By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
FOREST HILL – After 25 years of working in various Louisiana Baptist ministries, Terry Tanner quit her job last January to be able to concentrate full time on missions with Native Americans.
It was a financial step of faith – she’s already spent her savings and retirement – but one Tanner believed God wanted her to make.
“I just kept feeling the urge to go, but I had never even been on a mission trip,” said Tanner, a member of Pisgah Baptist Church in Forest Hill, where Josh Adams is pastor. “The door opened through Gary Hahler. I was friends with him on Facebook; he was a former teacher of mine. He said Pine Ridge [S.D.] was like a third-world country.”
Hahler wrote that when he was an area missionary in western South Dakota, where Oglala Sioux live on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Tanner went there during her vacation from work the summer of 2011.
“A month after the mission to Pine Ridge, I took time off without pay to go to the Lac du Flambeau and Menominee reservations in Wisconsin,” Tanner said. “After that, I just knew He was calling me to do it full-time. I resigned in January , after the holidays.
“I live in an old trailer my daddy used as a camp,” said Tanner, who added that she can “make do” on $900/month. “The couple of years I felt God calling me I started getting out of debt.”Mission Venture
Individuals and three churches so far have made pledges of $600/month, and her travel so far this year has cost $5,000, but “I never once had to be concerned with money,” Tanner said. “I have complete dependence on Him. … I’m not afraid. I realize if He’s called me to it, He’s going to provide.”
Tanner’s “Mission Ventures,” as she has named her faith missionary service, started full time in April and May, when she taught adults on the two Ojibway reservations in Wisconsin how to teach children about God and the Bible’s truths at a child’s age level.
This summer she drove her 2007 Saturn Ion over 8,000 miles, back to where Ogalala Sioux live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota; on to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation near Hays, Mont., where Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes live; and to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
“Reservation life is just completely different,” Tanner said. “At Pine Ridge and Fort Belknap, you’re not anywhere near a Walmart or a movie theater. … At Pine Ridge they’re starting to return to traditional practices – the sun dance, sweat lodges. They don’t have hardly any contact with the outside world.
“My ministry is working with women and children, mostly,” the faith missionary continued. “I’m very drawn to kids – leading them to Christ, watching them light up. The Native American has a better understanding [of God] than white people, if they would think of it. Jesus came from a tribe, and they live in a tribe, for one thing. … All they’ve ever heard is that Jesus is the white man’s God. Part of what I do is help them understand Jesus is their God as well.”
Tanner’s goals include as many VBS weeks as possible among Native Americans. “I want to involve their culture in it,” she said. “The camp in Montana was fantastic for that. The mornings are traditional VBS, and the afternoons they’re doing hatchet-throwing, archery, horseback riding and the like.”
What started as a one-woman ministry by summer included mission teams from Twin Bridges Baptist in Alexandria to Fort Belknap, and North Monroe Baptist in Monroe to Pine Ridge this year. She joined with Open Doors Ministries of Ruston for her trip to New Mexico.
Tanner plans to be on various reservations across the nation from May through October, and the rest of the year to speak in churches, prepare for the next year’s ministry, and work with the teens whose parents want them to have a missionary experience with Native Americans.
“I love teaching kids who get excited because they’ve never heard the word of God,” Tanner said. “I just want all of them to get the chance to hear. … I want it to be where my car stays loaded and have material ready so I can just hit the road when a call for help comes in. I’m single; I can do that physically. I need to be able to do that financially.”
Contact Tanner at email@example.com or 318.308.4932. You can also follow her journey at missionventures.wordpress.com.