Monday, June 16, 2008

Native American Ministries come into their own

Native Americans form affinity group at SBC

By Norman Jameson
BR Editor
Baptist Press

Representatives from about 15 of the largest tribes in the nation created the Fellowship of Native American Christians (FONAC) during a meeting June 9 preceding the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.

Native American leaders initiated FONAC at a 2007 meeting in San Antonio when they decided to create a group to increase networking, fellowship, leadership and ministry opportunities. They adopted a constitution June 9 and elected Emerson Falls of the Oklahoma Creek Nation as president. He is pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

Other officers include Donnie Coulter, vice president, who works with First Nation's people in Canada; Lumbee Timmy Chavis, treasurer; pastor of Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Lumberton; Bruce Plummer of the Assinboine Nation and a missionary and pastor in Montana, secretary; Gary Hawkins of the Oklahoma Creek Nation, assistant treasurer.

Ledtkey McIntosh, national missionary with the North American Mission Board, encouraged formation of a Native American Fellowship to assist in starting a church planting network among Native Americans.

"We see this fellowship as being broader, including information sharing and fellowship," said Mike Cummings, director of missions in the Burnt Swamp Association, a Lumbee Indian association centered in Lumberton, with churches from Maryland to South Carolina.

"In creating FONAC we see it as that place where we all come to find out what the issues are, what the needs are. This will facilitate our coming together as native people and finding out about life in the native community in America."

More directly, the organizers grew from the church-planting concept to creating a fellowship "to make some noise about our presence in this denomination," Cummings said. Too often, Indians are "an invisible people."

One of the loudest noisemakers possible came just the day after FONAC organized when Johnny Hunt, a Lumbee Indian, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His ethnicity was never an issue.

FONAC will meet in conjunction with the annual Southern Baptist Convention each year. There are just over 450 Indian churches nationwide, according to Plummer. "We want to be Indians reaching Indians."

To date, Plummer said, Southern Baptist efforts have been "relatively ineffective" since less than one percent of the Indian population has been reached after 75 years of trying. "We can draw strength from one another and reach Indians rather than white missionaries which traditionally have been doing the work," he said.

At one time there were as many as 800 identifiable tribes in America, a number that has dropped to 500. There are 6.5 million Indians in America and collectively Indians are one of fastest growing ethnic minorities. Plummer, from a family of seven, has eight children.

As many as 50 million Americans contain a recognizable degree of Indian blood, he said.

Instead of being a part of the mission field, Indians want to be "full partners with you in the mission force," said Larry Locklear, pastor of Island Grove Baptist Church in Lumberton, N.C.

Plummer said Indians in the west, particularly, see Christianity as "white man's religion."

"There is only one God," Plummer said. "He died for Indians just like anyone else. But they ask me, 'If God really loved us and wanted to save us, why did it take 1,500 years for Him to come and tell us?' Hearing it from an Indian makes a significant difference." (Because the white man was interpreting things and they closed out the Native American)

Locklear said Burnt Swamp Association has been doing mission projects across the nation for more than 20 years. "But a lot of our emphasis has been going to the same places doing the same thing over and over," he said. "With a network to better connect resources with needs we could do a better job."

Chavis said North Carolina's Lumbee worked directly with members of the United Houma Nation to help in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

In American, Indian populations are the "poorest of the poor." They have the highest suicide rate, the highest school dropout rates and live in the toughest social conditions, said the new officers.

Cummings pointed out the experience of eastern and western Indians can be vastly different. "On the east coast we don't know reservation life at all," he said. Seven reservations in Montana cover one-seventh of the state and at one time, Indians in the west were confined to the reservations.

for more information on Native Ministries - that look and feel Native:

Eagle's Wings Ministry:

Wiconi International: