by Grady Miller
COLORADO SPRINGS, Col., (BNc) — Leaders in American Indian evangelism and mission work traveled to Colorado Springs for the 29th Annual American Indian Missions Seminar on Aug. 3-4, and compared notes regarding their rewards and challenges.
Speakers included evangelists Ben Begay, Phillip James, and Dr. Bruce Terry. Brother Begay is a Native American of the Navajo Tribe and has preached at the Many Farms congregation since 1991. Phillip James is also of the Navajo Tribe and currently preaches at the Hogback church, but has served at Kinlichee, Ariz., Many Farms, Ariz., Fort Defiance, Ariz., and Crown Point, Ariz., as a Navajo evangelist since 1987. Dr. Terry served as a missionary among the Navajos at Montezuma Creek, Utah, from 1979 to 1985. He was missionary–in–residence at Abilene Christian University from 1994 to 1998, and now serves on the faculty of Ohio Valley University.
Dr. Terry kicked off the Friday evening roundtable discussion, presenting his research of Federal Census Bureau statistics for American Indian population figures.
Saturday was a full day of intriguing insight into the work and challenges of these missionaries. Reading Romans 1:16, Phillip James declared that shame of the gospel of Christ is a hindrance to effective evangelism. This is true for all cultures, of course, but especially for evangelizing Navajo people, many of whom still harbor pagan beliefs in witchdoctors, skin walkers and the spiritual worship of the natural world.
Ben Begay spoke of the challenges of resistance, confusion and acceptance among the Navajo peoples for God’s message. Navajo people believe that the ancient oral traditions and spiritualism are equal to Holy Scriptures, not replaced by them. Traditional Navajos see their great spirit as the same as Jehovah God. Navajo tradition teaches that touching the blood of the deceased is a bad omen, thus they see the Bible’s teaching of the importance of Christ’s blood as a bad omen. Many Navajos trust the prayers of their medicine man more than modern medical treatments. And, too, Navajos are quick to point out the many denominational differences of those who come to the Reservation.
Bruce Terry spoke of the necessity for strong spiritual leadership for missionaries and evangelists. The serious need is for committed missionaries, those who start young and grow old working with these Indian cultures. It can take a lifetime to win the respect of the Navajo people so that they will listen to the message of God. Also, another need is for brethren to contribute financial support for the Navajo men who desire to attend preacher school.
The American Indian Missions Seminars are regularly attended from all over the country. This year Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and West Virginia Christians were represented. The 30th Annual seminar will be hosted at the Cortez church at Cortez, Col., tentatively scheduled for summer, 2013. Further scheduling and details will be published as the time draws nearer.
Barbara has been involved in missions for over 25 years, both in the field and in publishing.