The Picuris Pueblo An Unreached People Group in America
How could there be an unreached people group in the USA? Can't they turn on the TV and radio to listen to the gospel? Haven't they met Christians in a shopping mall? Common questions. Reasonable questions.
A people is considered "unreached" until there is a culturally relevant church movement capable of reaching the remainder of the people group without outside assistance.
Using this definition, it is still hard to determine how roughly 200 people groups could have been missed during all these years of Christian activity in "Christian America."
Examples of unreached people groups are the Pueblos of New Mexico. They are isolated geographically and culturally from their surroundings. Nationwide only 49% of American Indians live on reservations. However, more than 70% of the Pueblos still live on their Pueblos due to the way their culture permeates every area of their existence. The twenty neighboring present day Pueblo communities are descendents of the prehistoric Anasazi peoples who inhabited the Mesa Verde of Colorado. These neighboring Pueblos are: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Pecos, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Felipe, San Juan, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santa Domingo, Taos, Tigua, Tsuque, and the Zia. The two large separate Pueblo reservations ( Zuni and Hopi) were 6th and 7th in size nationwide for any American Indian Group.
The Picuris Pueblo
Hidden high in a secluded valley is the smallest and most physically isolated of the Pueblos. This isolation enables the Picuris to withdraw into themselves and prevent intrusion from the outside world. The tribe's current population is only 270.
All Native Americans have suffered immensely in their encounter with European immigrants. They lost almost all their lands, their self- respect and much of their culture. Prejudice and insensitivity have been their lot to this day. Poverty, disease and unemployment are common among those on Indian reservations today, and among the more than 50% who have migrated to the cities nationwide.
As is typical with most reservations or Pueblos, one of the most important needs is that of jobs. There is little work on the reservation other than tourist trade. With the National Forests close by, many work off the Pueblo in the logging industry. Others work at blue collar jobs in industry or on construction. Most women working off the Pueblo work in office jobs. Since the Picuris own 55% of a new resort hotel in a nearby city, this provides jobs for many of the Picuris and income for the tribe.
Many people live in modern two to four bedroom homes around a plaza close to the Pueblo. Some still inhabit the original apartment style Pueblo buildings.
The Picuris feel that their Pueblo, its inhabitants and their activities form the veritable center of the world. This explains the societal solidarity that controls the details of planting, harvesting and the ceremonies surrounding these life sustaining activities.
Ceremonies and dances are held to keep spirits appeased. Songs and dances tell the history of the tribe in their ceremonies. Masked Kachina dancers representing spirits participate in the ceremonies.
Most Pueblos, including Picuris, focus their yearly calendar on joint formal church and tribal religious events. The elaborate ceremonial cycle has helped maintain a cohesive social organization on the Pueblo.
The Picuris place a high value on inoffensiveness and sobriety. They deplore an authoritative manner and strongly disapprove of aggressive qualities of leadership. Individualistic, competitive qualities are held in low esteem. Individual ambition is subordinated for the benefit of the group.
We have often heard it said of a particular person or people group that if it had been inoculated with a tiny dose of Christianity, it would effectively prevent that individual or group from catching the real thing. If that were ever true of any people group, it is certainly true of the Pueblos of New Mexico and especially the Picuris. All of the Pueblos have had a formal church for well over 300 years. But the church that was established in the 1600's with its forced baptism taste of Christianity was so syncretistic with the Pueblo animistic religion that its resultant religion did not resemble the true gospel in any way. Their heart religion is not syncretistic religion but is rather their native animistic religion.
Though the traditional church has failed to penetrate the Picuris people, there is no need to despair. William Carey said to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. We can certainly expect God to work mightily among these people, for His desire is that there be representation from every people group in heaven (see Rev. 5:9, 7:9). It is important, however, for us to seek the best possible methods to reach the Picuris. This is where our attempting great things for God enters the picture.
The Pueblos' name for themselves means "the people." They believe that if they ever lose their religion (by either adopting another religion or by allowing other people access to theirs), the world will come to an end. Perhaps the designation for themselves, "the people," could give us an opening. The nation of Israel also thought of themselves as "the people" or more specifically, "God's chosen people." And they were. But they were chosen to fulfill a purpose for God. They did not fulfill that purpose and were thus set aside by God for a period while He allowed others to fulfill that purpose.
There may be something here akin to a redemptive analogy. Though the term "Pueblo" is not specifically related to the religion of these people, it certainly shows something of what they think of themselves and gives us a clue as to their world view. If they could be shown that there is indeed a personal God who also has chosen them as one of the many peoples whom He desires to redeem for Himself, as one specific people group He had in mind in Rev. 5:9, perhaps they could come to know the One Who died to provide that redemption. If they are "the people," then it is imperative that they know the true God.
In trying to move the Picuris from the category of unreached to that of reached, we must be concerned with more than evangelism. We must have the goal of seeing a culturally relevant church planted among them with indigenous leadership that is capable and motivated to reach their own people.
While the Picuris are what we might term a "limited access" people with their Pueblo closed to traditional evangelistic efforts, we believe that God is giving us an opportunity today to share the gospel with these people. Much as international students from limited access countries have travelled to open countries for educational and economic reasons, so the Picuris are travelling weekly to a nearby city for employment. Just as the foreign student while away from home is open to friendship evangelism, so the Picuris may be open to outsiders while away from their family and religious pressures. Because of their being employed in one central location, it may be possible to reach a number of them, and facilitate a movement to Christ among those people who are away from home.
It is important not to let a separate church develop made up of these off-Pueblo people. This extracting individuals from their home setting will not build a church on the Pueblo. Instead, it will rouse antagonism against Christianity and build further barriers against the spread of the Gospel on the Pueblo. Such an anemic, lonely, separated church would be a tragic mistake in terms of reaching the whole Pueblo.
As leadership is developed, this group may be the bridge that can cause a breakthrough, effecting a people movement to Christ among the Picuris and a church on the Pueblo, and finally seeing the Picuris become a missionary church, reaching other Pueblos and even unrelated people groups. Dorothy Everett is the Co-Director, with her husband Art, of the Institute of Native American Studies here on the campus of the US Center.
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