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Have We Become Cynical about Native American Missions?

Have we missed out on a golden age of missions to Native America?

The history of missions to indigenous peoples of North America is extremely complicated with much to rejoice and lament about. One particular lamentable observation came from the revered Jonathan Edwards in the early 18th century while reflecting on his predecessors. He said, “The English of Massachusetts were too interested in fixing the Indians … [rather] than giving them the gospel.” How true that was then, and sadly, that sentiment was an underlying motivation for many churches all throughout the history of missions in the U.S.

And where has that actually brought us?

Why bother?
I’ve been reading Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life lately. It is truly one of those books that makes you want to pray. Really. I have been recognizing my own personal shortcomings in prayer. One thing in particular that Miller points out is that many of us have become cynical regarding prayer. After pondering that idea, it hit me. I realized that I was able to identify something I have been sensing over the years regarding a common attitude toward Native American missions. I just could not put a name on it, but now it is clear—cynicism.

Too often when I bring up the topic of Native American missions, I hear the predictable mentions of casinos, animism, alcoholism, and government handouts. When folks hear of the plagues in Native America such as addictions, violence, and suicide, they are quick to attribute it all to government handouts that are keeping Native Americans lazy, which in turn causes them to drink because of all the time on their hands, and so goes the vicious cycle.

With that as the accepted backdrop, the shrewd potential donor would ask, “What is the point of sending missionaries to Native America? They are not really poor, just lazy.” I don’t have enough space to address that position, but if I am reading the tone correctly, it seems that many Christians simply have become cynical regarding Native American missions. Why do we keep giving to them? Is it really helping? We will never fix them.

Then there others who, although seemingly hopeful, speak very fondly of a short-term mission trip to a reservation where they helped build a porch, paint a house, or met some other material need. I hear those stories again and again, and I rejoice with them.

As much as I wholeheartedly believe in those outreach efforts, I am afraid that that is all those people imagine Native American missions to be about. I am proposing that they, too, are affected by cynicism without knowing it. They don’t really think there is anything else to do but to ease the pain in Indian Country with mercy ministry efforts. Is it that these folks don’t really expect anything more out of Native Americans other than to be passive recipients of a generous church group?

Let’s expect great things
How about this? Let’s stop trying to “fix” people. Let us not be condescending or paternalistic. Let’s come alongside our Native American brothers and sisters and walk with them. Let’s expect great things from the Native Christian Church.

Is it possible that such a suffering people empowered by grace can display and proclaim God’s kingdom in ways that we have not witnessed in a long time? Let’s believe that God can heal the brokenness in Native America. Let’s believe that the Native Christian Church can strengthen the rest of the body of Christ and teach us something about forgiveness and perseverance.

Let’s actually believe that the best years are ahead of us, starting today.


Patrick Lennox is an MTW missionary working with Native Americans. Learn more about the Lennox family and their ministry.

*Source: Jonathan Edwards DVD series by Dr. Stephon Nichols, Ligonier Ministries.

 

Patrick Lennox, Cherokee Lummi-Nooksack Moose Factory Canada United States Jun 30, 2016
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Pray that we would not give into cynicism regarding ministry among Native Americans, and that God would give us a vision for the expansion of the Native American Church.

Pray for short-term teams to Native American and First Nations tribes to be used of God and to build relationships with tribe members as they serve.

Pray for the Cherokee people and our ministry alongside them.

Pray for the future Native American Christian leaders being raised up at Mokahum Ministry Center in Bemidji, Minn., and that they would impact their tribes with the gospel.

Pray for our ministry among the Lummi Nation. Pray that the Lummi would see they don't have to lose their culture to find Christ.

Pray that God will give churches a vision to invest in their youth by taking short-term mission trips. Pray that youth would grasp a heart for missions as a result.

Pray for the ministry among First Nations people on the Moose Factory Native Reserve, that God would draw many to Himself. 

Pray for the First Nations people in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and for the ministry of Amazing Grace Community Church actively reaching the city for Christ. 

Pray for missionary Carrie Rice, who serves with MTW in Lethbridge, Canada, and for the work the team is doing there.

Pray for the First Nations community of Maskwacis, home to four bands of Cree, that people would be drawn to the truth of the gospel.

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