Written by: Lynn Long
Permeating the shoreline of Marquette Lake’s 5.6-mile shore in Bemidji, Minnesota, were the words, “How Great Thou Art,” resonating under a large white tent on Oak Hill’s Christian College campus. What comforting words amidst the effects of Canadian wildfires on a dry, parched landscape and Covid Pandemic world. Afghanistan talks were surfacing amidst governmental turmoil while the virus raged on. Covid-19 is no respecter of persons, but one thing remains constant: the fellowship and strong Spiritual like-mindedness of Native believers praying for one another, and our Tribal people, transcends ALL political unrest and disease.
Every Tribe, Nation, and Tongue was the theme of this year’s 2021 United in Christ Native Leadership Conference, hosted by CHIEF and Oak Hills Christian College. Two Hundred Christian Native First Nations leaders represented Native ministries in North, Central, and South America despite a year’s delay due to the Pandemic. It was a refreshing time of Biblical teaching, fellowship, and networking with our ministry partners who are serving Native American and First Nations communities.
To further expand this theme, three Native-led mission trips were presented, planned, and will soon be formed for next 2022 summer. These trips will take place in Peru, Europe, and Minneapolis. We were given the challenge as Native, First Nations leaders to reach out to other communities other than our own via Mission trip opportunities this coming year. Daron Butler, (Navajo), will lead a ministry group to refugees in Minneapolis; Rev. Huron Claus, (Mohawk/Kiowa), will lead a group in the mountains of Peru; Dr Ryan O’Leary, (Chippewa), will lead a group in the jungles of Peru; and last, Daniel Esplin, (Navajo), in Spain / France.
In a one-on-one interview of those who attended the event, Billy Talas, a Navajo student at Phoenix Seminary, is helping to start a church plant called Somos Church. It is in a very multiethnic community in Chandler, Arizona. He mentioned, “I would like to plant a church or revitalize an existing church. I grew up in Rough Rock in an unbelieving home. Both parents were alcoholics, and this convicted me that there’s a lack of discipleship. I heard the gospel at a young age from missionaries at a VBS and made a confession to know Christ, but no one showed me how to live the Christian life. This led me to disciple the ‘little Billy’s’ that grew up and I am determined to pastor a church.”
When asked what his expectations were with the 2021 United in Christ Native Leadership Conference, Pastor Joseph Cross, Lakota Sioux of Pine Ridge, SD, and pastor of Hands of Faith & Oglala House of Worship, mentioned, “I hope to use this opportunity to strengthen networking with other outside ministries and take this training to strengthen other ministries that I partner with back home.”
Pastor Chris Granberry, (Yakama) also mentioned: “Pray for new individuals and families to come because of outreach efforts during Covid. Our church family is very happy to meet in person again. Every Sunday with the children that come, it feels like Christmas morning! In many ways, even though we were isolated during Covid, our church family seems more unified than before. The Yakama church sees everyone whether fulltime, part-time staff, or everyone involved in those efforts as Essential workers and thirty young excited Native leaders have many opportunities for ministry who want to serve. A 13-year-old asked me last week how old she must be to work at the church full time.”
A significant highlight was when Will Graham (Executive Director of the Cove), shared his heart through a two-minute video statement. He stated, “It’s interesting, it was Huron’s father, Tom Claus, that really helped my grandfather, Dr. Billy Graham, get a passion and a love for the Native Americans of North America and First Nations in Canada. God’s really been starting to place a burden on my heart, and I didn’t quite understand it. Then I realized it was something regarding my granddaddy’s vision and I’m so grateful for the burden that my grandfather had. Now, God’s starting to stir my heart in that same area. Forty-six years ago, my grandfather said the famous statement that he “believes that the First Nations and the Native Americans are a sleeping giant and that they’re going to one day, come out of their slumber.” And my friends, I believe that’s going to be in my lifetime! I really do! I believe that the giant is starting to stir right now. I can’t wait because I believe that it will be the Native Americans and First Nations. The first people to walk in this country were not White people, they were American Indians and the First Nations, and we’re so grateful for that. I think it’s going to be you all that will lead our country into a great revival, so that’s what I’ve been praying for. I’ll be praying for you at this event, and I look forward to meeting you sometime in the future. God bless!” Will also mentioned the South Dakota Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) Black Hills Paha Sapa Celebration, September 24–26, 2021. Pray as his father, Franklin, continues to prepare him for leadership in BGEA.
