Speaking from the Heart: An interview with a Native American who shares frankly about life as a Chri
MF: Share with us a little about your background and how you came to know the Lord.
FAITH: My name is Faith Mexicano and I am a Native American from the Navajo tribe in Arizona. I grew up on the reservation in a Christian home. My relatives on my mother's side were very traditional natives. As a young girl I had a lot of resentment because I felt unwanted by them. We were characterized as "following the foreigners' beliefs." So as a little girl I was confused because we were considered "outcasts" by the rest of the family. In my adolescence years, I started to rebel and have thoughts like... I'm Indian and I want to be considered part of the family. I still had the confusion of both worlds being a "Christian" and being Indian too. I had to be one or the other, I couldn't be both at the same time I thought. As time went on I started searching more for who I was. I was a Native, yet on the reservation we were treated as "the people with dragging skirts" (Christians). Therefore, anything we said or did was a laughing matter. I never stood for Christ as a result. I got involved with some Native American influences that were very militant. I became full of hatred and prejudice for what had happened in the past with Native Americans. This was how I could stand up for my people.
One day the Lord showed His unique love to me and I surrendered my life to Him. I saw how I could be a Christian Native and stand for the Lord without doubting. The love of Christ melted away the pride, prejudice, anger and bitterness in my heart. I had never felt free-er in my life. I understood that the Lord created me just the way I was... being a Native and now a Christian. All this time I was searching for freedom for my people and realized that it could only be found in Christ. I started going to some "pow wows" (native functions) and shared my faith as I began to see the need.
MF: When you share Christ with them how do they usually respond?
FAITH: When I share with them they usually respond with, "Well, that's not my religion," or "we are all different people and have different religions and we all eventually worship the same god, so what I believe and what you believe is no different."
MF: How did you deal with your culture after becoming a Christian, and what was the hardest issue to deal with?
FAITH: The biggest area that I had to change was my attitude and pride. That doesn't mean I turn my back on being Indian. What it does mean is that I consider myself valuable in God's eyes. He bought me for a price and that makes me feel good. Who else is going to do that for me? The creator God is the only solution to our pain and sin. It's not a white thing or "those people's religion." That's where I realized that all peoples were created by Him. I would say the issues of hatred and prejudice towards whites were the hardest things to deal with.
MF: As you speak directly now to your people, what do you want to say to them?
FAITH: It is time for the Native Christians to stop sitting in the pew and just listen to the pastors. It takes Natives to effectively reach Natives. If we say we are Christian then we need to start acting like we are and not living like a light switch in which we turn on and off whenever we want.
MF: What are some needs that the Native Americans have, both as you perceive them and their felt needs?
FAITH: I would say most importantly they need Christ. The Pow-wows are held for spiritual enlightenment and social get together's. These people are searching and trying to fill the void they have in their lives. Second, relationships are very important to them. People are needed who will sit and listen to their hurts and be there for them.
MF: Are the needs of women the same as the needs of the men ?
FAITH: Women need other women who can relate to them. They need to see love and compassion walked out in everyday life. Good examples are lacking. In regard to men, I would say that being consistent is very important. It takes a while for Natives to open up, they are very leery of new comers. Friendship is important. If you say you are going to do something--do it. Keep your promises and stay true! As for Christian Native men and women, discipleship from the very beginning of their first walk with Christ is a necessity.
MF: What trends do you see among the young and old people?
FAITH: On the reservation I see people trying to live the traditional way of life, but it is being crashed with alcohol and drugs and it's leading nowhere, and ends up back where it started. If they are more urban and have grown up in an inter-marriage family, then they may search for a more traditional way of life. The younger generation are confused because of the lack of identity. They want to find their "roots." The elders are grasping onto the traditional beliefs because they are rapidly disappearing.
MF: What advice would you give a group of Christians who want to reach out to Native Americans?
FAITH: My first advice would be to pray. If you really have a burden to reach out to natives, then it will be evident in your prayer life. Second, you have to have a real love for the people and this only comes from Christ. Natives need to see love demonstrated before them. Thirdly, make sure you can follow through with what you have promised. Don't make rash commitments you're not going to keep. This is a real sore spot for Natives. Fourthly, Don't be a "Lone Ranger," connect with the Native pastors and ask what their needs are. Get in contact with organizations who are working with Natives and get their expertise.(see pg. 18) I also suggest doing research about the tribe. Find out who they are, where they are located, their customs, arts and some of the struggles they have faced over the years. Try to find answers to such questions as: what are their felt needs? What might open their hearts to allow Christ in? The questions are endless, so try to put yourself in their shoes and ask God to lead you.
MF: What do you think the future holds for Native Americans?
FAITH: I think that the Spirit has started to move. American Indians are the "big thing now." I believe people in general are looking more toward the "spiritual." People, both Native and non-Native are searching. I would like to see a re-birth among our people, a great revival.
Interview With Another Native American Christian.
Q: How can a white man come as a missionary to your people and give the gospel?
A: Relationally! You can't just go in and expect people to come to know the Lord just because you're sharing the gospel. They have their own beliefs already and if you come in aggressively they'll just fight you more. You have to come in and establish bonds of friendships, and mutual respect between people. You have to also sacrifice your time to get out and do things with the people wherever they are. As you establish relationships, God will give you opportunities to share and maybe through times of sorrow, they'll ask questions because they know, in the back of their mind, that you're a man of God. They have such questions as: "What is hell?," "How do I get to heaven?," "How do I change my life?," "Why does this 'thing' happen in our area?" You can use these times to show them the Bible and share about Jesus being the only way.
Q: What were some of the things that helped you as a new Christian?
A: I spent a lot of time with the missionary and other Christians who would be an encouragement, otherwise I might have gone back with my old friends. I needed help in my new way of life and needed new ways of having fun, instead of having fun the old ways.