On the Reservation: From Desolate Spaces to Heavenly Places
By Carl Stagner
Time, drought, and poverty have caked layers of dust and grime between a toddler’s bruised and blistered toes. The boy’s father, unemployed for five years, is draped across a tear-stained sofa, too hung over to care. Across the mother’s wrinkled face, a blank stare speaks volumes. This is desolation on the reservation in America. Widespread addiction, abuse, and apathy have afflicted much of the Native American society. In Jesus Christ, hurt is met with hope and healing. Through the Church of God, renewed efforts are underway to take the hope of Jesus Christ to the often forgotten far reaches of our land. Great strides toward strengthening existing ministry and inspiring new outreach were made in January when leaders of the American Indian Council and devoted friends of Native American Ministries met together in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Handel Smith, chief domestic officer for Church of God Ministries (CGM), joined CGM’s Ryan Chapman for the meeting scheduled to foster much-needed dialogue about the state of Native American Ministries. Handel witnessed firsthand some of the conditions ministry leaders are up against. “The devastation in that community is generational, and actually quite difficult to describe,” he explains. “There’s a sense of hopelessness and spiritual brokenness that is pervasive. The suicide rate among the young people is the highest in the nation. DUI is the number one cause of death in this community. And the number of children who have been molested within their household is staggering. To complicate matters, there’s an average of ten to fifteen individuals in each of those households. It is documented as one of the poorest areas of indigenous groups in the United States.”
Town Center Community Church of God in Marietta, Georgia, is one of many congregations that regularly support ministry to Native Americans. One leader in the Marietta congregation has developed a long-term relationship with the Native American community of Allen, South Dakota. For eight years, she’s traveled there to fight hopelessness, alcoholism, and joblessness. Each December, she brings shoeboxes full of toys and hygiene supplies to the children of the community. Her biggest project is putting unemployed residents back to work. From helping find a storefront for a bakery, to getting a craft store off the ground, to promoting a silk screen business—Janice Turner has gone the extra mile to effect substantial and sustainable change in Allen. “It’s all God, and it baffles me. I’m way over here in Atlanta, and sometimes I look up at God and say, ‘Are you kidding? You want me to do what?’” Just last May, she spent four weeks going door to door, spreading the hope of the gospel to the Allen community.
Janice’s story was one of several powerful stories shared at January’s meeting in Rapid City. Former missionaries Sherman and Kay Critser, who now pastor the Intercultural Chapel in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, also support leadership development at each of the Church of God Native American ministry locations. They joined Handel Smith and Ryan Chapman to also listen to the concerns of our Native American ministry leaders and longtime supporters to better assess needs. Through prayer, worship, and focused discussion, ideas were generated to facilitate improved ministry. Following the strategy sessions, all who had gathered participated in a training experience to implement Celebrate Recovery in their respective regions. “We listened to pain; we listened to celebrations; we witnessed tears; we heard the voice of God,” Handel recalls. “We were then able to acknowledge the significance of the vision of Church of God Ministries to want to change the world by making Jesus the subject. We conducted a SWOB analysis—determining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and barriers—and established three to four key initiatives for each reservation to address those weakness and opportunities.”
Through the discussion, the group also developed a brand new mission for Native American Ministries: “Expressing the love of God by practicing the ministry of presence, building meaningful relationship, loving without hurting, and working and partnering to disciple the lost.” Handel reflects, “The ministry of presence was one area that really stuck with me. Pastor Don Mink and his team introduced us to this concept that emphasizes evangelism that happens just by being there for people on a daily basis. Because the school system lacks transportation for the children, the church has taken on the responsibility of transporting children every day to and from school. Furthermore, because transportation and finances are lacking for parents, the church also provides transportation for them to get to and from work! Don and his team are up at 5:30 in the morning to take children to school, and they are still working at 6:30 in the evening, picking up parents from work.”
Please pray for the vital work of the Church of God to our Native American brothers and sisters. Your involvement is vital to the advancement of God’s kingdom among our Native American brothers and sisters. Recovery programs, children’s ministries, economic development initiatives, and other missions projects are made possible by the support of individuals and local congregations. For more information, contact Ryan Chapman at RChapman@chog.org, or 800-848-2464, ext. 2189. Project #43.44301.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.