"We came from Nebraska expecting something miraculous because we need a miracle," said Ron Goombi, a North American Mission Board missionary to Native Americans in Nebraska and Kansas.
Goombi brought people from eight tribes in the two states. "Our suicide rates are so high the tribe doesn't know what to do. The water system is breaking down," he said. "We need to live beyond the barriers we have."
A platform decorated simply with an Indian tepee, two feathered headdresses and a native drum set the stage at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City for the event that underscored:
-- the effectivenesss of telling stories, rather than sermonizing, in reaching native peoples.
-- being true to the Gospel while at the same time seeking to understand the worldview of Native Americans and First Nations peoples.
-- use of in-home groups, not just church buildings, to draw native peoples to the Gospel.
"It pretty much confirmed what I had come to the conclusion of, concerning work with Native Americans," said Richard Delores, a member of the Pueblo Laguna tribe and pastor of Laguna Acoma Baptist Mission in Budville, N.M., who brought four members -- new Christians -- to The Gathering.
Oklahoma City pastor Emerson Falls, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe who was among The Gathering's organizers, had noted prior to the conference: "A lot of our Native American pastors learned to preach the western model that the missionaries taught us, which is good and effective and God uses it. But it's not culturally relevant because our people are an oral people, and we are storytelling people, so it just doesn't make sense that we use three points and a poem in our Native American churches, and everywhere else, they use stories." Falls is president of the Fellowship of Native American Christians and immediate past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
The Gathering was punctuated by native music by participants from both the United States and Canada, led by Tyrone Smith, a Creek Indian from Oklahoma. Goombi's wife Alpha, a Kiowa/Apache, provided a dramatization during each evening's worship service.
Among the featured speakers, who framed their messages within a cultural context, were Grant Lovejoy, an orality specialist with the International Mission Board; Jay Jackson, a former missionary with New Tribes Mission in the Philippines who now leads a cross-cultural training ministry named Global Empowerment; Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; and Bill Fudge, an emeritus IMB missionary in East Asia who served 34 years with the mission board.
The Gathering's emphasis on a shift from ministry "for" Native Americans to ministry "with" Native Americans" resonated with Chief Alex Sunrise, who pastors several congregations in Canada's Northwest Territories.
"It was good messages, also to meet many other Christian leaders, pastors and lay workers, and ... knowing most of all that we can listen to each other, the great ones to the small ones," Sunrise said. "
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