Rethinking Missions in Native America

EMQ » April–July 2024 » Volume 60 Issue 2

Florence, Mississippi: Nanette Butler (left) and her husband, Dino (right), sing during worship at the Native Pastors Gathering. They are Navajo and serve as missionaries with NAIM in New Mexico. Photo by Rey Villa Vicencio, courtesy of Patrick Lennox.

Summary: The mission to Native America is not complete. We need more Native pastors to plant new churches and to revitalize existing churches. Those pastors would benefit from seminary training and encouragement to persevere in their communities. And we need the non-Native body of Christ to come alongside and support Native brothers and sisters in their efforts to fulfill the Great Commission in North America.

By Patrick Lennox

For the last four years, I have participated with a small group of Native American and First Nations pastors in the Native Pastors Gathering in Florence, Mississippi. This annual event brings in pastors, leaders, and aspiring pastors for three days to receive rest, refreshment, encouragement, and opportunities to be equipped to better shepherd the sheep entrusted to their care.

During one of the sessions, called “Reports from the Field,” attendees gave updates from their ministry locations and shared prayer requests. One pastor, Jim Bird (Cherokee), ministering among the Dakota Sioux near Sisseton, South Dakota, offered his perspective. After serving for decades in that region and meeting with representatives from “all the denominations” during his tenure, Pastor Bird’s message to his parishioners and fellow Native Christian laborers simply and soberly was, “the cavalry is not coming.”

In centuries past, in another context, those words would have been great news to most Native people’s ears, but in the context of present-day missions, there is something woefully sad about the realization represented in that metaphor. Pastor Bird’s message was a call to stand and trust in the Lord, rather than in man, yet the Church is also still called to come alongside Native people in their efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.

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