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Okla. church has specific outreach to Native Americans

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (BP)–About 225 people from more than 20 Native American tribes attend Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

The church is stop No. 29 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation. Welch conceived of a national bus tour rally as a means of generating a sense of urgency about evangelism among Southern Baptists.

“One of the hallmarks of Glorieta is the emphasis that the members are the ministers,” said Emerson Falls, who served as pastor for a year at the congregation that was started in 1961 by the SBC’s Home Mission Board. That work grew to the point that two churches were started: Central Baptist near downtown, and Glorieta Baptist in the southern part of Oklahoma’s largest city.

“One of our strengths is the laity,” Falls said. “They feel comfortable proposing new ministries — and leading them. Especially in Indian churches, the number of men we have active and involved is unusually high.”

The women at Glorieta also are active and involved, the pastor said.

“We have a big emphasis on being the church outside the walls,” Falls said. “One of the things we strive to do is get our membership to be part of the larger community.”

Oklahoma City hosts three Native American softball tournaments each summer that draw participation and attendance from across the United States, the pastor said. The church sponsors a hospitality booth where people can fellowship and receive ice water and cookies.

“We try to interact with people,” Falls said. “It is out of the relationships we build that people are drawn to the Lord.

“I think one of the keys to reaching people is that you’ve got to earn trust and build relationships,” the pastor added. “We try to emphasize to the people that we are Glorieta Baptist Church Monday through Saturday, just as we are on Sunday.”

Glorieta’s church complex includes a gymnasium; the church has a strong sports and recreation program, Falls said. Because of the gym the church hosts several tournaments and leagues throughout the year, enabling it to interact with the community.

“We try to find ways to interact and be friends with the larger community,” Falls said. “Second, we’ve tried to affirm the culture as much as we could.”

For instance, the church holds a Native American Christmas story.

“We dress in tribal regalia to tell the story of what would happen if Jesus came to Indian territory,” Falls said. “It’s a time to say Jesus is interested in Indian people as Indian people.

“The fact that we build relationships and affirm them gives us the opportunity to reach people for Christ.”

Glorieta Baptist added 30 people to its membership in the last year, including a “top flight musician who played in clubs but there was something missing in his life,” Falls said. “His wife had attended from time to time. We were able to build a relationship with him and get him involved in helping our musicians. Through that he met the Lord and we were able to baptize him.”

Last year, Lisa Billy, who is running for a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, joined the church and was baptized.

“In Oklahoma, there is some conflict between the various Indian communities and the larger, predominantly anglo society,” Falls said. “Because of her love for the Lord, we believe Lisa Billy will be an instrument of healing between the two groups. Sending people like Lisa into the world to influence the world is a part of the ministry of our church.”

Glorieta also extends its influence through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

“We feel like Acts 1:8 is our mission, but it’s an identity thing we struggle with,” Falls said. “We feel the most natural thing for us is to reach other Native Americans, but the key for us is that it doesn’t stop there. We realize that through the Cooperative Program, we have a worldwide ministry.

“The Cooperative Program is very important here,” the pastor continued. “That’s something we’re very faithful to.”

Church members also go on mission trips, such as this summer’s trek to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannonball, N.D. Members plan to go to American Samoa next summer.

“I think it’s important for other people to see how we are in Oklahoma,” Falls said. “And for us, just to see what other people have to go through to be Christian is enlightening. People stay supportive of missions when they take these trips and see these places.”

Glorieta’s challenge is to avoid complacency, Falls said.

“We have a nice building, good attendance, and good offerings, while all around us, 95 percent of our Native community is lost,” Falls said. “We have done a good job, but we can’t get complacent because the work has just begun. There are so many people out there who still don’t know Jesus, even just among our own people.”

Welch, the SBC president, visited Glorieta Baptist Sept. 10. The bus tour is taking a break until Sept. 16, when Welch will visit the SBC’s North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga. The tour’s itinerary across the western United States will begin again Sept. 23 in Arkansas and conclude Oct. 7 in Hawaii.

The tour was launched Aug. 29 at Welch’s home church in Florida, First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach. The bus tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.