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Native Americans to seek ministry partners

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Reaching Native Americans in urban areas and developing ministry partnerships with churches across the Southern Baptist Convention will be among the topics of discussion when Native Americans and those interested in Native American ministry gather for the June 15 meeting of the Fellowship of Native American Christians.

Attendees also will discuss leadership development among Native Americans and culturally contextualized evangelism.

“What we’re envisioning is Native people being empowered, and feeling empowered, to do things in a more contextualized approach while remaining doctrinally sound,” FoNAC executive director Gary Hawkins said.

The Fellowship of Native American Christians was established in 2008 to advance Southern Baptist ministries among Native Americans. Hawkins was elected as FoNAC’s first executive director during its 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans.

FoNAC’s upcoming meeting will take place in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 16-17 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The FoNAC meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, June 15, in Rooms C210-C212 of the convention center.

Speakers at the meeting will include Ken Weathersby, the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for convention advancement, and Tim Chavis, chairman of EC President Frank S. Page’s Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council.

The unique worldview of Native Americans necessitates outreach targeted specifically toward them, Hawkins said, noting that those wishing to reach them for Christ must consider issues like geographic location, language and ceremonial and traditional practices.

Among FoNAC’s ministry initiatives, the group has partnered with the North American Mission Board, the Catalina Baptist Association and Green Valley Baptist Church to seek ways of developing a sustaining ministry to the 44,000 Native people of Tucson, Ariz.

Native American churches are being planted in Bixby and Oklahoma City, Okla., in partnership with the Tulsa Metro Baptist Network, the Capital Baptist Association, local congregations and NAMB.

California has the largest Native American population of any state but has less than 10 SBC churches focusing on them. Minnesota’s Twin Cities have the highest Native American population density of any large metro area, Hawkins said, yet little is being done to meet their spiritual needs. Canada’s cities are home to large numbers of First Nations People with limited outreach targeting them.

“We understand FoNAC’s ministry as being a God-sized task, and yet we pray it will be something that could develop exponentially,” Hawkins said. FoNAC hopes Native American ministry will expand “especially in urban settings, where we pray for and seek a ‘person of peace’ … to help introduce FoNAC’s ministry to the indigenous population.”

The chairman of FoNAC’s board, Emerson Falls, said Native American believers want to strengthen their connections with the larger Southern Baptist family. Without becoming dependent on outside resources, FoNAC seeks to partner with non-Native American congregations to plant churches and develop indigenous leadership among unreached pockets of Native Americans.

FoNAC hopes Southern Baptists will “move away from short-term mission trips to reservations and Native American communities” and “make a commitment to long-term strategy in terms of planting churches and developing leaders in areas where there is no church and there is no Gospel witness,” said Falls, who also serves as Native American specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Like churches adopt unreached people groups internationally, Falls envisions churches adopting unreached Native American populations in North America and taking multiple trips to establish churches among them over several years.

Falls and Hawkins pray God uses the strategies discussed in Columbus to bring a new level of fruitfulness in Native American ministry.

“We’ll have a time of worship and celebration,” Falls said of the Columbus gathering. “It’s always a good time to get together, a time of renewing fellowship and acquaintance with one another.”