OMAHA, Neb. (BP)–Alpha Goombi wanted to be the first Native American actress to win an Academy Award. Ron Goombi wanted to be a successful businessman.
But God had other plans.
Today Ron and Alpha Goombi (pronounced goom-BYE) use their talents in ministry in inner-city Omaha, Neb., and on three Indian reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota. Ron is the director of the Omaha Baptist Center and pastor of All Nations Church.
They are among the North American Mission Board missionaries featured during the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 2-9.
As Native Americans, the Goombis say they have an opportunity to share the gospel with the varied ethnic groups in Omaha as well as on the reservations. Natives of Oklahoma, Ron is of Kiowa/Choctaw descent and Alpha is Kiowa/Apache.
“Our background helps get our foot in the door, but beyond that, people watch us to make sure our Christian testimony is real,” said Ron, who has been director since 1993.
Although Ron had accepted Christ as a child, Alpha did not accept Christ until age 27. Her family faced many of the same obstacles as Native Americans do today — sexual abuse, poverty, alcohol and prejudice.
“I had a very painful life before my conversion, and I am able to share truthfully with people who are lost and hurting,” she said. “I want to serve God because of what he’s done in my life.”
Her conversion marked a turning point in their marriage. She and Ron, whom she had met in college, began attending a mission church near their home in Oklahoma. Eventually, they participated in a revival on a reservation in South Dakota, and that’s when Ron first heard God’s call to the ministry.
“I didn’t surrender to the ministry,” said Ron. “I just answered God’s call. There was so much need among Native American people in general, and I just felt the overwhelming responsibility to minister to multicultural people.”
Their involvement with the Omaha Baptist Center began in 1988 when, as students at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., they participated in a church-planting program in Omaha during summers and on weekends. After graduation in 1991, they moved to the city and started All Nations Church as an integral part of the center’s ministry. Their calling was first as a couple, then as a family — with their three sons — Kurtis, 24, Daniel, 18, and Jonathan, 9 — all participating.
The Omaha Baptist Center ministers to its multicultural inner-city community through children’s Bible clubs, after-school girls and boys clubs, tutoring, discipleship training and services for All Nations Church and a food pantry. Alpha teaches a women’s Sunday School class and is the church’s worship leader. For the past two years, she has worked fulltime as an Indian child welfare specialist.
The Goombis also coordinate associational volunteers, summer missionaries and mission teams from across the United States.
Every day the Goombis are reminded of how much work has yet to be done in Omaha and on the Indian reservations. On some reservations, unemployment is as high as 75 percent. School truancy, alcohol and drugs are constant problems.
“The ills of society are magnified on reservations because they are such small communities,” Alpha said.
The main towns on the reservations usually have 400 to 500 people. While a few religious groups have churches on some reservations, there are no Southern Baptist congregations. The Goombis use tribal gymnasiums to hold their Bible clubs and sports camps, and in the summer they set up a tent to hold outdoor events.
“We have leased 1.5 acres from the Omaha tribe, and we are praying for funds to build a church building,” Ron said. “We have mission groups waiting to come and do the labor, but we don’t have funds for materials. It’s an ongoing dream to see fulltime work on the reservations.”
Southern Baptist work in Nebraska is few and far between, Ron noted. “We truly are a pioneer area. There are 40 Southern Baptist churches and missions in the eastern half of the state.”
But the lack of evangelical Christian churches should not be mistaken for a lack of religious belief. “There are more than 550 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. alone,” Alpha said. “Each has its own language, customs, worldview and religion. Each is like a nation unto itself. I’d say that less than 7 percent are being effectively reached with the gospel.”
Complicating any Christian witness is a cultural rejection of Christianity that often causes new believers to face ostracism.
“They really don’t want to hear about Jesus because [they believe] he’s a white man’s God,” Alpha said. “It’s hard to bring Christianity to Native Americans because they see it as a threat to their identity. Many people mistrust things that come from the white man. It is rare to see Native American Christian people. When Indian women see me come in their door on their reservation, they can see that God has helped me, so he can help them, too.”
But the need and their call continue. The Goombis’ vision includes expanding their work to include new mission points on other reservations. They also are praying for a pastor for a fulltime mission on the Omaha Indian reservation, volunteers to assist with the ongoing ministries on the reservations and workers to help start new works on other reservations.
“Many Native Americans are very spiritual in nature. And yet we come in and we let them know that we have the true revelation of Jesus Christ the Son of God,” Ron said. “And that is the one thing that can change someone’s life for the better.”
The Big Picture:
— Ron Goombi is one of 210 church and community ministries missionaries under NAMB appointment in the United States, Canada and U.S. territories.
— The Omaha Baptist Center is one of 87 Baptist centers jointly funded by a state convention and NAMB. A total of 7,601 professions of faith were reported by Baptist Center missionaries from January to November of 2002.
— There are currently about 350 Native American churches and missions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CARRYING THE MESSAGE, TEACHING AT THE CENTER, OUTREACH ON RESERVATIONS and BIBLE CLUB MESSAGE.