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Native American Baptists reach out to Colorado Natives

Tommy Meely, Gary Hawkins, Vincent White Cloud and Bill Johnson pray with people at a service at Towaoc Baptist Church.

TOWAOC, Colo. (BP) – A dozen people made professions of faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, and many more requested prayer last weekend on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation south of Cortez, Colo.

They did so after men and women affiliated with the Fellowship of Native American Christians (FoNAC) testified of their brokenness and repair in three services and in visits in the men’s and women’s jails April 19-21.

“It was a great day today,” emcee Tommy Meely, of Choctaw/Chickasaw descent, told the 40 or more at the Saturday evening service, which took place at the tribe’s Rec Center in Towaoc. “To God be the glory.”

Ten of 11 incarcerated women made professions of faith Saturday afternoon.

“I felt a calling to come,” Jolene Morgan told Baptist Press. Morgan is a member of Ardmore Indian Baptist Church in Ardmore, Okla. It was after Morgan sang Christian songs in her native Choctaw and Chickasaw languages that the women responded.

“Are you tired? Aren’t you tired?” (Of the mess you’ve made of your life?) That seemed to be the message most of the men responded to, according to the accounts of several testimonies.

Drinking, drugs, destroyed relationships and neglected children all are symptoms of lives empty without God, the testifiers described in gut-level honesty. 

“There were 10 men in that day room (of the jail) when we went in,” Jesse Urbina told those at the Saturday evening service. “When I saw their ruggedness, I loved that. I was like that. 

“We all have dirt on us when we come to Christ, and He cleans us up,” continued Urbina, who is married to a Seminole Native and serves as a deacon at First Indian Baptist Church in Okeechobee, Fla. 

“I told them, ‘Are you tired?’ And nobody moved,” Urbina recounted Saturday evening. ‘“God loves you. He wants you to want to be changed,” he told the inmates. “Aren’t you tired of living the way you have been?’

“One man jumped up, came running and we hugged him, loved on him,” Urbina continued. “The second one came up, saying, ‘Lord, I want you. I’m tired of being a sinner.’”

Vincent White Cloud, a Ponca Native from First Indian Baptist Church in Ada, Okla., described his release from a life of despair, drinking a 12-pack of beer every day. 

“As I got saved, the Lord opened my eyes 10 years ago,” White Cloud told his listeners in the jail and during the evening service. “I drank the next day, but the second day I was surprised I didn’t drink. For four days, no beer.

On day 5, “I drank a six-pack on Palm Sunday. That was the last time I ever drank.” He lost his children during his drinking years, White Cloud said. “But my grandkids just turned 1. These things – raising my grandkids and whatever I can do for the Lord – they keep me going.”

That genuine-ness is what resonated with Natives, Meely told the Saturday night crowd.

Meely, a Choctaw/Chickasaw evangelist and member of Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, joined with FoNAC to evangelize as well as to encourage and train Christians living on the reservation.

Natives reaching Natives

It was Meely’s announcement just three weeks prior of his desire to go to Towaoc that brought people who network with FoNAC to join the post-snow trip to the mountainous southwest corner of Colorado.

Others onsite from FoNAC’s network included Clint Green, of Oneida descent, member at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and director of NAIM – Native American Indigenous Ministries, and Bill Johnson, a Cherokee, member of Native Stone Baptist Church in Tulsa, and leader with Harvesters Ministries.

Discipleship even more than evangelism is the focus of FoNAC, NAIM and Harvesters, all three of which focus on indigenous people groups.

The 20-person team in mid-April knocked on doors across the casino-anchored and sprawled-out town of Towaoc, engaging residents in conversation, inviting them to the evening services and handing them an evangelistic tract. 

Harvester’s Ministries made available new study Bibles and tracts to those with an apparent interest. FoNAC Executive Director Gary Hawkins made available discipleship materials to inmates and those attending services at the Rec Center, as well as eagle feather designed, handheld fans that had on the reverse side an explanation of what FoNAC does:

Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in a culturally relevant, doctrinally-sound manner to indigenous people; Encourage better understanding of each tribe’s worldview; Networking; and Developing relevant resources to aid in evangelism, discipleship, leadership development and church planting.”

Lessons in living for Christ

Hawkins, of Cherokee and Muscogee Creek descent, preached Friday and Saturday evenings, and at a 7 a.m. Sunday worship service.

His messages were enhanced with illustrations his listeners had little difficulty understanding. In the same way a larger ox would add to the strength of the weaker ox it is yoked to, being yoked to Jesus gives people the strength to pull through heavy burdens, difficult times and trying times.

A person can grieve the Spirit of God by “doing bad;” quench the Spirit of God by “failing to do good,” and if led by the Holy Spirit, “you can experience the joy of Jesus in your life,” Hawkins said. 

Hawkins recalled once sitting on an airplane, returning from a mission trip, next to a college professor who ridiculed him for being Native and for spreading foolish tales and philosophies told by white men. Hawkins said he told the professor, “If I’m wrong, all I’ve given up is a life filled with misery and heartache. If you’re wrong, you’ll be giving up heaven and spending eternity in hell.”

Sunday morning Hawkins spoke plainly to his listeners, those who had been encouraged and inspired as well as those challenged by what they had seen and heard throughout the weekend. 

It’s not enough for people to come from elsewhere once or twice a year to spread God’s Word, Hawkins said. “The Ute people are going to have to get involved.

“I’ve seen this over and over again, people come and take a lot of pictures, but it takes a lot more effort than that. It’s hard work. New converts need to be strengthened and encouraged. They need to be discipled.”

Hawkins preached from 2 Kings 6, about a floating ax head.

“You can feel like you have a good grip on the handle, but if you don’t pay attention to the ax head, you’ll spend a lot of wasted effort trying to fell trees,” the FoNAC executive director said. “He should have taken time to fix that ax head. If you don’t pray and study, you will falsely conclude the Christian life is not just hard but impossible.”

Elisha asked the man to point out where he had lost the ax head, Hawkins continued with the 2 Kings 6 story.

“The man wanted to get back cutting wood,” Hawkins continued. “If you want to keep working for God, you’ve got to properly maintain your ax.”

Meely closed the three-day event by thanking his listeners for their participation in the weekend.

“If you’ve not been living right, it’s a good day to start,” Meely said. “The Lord is here. We’re here. Let’s live in love, as Christ loves us.”