Native American Missions: A Dismal Failure

28 03 2012

Native Americans

On Monday evening I had the privilege of hearing Richard Twiss speak about cross-cultural missions. Richard is a Native American of the Lakota Tribe from South Dakota and has an incredible testimony of coming to faith in Christ. At the same time, he has an horrible testimony of many so-called Christian leaders in his life who told him that he needed to do away with all of his Native American-ness. Richard holds a doctorate in inter-cultural studies (cultural anthropology, primal and folk religions and the history of Christian mission) from Asbury Theological Seminary. He is now the founder and president of Wiconi International. “Wiconi” is a Lakota/Sioux word which means “life.” On their “about” page, it is said that their “aim is to provide education, encouragement and offer practical support to Native American families and communities in creating a preferred future.”

During the class Richard explained that Native Americans have experienced mission efforts for more than 500 years, and yet today only 3-8% of all Native Americans are Christ Followers. This is absolutely a dismal failure. Our mission efforts to reach the tribes in the past could easily be called the American Crusades. Under the flag of America and sometimes the banner of Christianity our white forefathers participated in a brutal genocide. When our morals would not allow us to kill all of them, we forced their children into boarding schools to teach (and beat) the “Native” out of them. Most of these boarding schools were run by churches. Is it any wonder that our “mission efforts” have yielded so little fruit.

You say that is the past, and it is. What is going on now, then? Why are we still seeing such failure? Richard called it the “indistinct, white line.” Every summer hundreds of white people head to the Indian Reservations to paint their churches that they never use. Richard said that he will help churches to reach Native Americans, but only if they will commit to go to the same place each year for at least three years – not the churches, but the individuals. He said that it is all about building relationships. We (white people) then have to understand that we have our culture and we have the gospel, and we have to keep the two separate. We must present the clear gospel, but then allow the Holy Spirit to teach the Native American to express his worship and following of Jesus in his own way. We must resist being the Holy Spirit ourselves.

My church, Grand Avenue Baptist Church, has partnered with Dale & Charlotte Bascue in Riverton, Wyoming to reach the Northern Arapaho Tribe for Christ. According to the Joshua Project, they are the least-reached tribe in the Continental United States. I believe that it is our obligation, as Christians and citizens of the United States, to reach out in love and respect to our Native American brothers and sisters, and not to blame them for their distrust or bitterness. We cannot justify going to the farthest corners of our globe without also reaching out to the unreached tribes right here among us.


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