Indian Ministries of North America, Inc., an independent ministry which partners with Church of God congregations, is working fervently to reach those who are desperately seeking something real in the face of extreme poverty, alcoholism, suicide and statistics that equal to that of third world countries; however, these people in extreme need are right here in America.
The current plight of the American Indian is not widely known, but it is fact. According to information from the United States Census data, 56 percent of the population is without telephones; 17 percent have no electricity; 21 percent have no plumbing and unemployment is over 85 percent. Death from diabetes is 360 percent above the national average; death from homicide is 271 percent above the national average and the infant mortality rate is 80 percent above the national average.
Johnny Hughes, President of IMNA, explains that over the last few years, the goal and vision has changed to a direct focus on developing young Native American leaders to reach their own communities. While diligently seeking for an answer to the lack of young Native Christian leaders who are prepared to carry the torch into a dark generation, God directed the leadership of IMNA to begin a summer mentoring program. The program is called RELEASE – a program designed to train, equip and release young Native leaders to reach those in need, especially those in their own communities.
“We have become focused on igniting a fire into a generation of bold warriors. We have made a commitment to teach, train, and release Covenant Warriors into the footprints of Christ,” Hughes explained. “A generation that feels so unloved, misplaced and rejected by society is searching desperately for an answer to the pain in their inner being. Therefore, a group of young leaders, who are passionate about their relationship with Christ, is rising up and storming the gates of Hell to rescue their families and peers.”
The RELEASE ministry team spent several days at a retreat in the Snowbird Community of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. This annual retreat has changed the lives of many youth as God has revealed himself in mighty and miraculous ways, according to IMNA leaders. This was a time where they saw youth from different races, cultures, states and denominations come together for one cause – to lift up the name of Jesus.
“The first stop we made was in North Carolina, at the Church of the Lamb’s Awaken Youth Retreat. It was all about taking off the mask and being who you really are,” Shanel Tsosie of the Navajo Nation explained. “The last night, as I got into the worship, I took off the mask that was holding me back spiritually, and found who I was in God’s eyes, not through the eyes of others. I learned a lot from the Awaken camp, had loads of fun with different youth, and really understood how to be myself.”
The team then traveled north, and after a stop in Newport News, Virginia at the World Outreach Worship center, they made their way to the Eastern Gate of this country, where the early settlers from across the ocean began their life in the Jamestown Settlement of Virginia. Side by side, the Navajo youth from the west and the Rappahannock youth from the east stood together with Chief Anne Richardson, a direct descendant of Pocahontas and the current leader of the Rappahannock tribe.
The team ministered in prayer, worship and music throughout the stay. “I knew God was going to do a great work in my people, but I never dreamed that it would come so unexpectedly through a visiting group of Navajo youth,” Chief Anne noted.
Briana Jacobs of the Navajo Nation said she was very touched during her time spent in Virginia. “The Release trip was awesome this year, and compared to last year, I grew much stronger spiritually! One of the places that I liked most was when we visited the Rappahannock tribe in Virginia. I felt a very strong connection with the people, especially Chief Anne, and I loved witnessing to them. Through members of this tribe, the Lord really opened my eyes to some stuff in my own life,” Jacobs commented. While in the Jamestown region, Chief Anne explained how God had instructed her to build an altar to him on the tribal celebration grounds. “God said it was time for us to cross over our Jordan and realize the fullness of His blessings for the people,” she stated. The youth from both tribes waded into the Rappahannock River to gather 12 large stones and built the altar according to the scriptures.
Next stop was Kentucky where some of the youth visited area churches sharing their testimonies. Their first stop was the Community Family Church in Independence, followed by the Ark of Mercy, Manchester and the Nicholasville Church of God. In each of these churches, God continued to minister to the youth and clarify His call on their lives.
The team then made their way to St. Louis, Missouri, for a service at the Twin Rivers Worship Center on their way to Ron Hutchcraft Ministries’ Warrior Leadership Summit in Roach, Missouri. This week-long camp brought the team together even closer, but more importantly strengthened their walk and relationship with Christ. WLS is a gathering of Native American young people. Over 500 Native youth from across the country unite together each summer to worship God and study His Word. The theme this year was “Who Am I?” Many of the team members said this experience really helped them learn who they are in Christ and how they are called to live.
The team was then ready for outreach to Shannon County, South Dakota, one of the poorest counties in America where Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located. Average life expectancy on this Reservation is reported to be 48 years old for men and 52 for women, the lowest life expectancy in the western hemisphere except for Haiti. Teenage suicide is at least 150 percent higher than the national average for that age group and the infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent.
There is a current state of emergency there because of teenage suicide and the day before the first member of the team arrived, a 12-year-old boy hung himself. “His grandmother found him with a rope around his neck. God gave us favor as this traditional family asked our Christian youth to sing at the wake,” President Hughes explained. “With tears streaming down their faces, the Navajo youth stood beside his casket and sang about the love, joy and hope that come through Christ. It is impossible to know what walls were chipped away as Lakota families were open to see the love of Christ in the caring faces of the Navajo teens.”
The teen camp that IMNA had planned at the Wings as Eagles’ Dream Center did not take place because of numerous suicides in the area while they were there and because of other obstacles, but a new ministry outreach developed. The Navajo teens were able to go into a community where they were informed that over 30 gangs originate. The Release Team held a three-on-three basketball tournament over a three-day period and was able to begin developing relationships with the Lakota people. Several Navajo youth were able to share their Hope stories or testimonies, as well as ministering through song and prayer. The team is still praying for the people of Pine Ridge and is making plans for a return trip soon.
Last stop for the team was back to Gallup, New Mexico where the Southwest Indian Ministries’ teen camp was held. The theme of the camp was “Construction Zone” and the team took a huge leadership role in teaching and pouring into the lives of their peers. Many young people rededicated their lives to Christ in a new way at this camp and God used their peers to speak to their hearts. At the end the week, 16 young people were baptized as their witness to a newly dedicated life in Christ.
Hughes added that he is certain that this year’s summer program will not be forgotten. For all who shared in this year’s program, it was an eternal investment into the lives of some of the most exciting new emerging leaders. These youth are already impacting their families, churches and communities. IMNA wishes to thank their hosts across the country: Lee University, Cleveland, TN; Church of the Lamb, Robbinsville, NC; World Outreach Worship Ctr. and the host families, Newport News, VA; Rappahannock Tribal Ctr., Indian Neck, VA; Community Family Church, Independence, KY; Ark of Mercy, Winchester, KY; Nicholasville Church of God, KY; Twin Rivers Worship Ctr., St. Louis, MO; WLS, Roach, MO; WAEM, Pine Ridge, SD; and SWIM, Gallup, NM.
Faith News Staff