By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
SPRINGDALE, Ark. – Native people found their voice at the North American Native Peoples Summit.
[img_assist|nid=7299|title=Native American Summit|desc=Randy Carruth of Forest Hill, La., gestures to men from Bible Baptist Church in Lac du Flambeau, Wisc., which became the first Native American church in Wisconsin to vote to join the Southern Baptist Convention. Carruth is considered to be the instigator of a renewed interest in Southern Baptist ministry among Native Americans.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]The April 27-28 event attended by about 200 people from 31 states and four Canadian provinces was designed to bring together Native Peoples and those who want to work with them.
It was an event that grew out of the heart of Randy Carruth, a layman at Amiable Baptist Church in Glenmora, and a leadership team that grew over the last 18 months of people with a burden and a heart for Native American ministries.
Carruth is recognized as the person at the center of the national revived interest among Southern Baptists in reaching Native peoples in North America. From early on he’s been working with Wayne Sheppard, LBC’s executive assistant to the executive director, who handled logistics with Doug Sarver, missions pastor at Cross Church in Springdale, where the event took place.
“Only God,” Carruth said. “Only God could have put this together. He led every step of the way.”
It was an event designed to bring together Native Americans and those who want to minister with – not for – them. Built into the program – which headlined Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby and Ronnie Floyd as keynote speakers – were “networking” times so native and non-native peoples could get to know each other.
However, non-natives didn’t show. Not in numbers, anyway. But that seemed to be God’s plan, since it gave time for the Natives to talk about their ministries and their visions for God working through them to reach their communities, their reservations, their people.
“We want to help our Native people help each other,” said Emerson Falls, pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla., and as president of the Fellowship of Native American Christians, one of the 13 members of the Leadership Team that organized the event. “This Summit is to help us work together to reach our people for Jesus Christ.”
Other Native leaders concurred: The Summit ushered in a new day, a fresh start, in Native American ministry across the Southern Baptist Convention. The next Native American event is the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Fellowship of Native American Christians, set for 10 a.m. to noon Monday, June 13, in Room 226A of the North Building at the Phoenix Convention Center, as one of the events related to the SBC’s 2011 annual meeting. Everyone with an interest in ministry with Native Americans is invited to participate.
One near-immediate result of the Summit: Members of a stand-alone Wisconsin Native church who attended, voted unanimously the following Sunday to become the first Native church in Wisconsin to join with the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Every piece of the puzzle [of developing the Summit] was put together by the Holy Spirit,” Carruth said. “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.”
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Though developed as a way to bring together Natives and non-natives, the Summit instead became a time of inspiration, encouragement and motivation for the Native peoples.
“On one end [before the Summit] 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 Farmington, N.M., near the Navajo reservation. “That goes along with what I’ve been thinking.
“I want to raise up Native leaders …,” Baker continued 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.”
The African American pastor of a native church had with him 50 copies that listed the church’s opportunities and needs, such as “chain saws, trailers, trucks, gas money etc.” for its year-round outreach of providing firewood for Navajos who “do not have cooking and heating equipment in their homes.” He took home at least 40 of those copies.
But Ivory Coast native Bakary Doumbouya, missions pastor of First Baptist Church of Alma, Ark., took one of them – to pass on the information, he said.
“My primary interest was to see what God was doing on the reservations and how native people are coming together to see God’s moving on the reservation,” Doumbouya said. “Also, to network, to see what the needs are and to build awareness among nonnatives 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.”
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The Summit provided times for Natives to speak from microphones scattered the Cross Church fan-shaped worship center that felt cozy despite being large enough for 3,500 people to sit in at one time.
“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, from Crow Agency, Mont., who moved to Riverton, Wyo., six months ago to enter a Set Free ministry for deliverance from drugs and alcohol, 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., has been involved in Native ministry at the local, state and national levels since 1956. He was one of several who said that contrary to what many people think, the missionaries on the reservations did make an impact. They reached the people who are leaders today.
“The early missionaries got the gospel out and churches started on a scriptural basis,” Anderson said. “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.”
A big part of the problem in the past in reaching Native Americans 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 part of the leadership team that developed the Summit.
For example, he said, mission teams come in with a plan for VBS 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. … Fervent prayer and fasting and being committed to the task at hand” is what is needed now.
“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 of Virginia who talked about Natives starting “story circles” with whatever stories they already know from the Bible, and learning more as time goes on.
“When people pray, things happen,” said Bennie Romero, longtime pastor of First Indian Baptist Church in Taos, N.M. Natives are praying people, spiritual people, he and several others said.
“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’re already given up the fight.”
Stan Albright, director of missions for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, and part of the Summit leadership team, summed up the event:
“Randy [Carruth of Louisiana] set the plate. Gary [Hawkins], Emerson [Falls, both of Oklahoma] and the others [on the Summit leadership team] are setting the course,” Albright said. “With this Summit, local pastors are coming to the banquet. … This is the first time Native peoples have had a setting in which they were free to speak their minds, and what’s on their minds is their desire to lead their people to the Lord.”