Canada (MNN) — Have you ever heard Christianity referred to as the “white man’s Gospel?”
Sadly, the concept that Jesus only wants to save a certain race, culture, or people group is not new.
This idea exists because of misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the Gospel itself throughout history. In Western Canada, the mentality has long been a barrier for reaching Native communities with the Gospel.
InterAct Ministries is actively working to replace this mentality in First Nations communities in Western Canada. InterAct also has ministries in Siberia and Alaska.
InterAct works with local churches in these regions that have access to least-reached people groups.
In Western Canada, the ministry has grown to include an annual youth conference. 50% of Native people in Canada are less than 25 years old, and the conference was an answer to a great need among them, according to InterAct’s Dan Mayerle.
“The Native Youth Conference started 23 years ago as a result of a few First Nations believers who had a passion to reach youths, which is a major area of needed outreach in First Nations communities.”
Over the years, the conference has grown to an attendance averaging 250-300 young people from all over Western Canada. It’s hard to know exact numbers, but Mayerle says at times they’ve had anywhere from 40-50 individuals come forward to follow Jesus.
What they’re up against
The pre-existing idea that Christianity belongs only to white people creates barriers that InterAct works hard to overcome.
“One of the main things we do at the youth conference setting is bring in, as much as possible, native, First Nations presenters so that the youth are hearing it [the Gospel] from somebody who they identify with,” Mayerle explains.
“People from their culture are saying Christianity is something that is for us, it’s something that we need to think about as First Nations people. It’s not just a religion from a different culture.”
The group who plans the Native Youth Conference is one with a heart for telling their own people about the Gospel of Jesus for all people. It began as a group of compassionate Native believers and missionaries, and is now made up of mostly First Nations people from churches who are part of a national denomination, Native Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (NEFC). NEFC Executive Director Kene Jackson and his wife, Millie, have been giving leadership to the conference since it began. First Nation believers also make up over half of the volunteers for the event itself.
The planning committee has put together a conference combining workshops that address relevant topics and keynote sessions where the Gospel is presented.
“In the workshops, we’re dealing with issues that Native youths face: gangs, addictions, suicide, self-worth, how God sees you,” Mayerle says.
Much of the time is spent letting the youth know how they are valued in God’s eyes. Along with the issues discussed, native youth at the conference get to interact with the Bible and learn about Christianity.
This last part is extremely crucial because in many cases, the attendees haven’t really heard about Jesus. If they have, they don’t know much about Him.
Mayerle explains, “Over 50% of the youth attending are from non-churched homes, non-churched communities.”
When the Gospel is preached at the conference, many hearts are touched, and people come forward with the desire to follow Jesus.
Mayerle says they then lead these youth in prayer. But their support doesn’t end when the conference is over.
“It’s hard to know what they’re going home to,” he says.
Many times they will return to homes where the issues mentioned earlier run rampant and families know nothing of God. You can imagine how this would be discouraging to a new believer. This is where ministries of both Native Evangelical Fellowship and InterAct Ministries are vital.
“We try to work with local churches in the area or local youth workers and believers who are going to be able to help and to follow up with those kids,” Mayerle says.
A group effort sees results
The Native Youth Conference is made possible through the partnering efforts of The Native Evangelical Fellowship Canada, the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, InterAct, and other ministry organizations. Mission groups that are ministering to the native youth of Western Canada send their youth to the conference and also help out with it.
“One of our missionaries has brought 15 or 20 kids for the last few years, and two years ago [during] Easter in their small Native fellowship, he, as a youth worker, baptized six Native youths.”
Most of the six who were baptized had first accepted Christ at the conference ten months before.
For more information on how InterAct ministries is ministering to least-reached people groups in Canada, follow this link. To find out more about the churches and ministries of Native Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, click here.
The next Native Youth Conference takes place in May. Please be praying in the months leading up to the conference that many First Nations kids and young adults would feel led to attend the conference.
Pray also that God would be working in their hearts to prepare them for the Gospel.