Native Americans organize for impact

Monday, Jun 20, 2011
By Karen L. Willoughby

PHOENIX (BP)--Members of the Fellowship of Native American Christians (FoNAC) voted at their annual meeting to hire a self-funded, full-time executive director to help bring a "voice" to Native Peoples across the Southern Baptist Convention.

The June 13 morning session was held in conjunction with the June 14-15 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Phoenix Convention Center.

In addition to a four-part motion related to the hiring of an executive director, the meeting included remarks by Leroy Fountain, a North American Mission Board mobilization strategist for ethnic groups, and Donny Coulter, aboriginal church starting catalyst for the Canadian National Baptist Convention.

The meeting also recapped two recent Native Peoples' events: The Gathering for Spiritual Awakening among Native Americans in Oklahoma City in early March and the North American Native Peoples Summit in Springdale, Ark., in late April.

"We're here to unite us together to train Native People," Emerson Falls said in his president's address. "We need a unified voice."

The North American Mission Board has invited FoNAC, which was organized in 2008, to "sit at the table with everyone else" in the SBC, Falls said.

It's a "total new day" for Native Peoples, Falls said. He noted that 150 years of sending non-Native pastors to reach Native Peoples and of non-Native church construction mission teams perpetuated a dependency that has been broken as Native People have begun saying to themselves, "We can do this!"

Non-Native assistance is still welcomed -- and needed and appreciated, Falls said, but today's Native American Christian leaders are understanding they can do the ministry others once did for them. It's the difference between ministry "to" Native Americans and "with" Native Americans, he explained.

Once empowered by training and doing, Native Americans will be ready to take the next step, Falls said.

"As Native churches, we need to reach out wherever people [of any background] are, not just Native peoples," Falls said.

The four-part motion contained the executive director's position description; directed FoNAC officers to serve as a search committee, with authority to call an executive director; authorized the officers to revise the organization's constitution and bylaws as needed to reflect having an executive director rather than part-time president; and called for the current officers to serve until the constitution and bylaws are approved. The motion was adopted unanimously.

The North American Mission Board's Fountain said NAMB is focusing on the growth of multi-ethnic groups across America. He asked Native leaders to keep him posted on the ministries they lead, promising to use that information to "make the larger Southern Baptist group aware of what Native Americans are doing."

The Canadian National Baptist Convention's Coulter told the group Native People's ministry in Canada is making headway. Three Native churches affiliated with the Canadian National Baptist Convention in January 2010 and there could be 10 more by January 2012, he said. Coulter attributed the potential growth to praying a "Harvest Prayer" every day, such as when an alarm on his phone goes off at 10:02 a.m., based on Luke 10:2, which says: "The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" (HCSB).

As a result of his praying, Coulter said he began to network with Native Christian leaders across Canada, inviting them to national Native American events. Word of mouth is spreading that Southern Baptists have a network of Native Peoples churches that covers both the United States and Canada.

Fifty people participated in FoNAC's annual meeting -- a record number for the group, reported FoNAC treasurer Tim Chavis of North Carolina.

Other officers elected by the group were Falls, president; Coulter, vice president; Bruce Plummer of Frybread Fellowship in Fort Belknap, Mont., secretary; and Gary Hawkins, church planting strategist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, assistant treasurer.
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Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist.

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