In a moving tribute on Residential Boarding Schools, (See attached) Dr. Mark Custalow, (Mattaponi), read a statement regarding the current discovery of the atrocities inflicted on Native American/First Nations children. Over a thousand bodies were found, with seven hundred and fifteen bodies discovered in Saskatchewan alone. According to Schweinsberg, (2021) “This past summer, several Canadian tribes began looking for the remains of children who died while attending these schools. They found three sites with unmarked graves. More than a thousand graves.” Dr. Custalow adds, “As we consider the atrocities of the past, and the lingering effects, what was Jesus’s response? Jesus’ response was to pray to the Lord of the Harvest, laborers in the vineyards. The harvest is ripe, that more will be sent into the fields to bring an abundant harvest and He has called you and me to that task. As much as your heart hurts in this moment, channel that faith out of compassion…let’s challenge that emotion in that direction, in this moment, so that the harvest fields will be empty because the harvest has been brought to the kingdom.” Dr. Custalow stated: “The leadership of the conference stands united with those who grieve and mourn and supports those against those atrocities.” Huron concluded, “As we begin to acknowledge it, as we begin to learn, it stirs our hearts, because it affects my family, and my people. It can stir up a lot of emotion, a lot of anger. There is a lot of bitterness towards the past. It’s not just learning by the past or being educated by the past. Now, let’s bring healing in the present.”
Oak Hills Center for Indian Ministries (CIM) and CHIEF have embarked on a new ministry venture called BUILD, an acronym which stands for Biblical United Indigenous Leadership Development. The BUILD program is a Ministry Training program designed for Indigenous people. BUILD recognizes the need to strengthen and establish Native Christian leaders who lack financial resources and/or the time to leave their homes and churches for extended periods of time to pursue ministry training. Since April 2018, BUILD has been sending teams of teachers to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to labor among the Lakota people.
A graduation ceremony for four graduates from the Pine Ridge BUILD program was held. They received recognition and were commissioned to seek further ministry opportunities in Pine Ridge and beyond. We rejoiced with one of the first graduates of the BUILD program, Pastor Joe Cross. It was a God moment when Huron told of Tom Claus’s call as an evangelist in 1945. After preaching his first message, Tom gave an invitation to reconcile with God. George Cross, Joe’s father, was the first to come forward. We see God’s hand of favor throughout generations!
A new online magazine, TRANSFORMED, by Christ, into the image of Christ, is a quarterly written and digital discipleship magazine, and has been developed with the purpose to help Native American and First Nations believers. Huron, CHIEF writes, “The greatest need in Native America today is Christian Native leadership. Men and women who will be transformed by the words and work of Almighty God, the one who created us. It is the yearning inside us to experience God’s heart and affirmation in our daily life. The more time we spend with Him, we will reflect His work and image. The purpose and outcome of this digital magazine, TRANSFORMED, is to help Indigenous believers to be more like Jesus. I would love to hear your story of being TRANSFORMED.”
Finally, a “window of blessing” was granted to us with beautiful temperatures despite a rainstorm that immersed the Minnesota landscape two days after the conference. The realization that weather conditions could have cancelled the conference was surreal. God was gracious and, in His providence, provided the relief needed for northern Minnesota drought filled areas. This conference not only, refreshed, and quenched miles of Canadian fires, but it also provided deep spiritual cleansing through teaching and fellowship with my Native brothers and sisters.
Translucent skies before a much-needed northern Minnesota rainstorm were gifts from above and we received this “special visitation” from God. Always, and in His right timing.
Writer: Lynn Long – (Ojibwa, Lac Du Flambeau Indian Reservation)
- Writer, Every Women’s Bible Project, Tyndale Publishers
- ABD-National Louis University
- Wheaton College-Trauma Certificate Program
Lynn Long, ABD, is the first Native American graduate of Judson University, earning a degree in Visual Arts in 1984. She completed an internship as a Graphic Designer for David C. Cook Publishing and worked at a local advertising agency prior to transitioning towards education. Long earned her Elementary Teaching Certification at Trinity International University, along with two education endorsements and a Master of Art degree from National Louis University. She completed her doctoral coursework at National Louis University and has begun her dissertation research on “The Effects of Residential Boarding Schools on Higher Education Indigenous Students & Perceptions Within Their Educational Experience.” Long will graduate with a Trauma Certificate at Wheaton Graduate School in May 2022. Additionally, she performs as a Chalk Artist for worship services.
Photo credit: Oak Hills Christian College