape through the blue fog shrouding the stage. The rhythm of their drum could be heard throughout the auditorium where more than 1000 Chinese people waited for the "Red Indians." From each side of the stage came a dancer to the applause and cheers of the audience. First, from the right, emerged an older male traditional dancer, then from the left another traditional dancer. Then alternately a grass dancer, fancy dancer, woman's traditional dancer, and two women fancy shawl dancers.
In May of 1999, Art Begay and I led a Native Cultural/Ministry Team as part of an outreach sponsored by the International Festival of the Arts to Kunming, China. In numerous venues, various team members shared their traditional dances, drum songs, painting, pottery, flutes, and music.
A Chinese interpreter said to Dan LaPlante, a Lakota grass dancer, "Other performers good . . . but Indians, you are the best." This was a significant compliment in light of the fact that more than 200 professional artists and performers from 20 different countries participated in the festival.
Because Yunan Province has the highest percentage of indigenous tribal groups in China, there was an immediate bond between the Chinese people and our team that transcended time, history, distance, culture, and language. Elmer Yazzie, a Navajo traditional Yucca brush painter commented, "There was a spirit of trust between us; a kindred spirit was obvious." He said, "I was deeply touched by the Chinese. Several times I cried for usour people and their people."
This is just one example of a remarkable and unparalleled global awareness that exists of First Nations people and their cultures. This awareness presents a unique opportunity for partnership and cooperation between native and non-native believers in reaching the nations for Christ. Here are a couple more pictures of how native believers are stepping out to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Mongolia: As one of the first modern missionaries to Mongolia, RL recorded his eyewitness account of the birthing of the New Testament church in the forgotten land of Genghis Khan.
In June of 1990, just three months after the democratic revolution in Mongolia a Christian group, whose members included four different tribes of Native Americans entered the nation. It was this cultural bridge with the Native Americans which helped open the door for the preaching of the Gospel. A number of Mongols responded, then on June 10, 1990, two Mongolian believers were baptized–the first in modern church history.
In 1994 I traveled to Mongolia with three other native men. The Mongol people immediately identified with us as a tribal people. In fact, as we traveled to some remote areas, we were informed that many Mongol people believed we were their relatives. They spoke of legends about a group of Mongol hunters who traveled to the north and east and never returned ... and they believed we were them. So they actually saw us as their descendantsor as distant cousins.
Cowboys & Indians Maori style: At the inaugural World Christian Gathering of Indigenous People, in November of 1996, in New Zealand, I asked several hundred Maori men if they had ever as little boys played cowboys and Indians. Much to my surprise, almost to the man, they enthusiastically raised their hands and voiced that they had. So I asked how many wanted to be the cowboys. None raised their hands. I asked how many wanted to be the Indiansand they all raised their hands! And a few shouted war cries! How is it that these Maori warriors, literally on the other side of the world in New Zealand identify so strongly with Indians from America's old west?
In my international travels I have witnessed and experienced time after time, that through the vehicle of our culture, by God's providence we as Native Americans can visit any country of the world and be immediately welcomed and trusted. Because only God could create such a global awareness of a people group, I believe, in part, this is God's heart to see native people restored to their God-given place in the Body of Christ.
I want to challenge the western Church to view this global awareness and fascination as a divinely orchestrated opportunity that the Father is presenting to the whole Body of Christ.
Lastly, I want to challenge our First Nations and other indigenous believers to respond to this global opportunity to go into all the world and make a difference in the lives of unbelievers by communicating the Good News through the bridge of their Godgiven cultural expressions.