It’s easy to mistake Eric for a woman. With his hair down, his long, light-brown curls look much like his sister’s. Most days he wears it in a bun, which is a trending style these days. Yet, what isn’t popular is to trade the freedom of living off campus for 100 square feet of shared living space in the dorms. This fall Eric will do just that to effectively minister to college freshmen.
The two of us have had a good run together. He showed up as a freshman two years ago asking how he could best serve the ministry. His parents are on staff with Cru in Bozeman, MT and are the national directors of Nations, Cru’s Native American ministry. Eric has joined me for both “Would Jesus Eat Frybread?” conferences and has already been exploring his own ministry calling. He spent most of his summer in Nicaragua helping a missionary family with their plantation, where he was mistaken for a woman numerous times.
Eric’s desire to serve on campus has helped us develop a new role for student leaders. We have hired him as a Part-Time Field Staff serving as an Insider, a role I’ve mentioned in previous letters where we challenge students to return to the dorms to minister to their peers. It’s a tall order, and the financial and social benefits of living off campus usually win students away from such a sacrificial commitment. Plus, if a student like Eric is not taking out loans for school, they simply cannot afford to stay on campus.
And then came my pitch, “Eric, would you consider asking God to raise up a team of ministry partners who would pray for your work in the dorms and finance you to move back in?”
“I’ll think about it,” is all he said. A month went by and I figured my challenge was a lost cause. Then, Eric calls me up and says, “I feel like God wants me to move back into the dorms and reach freshmen.” I was shocked. It turned out that the prospect of having forty floor-mates to share life with and potentially lead to Christ was a vision he couldn’t pass up. Eric wanted his time in college to count for more than his own pursuits. He wants many others to know about the purpose and hope he’s found in Jesus.
Mobilizing Eric as a student laborer is a huge answer to prayer. His role will give him the training, preparation, and permission to do ministry in a way we have yet to see. If he can use these next two years to mobilize others, we will witness a successful season of ministry multiplication. This means there would be no telling just how many others would be touched by the Gospel at UM!
Eric is sure to turn heads with his flowing locks, but then again, an upperclassman living among freshmen might seem just as extraordinary. I pray that his presence would bless his floor-mates and stir up curiosity to know Jesus personally.
We attended the 3rd annual Would Jesus Eat Frybread Conference eager to explore the question, “Can I be Native and Christian?” Of course, I can’t ask the question because I’m not Native, but I was able to gather this group and fly them to Duluth, Minnesota in November. A few of them returned from last year, and all of them wanted to attend because this question cuts straight to the heart of their identity.
“Who am I?” It’s a question uniquely answered through the lens of Christianity. Other religions fail to explain who people are because they can’t explain nor provide an adequate solution for humanity’s broken condition. Native Americans can indeed be Christians. Yet, the challenge these students face is distinguishing Christian identity from American culture.
The University of Montana ranks in the top ten largest Native American enrollments in the nation with over 600 students. There are at least eleven Christian organizations operating on our campus serving a student body of 15,000. To my knowledge, the group in this picture is the only gathering of its kind at UM. This discovery has unsettled me and raises another question, “Who will tell them?”
I believe the answer is staring back through the picture. Native students must be the ones to tell other Natives about Jesus. As much as God may be using my involvement to help point them toward Christ, the reality is that I have a limited ability to contextualize the gospel for their ethnic identities. I am trusting that this conference will spark a movement of Native students that will help to fulfill The Great Commission in their generation.
Read an incredible story here of God intersecting the life of a girl from New Mexico who helped found Nations, the Native American ministry of Cru.
Our paperwork for our transfer to NYC was delayed through the holiday and we have yet to hear back on our acceptance. We should know soon! Of course, it’s hard to know what God has in store for a fledgling Native student ministry when our focus is shifting toward NYC.
Ask the Lord if he would raise up indigenous student leaders for this work through the group we sent to the conference!
"Dad! You're going too fast," hollered my friend affectionately from the third row of our rental Suburban. Seven of us from UM were on our way from Missoula to Toppenish, WA for the Nations Conference “Would Jesus Eat Frybread?”. My new Native friend had taken to calling me Dad. The others in the car picked up on this family language and soon our little delegation became a tribe.
The second annual WJEFcon brought together one hundred Native college students from over fifty tribes! During the weekend, I learned about worship, identity, and how Natives interact with the Gospel.
Last month I shared about a brief encounter I had with a Native student, and am excited how God has been working in his life since we met. He said that attending the conference was more than he could have hoped for and it helped him take a “first step” toward finding a faith of his own.
Growing up with one parent who believes in their traditional tribal religion and the other who practices Christianity has made it difficult for him to decide what he believes. He has tried unsuccessfully to keep a foot in each realm. He ends up pleasing one parent and not the other. The tension has caused him to step back from both ways to keep peace with his parents. This has left him with a spiritual void that he wants filled.
The conference addressed this type of struggle head on, asking if it’s possible to be Native and Christian. Would Jesus eat frybread? Would it be possible to worship Jesus and keep one’s ethnic identity? The short of it is an unequivocal “Yes.” God’s message of salvation is for every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).
I am privileged to walk alongside this young Native man as a spiritual “dad” while he wrestles with faith. God promises that when we seek Him with our whole heart we will find Him, and I pray that this will happen soon for him.
One night after my weekly bible study a student approached me in the residence hall asking if I had a screw driver he could borrow. He had a long black pony-tail and stood eye level with me. My response was a blunt, “Are you a Native American?”
“Yeah. Why do you ask?” He said looking perplexed.
I was caught off-guard too. I didn’t expect to respond to his question with another question, much less the one I had just blurted out.
Earlier that day my staff team had challenged me to attend a conference for Native students hosted by a Cru ministry called Nations. They asked if I would be willing to bring Native students with me since it was actually a conference for them more than it was for me. This was in my head when he walked up, so I guess I jumped at the opportunity.
He went on, “I’m actually half white and half Native. I’m from the Blackfoot tribe up in Browning.”
“Awesome. Well, the reason I asked is because I work with a community on campus that talks about God and spirituality. I assume you have some spiritual background then?” I didn’t waste a breath getting to the point.
“I sure do. My mom is a Christian and my dad is a medicine-man.” He said without hesitating.
We continued for nearly forty-five minutes and he shared at depth about the how he has experienced the positive and negative effects of living on a reservation, including his encounters with Christians and tribal religion.
I pressed in and asked, “Would you say you’ve actually met with God personally?”
He paused for a moment, then said, “You know, I haven’t yet, and that really upsets me about it all. I feel like I’m seeking God but he hasn’t revealed himself. I don’t understand why.”
I was honored to hear the story of a young Native man in the midst of searching for the Creator Himself. As I was leaving he remarked that while we were talking he felt his skin tingling all over. It seems that we had been standing on sacred ground.
Native Americans are our campus’ largest ethnic minority with over 500 students enrolled. This ranks us in the top ten largest Native enrollments in the country. I have much to learn and even some deep heart work to be done regarding my own attitudes toward First Nations people. Would you join me in trusting that Jesus’ name would be known among this special community?
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