"This is the first time Native peoples have had a setting in which they were free to speak their minds," as Stan Albright, director of missions for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, put it.
"And what's on their minds is their desire to lead their people to the Lord," said Albright, one of 13 members of the leadership team who organized the summit.
About 200 people -- mostly Native peoples but also those who want to work with them in sharing the Gospel -- from 31 states and four Canadian provinces attended the April 27-28 gathering at Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.
"We want to help our Native people help each other ... work together to reach our people for Jesus Christ," said Emerson Falls, pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and president of the Fellowship of Native American Christians who also served on the event's leadership team.
Other leaders concurred: The summit may signal a new day, a fresh start, in Native American ministry across the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Every piece of the puzzle was put together by the Holy Spirit," said Randy Carruth of Amiable Baptist Church in Glenmora, La., recognized as the person at the center of new momentum among Southern Baptists in reaching Native peoples in North America. "It's not about one person. It's about listening to the Holy Spirit. We can do more in unity ... to reach the world better than ever before."
Though developed to bring Natives and non-natives together in ministry, the summit became a time of inspiration, encouragement and motivation for the Native peoples.
"On one end they were saying one thing, that we'd get opportunities to meet people and help people, and when we get here, we learn we are our own resources," said Eugene Baker, pastor of the Native American Totah Baptist Church in Farmintgon, N.M., near the Navajo reservation.
"That goes along with what I've been thinking," Baker said during one of several "networking breaks" during the summit. "The Lord gives me a vision ahead of meetings like these -- we just had one in Oklahoma City and then in Albuquerque -- and the meetings give me assurance I'm on the right track."
One result of the summit: Members who attended from a Wisconsin Native church led their congregation in voting unanimously the following Sunday to become the first Native church in Wisconsin to become a Southern Baptist congregation.
The summit provided times for Natives to speak from microphones scattered across Cross Church's fan-shaped worship center.
"How do we reach our own people? Be like Jesus," said Mark Olsen, a Native from Kodiak, Alaska. "Let them see the love in us."
Bez Bull Shows of Crow Agency, Mont., who moved to Riverton, Wyo., to enter a Set Free ministry for deliverance from drugs and alcohol six months ago, gave his testimony.
"I went home for a visit and started rounding up people from the res," Bull Shows said. "Now we have prayer circles and meetings in several homes."
Jimmy Anderson, pastor of Many Springs Baptist Church in Holdenville, Okla., was one of several who noted that missionaries on the reservations did make an impact, contrary to what many people think. They reached the people who are leaders today, he pointed out.
"The early missionaries got the Gospel out and churches started on a scriptural basis," said Anderson, who has been involved in Native ministry at the local, state and national levels since 1956. "They helped get the churches organized.
"This summit was worthwhile and really needed," Anderson said. "One thing we need is a burden to see the scope of the need among our own people. We've heard it before but I think we need to keep hearing it."
Part of the problem in reaching Native Americans in the past was that the "dominant culture" expected Natives to adopt a non-native culture, said Jim Turnbo, area missionary in the New Mexico Baptist Convention and another member of the summit's leadership team.
For example, Turnbo said, mission teams come in with a plan for Vacation Bible School to start promptly at 9 a.m., though the Natives might not arrive until after 10:30 a.m.
"We try to do the Holy Spirit's work for Him," said Ron Goombi, a Native who was reared in Nebraska and ministers there today.
"Who we are: God's people," said James Eaton of New Mexico. "Endurance is what we've gotten from our history. We're a praying people." Richard Delores of New Mexico added, "Fervent prayer and fasting and being committed to the task at hand ."
"God wants to use us to be a gateway people, to be a blessing to all those who call this nation home," said Mark Custalow, a Native from Virginia who talked about Natives starting "story circles" with whatever stories they already know from the Bible and learning more as time goes on.
"I think we really needed to do this conference," said Alan Dial, Native church starting strategist in Anchorage, Alaska. "I don't think Southern Baptists as a whole grasp the breadth of lostness. Native people have needed a voice to tell that story to their Southern Baptist brothers and sisters.... If we're not praying for each other, we've already given up the fight."
Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church, was one of three keynote speakers during the summit, along with Henry Blackaby and his son Richard, both known for their interest in Native peoples.
"I don't know anything about reaching Native Americans -- yet," Doug Sarver, Cross Church's minister of global missions, said when he was introduced at the summit. Cross Church plans to plant 50 churches over the next three years, Sarver said, and more than 2,000 signed up recently to participate in short-term mission trips in 2012.
"Is it OK to say 'yet'? Maybe the Lord will lead us to connect with you," Sarver said.
Ivory Coast native Bakary Doumbouya, missions pastor of First Baptist Church in Alma, Ark., said he came to the summit "to see what God was doing on the reservations and how Native people are coming together to see God's moving on the reservation. Also, to network, to see what the needs are and to build awareness among non-Natives as to what is happening.
"There's such a great amount of lost people among Natives; they need our prayers and they need our outreach," Doumbouya said.
The next Native American event will be the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Fellowship of Native American Christians on Monday, June 13, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Phoenix Convention Center North Building's Room 226A as one of the events related to the SBC's 2011 annual meeting. Anyone with an interest in ministry with Native Americans is invited to participate, said Falls, the fellowship's president.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist.
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