Native Americans Seek their True Creator
An Urban Church Planting Case Study
After talking with an Indian woman about the Jesus Way, she could not understand that we did not include in our Indian Fellowship some of the Indian spiritual ceremonies to the Creator. Some Indians want a Jesus that will liberate them from the oppression they feel from the white man and that will give them freedom to return to the worship of their ancestors. Other Indians will include Jesus in their worship if He is seen as one Spirit Being among other Indian spirits.
In Portland, Oregon my wife and I are seeking to plant a church among the 14,000 resident Indians which will teach only the Jesus Way. We believe that an Indian cannot know the true Creator unless he knows the Creator's Son, Jesus Christ. To know Him is to renounce all other ways and commit to following Jesus. Only then can the Indian have assurance of true harmony in a new world.
All Tribes Fellowship was established in the fall of 1990 to teach the Jesus Way of life. Indian believers know that the Indian spirits in the sweat lodge, sundance, vision quests and other ceremonies will lead them to a spiritual experience, but not to the true worship of the one Great Spirit and Creator. They believe or are coming to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to spiritual purification and eternal life. It is exciting to hear how Christ has or is delivering them from alcoholism, drugs or fear of the spirit world. The Jesus Way, taught at All Tribes Fellowship, is meeting needs.
We believe that God is giving some of His blessing at All Tribes Fellowship for the following reasons. First and foremost is prayer. Before we began the fellowship we asked ministry support people to pray with us for one Indian couple. God brought us into contact with an Indian man and his wife. We then prayed with them each week for five months before we asked them if they would like to start a fellowship. Then we also found a network of intercessors in Portland who would pray for each contact. Someone has said that prayer is the work of the ministry. The evangelizing, discipling and the leadership training is only the fruit of that work.
The second reason is the application of the indigenous church planting principles. All Tribes Fellowship, from its inception, has been the Indian people's church. As missionary pastor, I have trained and appointed a Council of Elders, according to the New Testament model in Acts 1423. We have attempted to make the church self-governing. Therefore, the basic decisions for the church have been made by this Council. The Fellowship has also been self-promoting and self-supporting from the beginning. The money used to meet expenses of the church, including ten percent for mission outreach, is given by the people. The people have known from the beginning that we are there until the Lord sends the Indian pastor of His choosing. Then, according to the New Testament model, we will leave. Care and encouragement will continue as needed. We have discovered that Indian people are attracted to a model when it is their own.
A third reason for some of God's blessing is the emphasis on elder training. With some exceptions, Native American men are not going to assume or be given spiritual leadership in a white church. They need a fellowship of their own where they can be trained to fulfill that spiritual role model. Because of the supreme importance of this position in the church, it has been in this area that we have experienced Satan's greatest attacks. Yet, we have also seen some wonderful victories. Due to some personal weaknesses, some elders have had to resign. As they remained in the fellowship and worked through their problems, they have become stronger. At this time in our growth, we have what is called a Council of Advisors. The church body has voted for these men who they feel are becoming spiritual elders. These men do not now feel qualified to serve as pastor or elders in the church. Therefore, as advisors, they are given opportunity to prepare for this work.
A fourth reason for God's blessing is the New Testament Model which we are trying to follow. That model is found in Acts 242. The church is built on four pillars the Scriptures, Fellowship, Communion, and Prayer.
A number of our men will hold up the Bible and say, "this is All Tribes Fellowship." As a missionary pastor, I have tried to keep the Scriptures as the primary focus of the discipleship training, group studies and elder training programs. It is understanding and application of the Scriptures which meets the needs of low self-esteem, true Indian spirituality, fear over the spirit world and victory over alcoholism.
Fellowship, which means sharing with each other, is another essential pillar of All Tribes Fellowship. When a need is made known, the people have learned to provide. We desire that our church be known as a sharing, caring church. Fellowship needs are also met once a month at our potluck dinners. This is when Indian food, such as fry bread, salmon, etc. is often enjoyed. This time is used to share testimonies, either from someone within the group or from an outside believer. Other ethnic leaders in Portland are sharing in this time of fellowship. It provides opportunity for the Indian people to hear what God is doing in other ethnic people groups.
The primary time of fellowship is with our Heavenly Father and with His Son. As part of this fellowship, we have our "anniversary celebration" each month when we share the Lord's supper. It is the time when we remember that we have been spiritually united with Jesus. It is an opportunity to affirm the gospel to the children. Those who have expressed a saving knowledge of the Savior participate in the communion celebration.
The fourth pillar is prayer. Every week we have a prayer and share time. Since Indian people are a social people, they come to share their needs. It is encouraging for them to hear one of their own praying for their needs, sometimes offered in the tribal language of that person.
A fifth reason for God's blessing is outreach. Some of our council members have put together radio programs and have appeared on radio and television in the Portland area. This has resulted in some Indians visiting the Fellowship. Each month, we use our monthly family social time to invite new contacts. We have begun using the Jesus videos in the homes of unbelievers and have been encouraged with some success. Indian people are not as prone to reject the person of Jesus as they are to reject the church which brought Jesus to them in the past. That history is what has to be bridged.
We believe that Indian people in the urban centers are searching for true spirituality. One Indian man said to me, "I have not met an Indian that is not spiritual." It is our prayer that All Tribes Fellowship will be a vehicle through which many will come to believe in the true Creator, Jesus Christ. We pray that the Lord will draw those who desire to know Him and grow in His Son. Even if they are with us a short time, before returning to the reservation, we want them to see the love of Jesus modeled at All Tribes Fellowship.
(Dr. David Hopkins and his wife Carolyn have served with InterAct Ministries, formerly Arctic Missions, for eighteen years. They have been involved in church planting and teaching in Alaska and Portland, Oregon. David has his doctorate from Westminster Seminary in Urban Missions. )
Reaching Native Americans Through the Creator
Well-known missionary and author Don Richardson has popularized the concept of "Redemptive Analogies" in his book Eternity In Their Hearts. God has done the same thing for Native Americans by placing Redemptive Analogies within their cultures also. Missionaries are finding that by beginning with teachings on the Creator and creation that they find a much greater responsiveness within the Native Americans peoples because there is already a strong belief in a Supreme All-Powerful Creator.
The Inca civilization worshipped Wiracocha. He created everything ex-nihilo, with his words alone. His full name in English means Resplendent One, the Foundation, The Lord, Instructor of the World.
Some scholars assume that Native Americans worship the sun. This is not true in the Indian mind and an Arapaho medicine man concludes, "Some people think we worship the sun, this is false. We worship the Creator of the Sun through the Sun.
There is one common denominator among all Indian peoples of the Americas which is the knowledge of the Supreme Being. He was known as "Earth Maker," "Our Maker" "Our Father," "Creator," "Giver," "The Master of Life and Death" and "Lord." The main characteristic of the Supreme Being is his singularity in plurality. This is comparable to the Trinity in Christian teachings. Consequently, the Indians were actually monotheists. There are also comparable analogies to the Incarnation and Second Coming. There appears to be many analogies to biblical truth within their cultures that can be used to lead them to the one "True Creator." Starting with Creation seems to be the best place to start with Native Americans.