USA (MNN) — Here in the United States, friends and family are gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving and thank the Lord for His blessings. This day was birthed out of the first Thanksgiving between Native Americans and Pilgrims nearly 400 years ago.
Today, Native Americans aren’t given much thought by the general population or by the Church.
However, Ron Hutchcraft with Ron Hutchcraft Ministries says we still have a lot to learn from Native Americans.
A Nation Indebted
First, Hutchcraft points out that non-Native Americans owe Native Americans a great debt — maybe even in ways we don’t realize.
“They helped our initial [settlers] there, the Pilgrims, stay alive. Squanto was called an ‘instrument in the hands of God (to save us)’ by the governor of Plymouth colony. They survived because of Native Americans.
“Many people don’t know that they helped create our Constitution. Benjamin Franklin and the other founding fathers studied the representative government of the Iroquois and much of our representative government was modeled after what they learned from the Iroquois tribes.”
Native Americans have also been a pivotal support in US armed conflicts.
“George Washington talked about the help the Indians were. They have fought in every war of this country and they have served in larger numbers per capita than any other ethnic group in this country. I have met 29 Medal of Honor winners who were Native Americans.”
What the Church Can Learn
Beyond the gratitude our nation owes Native Americans, Hutchcraft says there is a lot we as Christians can learn from our Native brothers and sisters in Christ.
“I think perhaps we have viewed Native Americans as being on the receiving end from us. I will tell you that in the Body of Christ, they have so much to give us and we would be wise — if we have any opportunity — to reach out and sit down and let a Native brother or sister tell us about their journey with Jesus and what He has done for them and what He has brought them from.”
Hutchcraft has also personally been enriched because of Native American relationships in his life. On Eagles’ Wings is a ministry branch of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries which enables Native young people to reach their own communities with the Gospel. Through this ministry over the course of 26 years, Hutchcraft has gotten to know many Native Americans as brothers and sisters in Christ. He shares four lessons he has learned from Native believers.
Lesson One: ‘Your History Doesn’t Have to be Your Destiny’
“First, I will put it this way. Your history doesn’t have to be your destiny. What I mean by that is the pain of your past and having a wounding, hurting background and past doesn’t mean that has to be the way you live the rest of your life and becomes a defining factor of who you are,” Hutchcraft says.
“Now, there is nobody listening who doesn’t know the terrible history of our First People here. They have lost their land, they have lost their language, [and] they have lost their lives. Their young people are dying of suicide and alcohol and drug abuse at rates that are literally off the charts from any other group in this country. It is a serial grieving on reservations.
“But I have seen Native Americans who refuse to be defined by their wounds.”
Many Native men and women have lived difficult stories and come from broken experiences. But as Jesus heals their wounds, they find new hope and strength in Him that can only be through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lesson Two: Your Story Can Change Someone Else’s Story
As Native believers find a new identity in Jesus Christ and release their broken pasts, Hutchcraft sees them using their pain to reach others with the Gospel.
“They have taught me that your story…can change someone else’s story forever.”
This lesson reminds him of a couple he knows from a Native community in Idaho. This couple had a son who served with the On Eagles’ Wings summer missions team a few years ago.
Five weeks after the summer of missions was over, their son was killed in a highway accident when a driver fell asleep at the wheel. Two years after that, their younger eight-year-old son was killed in another accident.
Hutchcraft says, “They could have absolutely sunk into despair and bitterness; but this incredible couple, what they have done is they have simply said, ‘We want people to know the Jesus that gives us hope for both of our sons who knew Jesus personally.’
“They come to our Warrior Leadership Summit conference and teach a battle council on how to handle grief in a way that doesn’t destroy you and how to emerge with hope.”
On a personal note, Hutchcraft shares, “My dear [wife] Karen went to Heaven suddenly a couple of years ago. I was so comforted and encouraged and loved by Native people, and I know where it comes from. It comes from their own grief because it seems like in the Native community there is always someone or something to grieve.”
Lesson Three: Generosity is Not Dependent on Prosperity
“They have modeled the fact that generosity does not depend on prosperity. In fact, many of them come from backgrounds where there is 50-, 60-, even 80 percent unemployment, where the poverty is well below the national poverty level,” Hutchcraft says.
“And yet, Karen and I have been, over the years, almost embarrassed by their generosity, giving us honor gifts and gifts I know they can’t afford [and] being hospitable.”
If we as Christians learned from our Native brothers and sisters and gave to others — not just out of our overabundance, but out of sacrifice — we would better model Hebrews 13:16 which says, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Lesson Four: Leave Your Comfort Zone To Reach Others
Finally, Hutchcraft reflects, “I think the other way I have been made rich by Native Americans is by their example that you have to leave your comfort zone if you really want to make a difference.
“Native Americans, generally speaking, are fairly reticent. They are guarded about showing their feelings, and yet, I see them weep openly for their people. I haven’t seen my folks shed too many tears for our people. But boy, I see my Native brothers and sisters do that and they refuse to leave their people broken, even if it means opening up their heart…in order to open someone else’s heart.”
Hutchcraft witnesses this firsthand during the summer when the On Eagles’ Wings team of Native young people travels to different Native American communities. At each stop, these young people stand up and publicly share their stories on the local basketball court before their peers — and how Jesus changed those stories.
Every year, because of the outreach of Native young people, hundreds of their peers embrace Jesus.
“One of the young ladies on our team this summer, a Navajo young lady, is an introvert. No doubt about it. She will tell you that. She is pretty private about her feelings and not all that comfortable walking up and just meeting a stranger.”
However, Hutchcraft says, “I watched her every night this past summer — this young warrior and probably the youngest team member we had — every night she was out there engaging and meeting girls she had never met before, smiling, laughing with them…. She led at least a dozen girls to Christ this summer!
“At the end of the summer, I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘Well, I can do it when it’s about people going to Heaven.’”
Praying and Advocating With Native Christians
Today, please pray with our Native Christian brothers and sisters as they reach their people with the Gospel. Pray for great spiritual breakthroughs in Native communities and that the Lord would bless the ministries of Native believers.
Hutchcraft adds, “We also need to become a voice for them. As I share with my non-Native brothers and sisters about the tragic things that are happening on reservations and the life-ending despair of so many Native young people, I continue to hear the same four words: ‘I had no idea.’
“Around our church tables and our decision making and our missions committees, a lot of times, Native people have no voice. We need to become advocates for these people who have been born, I think, with a warrior’s spirit. When that warrior’s spirit comes under the leadership of the Chief of all Chiefs, Jesus Christ, they are unstoppable. We have got a lot to learn from them.”
You can also hear their stories at hopefornativeamerica.com and learn how you can come alongside them in ministry.
“Native Americans have truly enriched my life and in these ways have modeled so much of what it means to be a courageous, conquering follower of Christ and warrior for Christ.”
Header photo courtesy of Warrior Leadership Summit.