Thursday, February 10, 2011

Movement Reaching Out to Native Americans

Growing movement seeks to take Gospel to Native Americans
by Karen L. Willoughby

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)--Two major events for Native Americans and First Nations scheduled for this spring indicate a surging interest among Southern Baptists in ministering to the people groups.

"Something is happening in North America that I can't explain except to say that God is at work, and it is happening among our Native American churches," said Emerson Falls, pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

The first event is called The Gathering, set for March 2-4 at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Native American Christian leaders will discuss more effective ways of reaching Native Americans with the Gospel and will interact with International Mission Board representatives who work among tribal groups.

Also at the conference, leaders will hear about Bible storying and the ways God appears to be already at work among Native Americans.

Meanwhile, the North America Native People Summit is scheduled for April 27-28 at the Springdale, Ark., campus of Cross Church. The networking event is designed to bring together Native American Christians in the United States and First Nations Christians in Canada as well as believers everywhere who are interested in ministering alongside them.

With this surge of interest, the methods for reaching Native Americans and First Nations are changing. Previously, Christians went to reservations and carried out their own plans for reaching the people. Now they plan to ask the people groups how they can best help reach others among them.

Author Richard Blackaby agrees that "something seems to be afoot" among Southern Baptists related to Native Americans and First Nations.

"The fact that so many state conventions are being drawn to work together in this project is one indicator that God is the Author of this movement," Blackaby said. "The fact it's among such a forgotten group is further evidence: When God wants to do a great work, He often does it with people like this.

"Anytime you see something happen in the character of God -- when you start to see people open to the Gospel who were closed -- you say, 'That's God doing something,'" Blackaby added. "When you see state conventions all wanting to participate, even those who have never had such a ministry before, that's God causing people to do the unusual."

While signs of God's stirring have emerged throughout the past decade, what is new is a growing urgency among Native Americans to be used in building God's Kingdom, an eagerness among Southern Baptists to be part of ministry with -- rather than to -- Native People and an acknowledgement that work on reservations for the past century has been mostly ineffective, leaders say.

Henry Blackaby, author of "Experiencing God," is among those leading the surge in ministry to Native People. The son of a banker, Blackaby was classmates with First Nations in his hometown of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, before he became a pastor.

"God gave me a tremendous burden for First Nations people," Henry Blackaby said. "He takes the weak, despised, rejected and uses them for His purposes. I've told them God could use them to bring revival to America."

Falls, an Oklahoma pastor, also is leading the movement. He is a member of the Sac and Fox tribe as well as president of the Fellowship of Native American Christians and immediate past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

"My conviction is that God can use Native Americans just as well as others," Falls said. "This movement is something different, something that empowers us. We should have been doing this all along.

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