United States (MNN) – There’s the sentiment that “what’s past is past.” But sometimes that mentality becomes an excuse to ignore real and current problems. Sometimes in forgetting the past, we overlook people of the present. The United States just celebrated Thanksgiving, almost four centuries after that first meal was shared. In the backdrop are the ones we shared it with – the first Americans.
Ron Hutchcraft Ministries is one Christian ministry working to bring hope to Native American Tribes. We spoke with Ron Hutchcraft, who recently wrote the blog post, “The Thanksgiving Guests We Forgot.”
Hutchraft says, “It’s like we invited them to dinner and forgot them for 400 years.”
Native Americans saved the pilgrims when they taught them how to gather enough food for the winter. Today, that scenario has been flipped. It is Native American communities struggling to survive. And yet, very few hear their cries.
“Today, Native Americans are in a monumental battle to survive and it’s not even on our radar. And ‘Exhibit A’ would be that here is one people group in the country whose suicide is at minimum three times, and depending on the part of the country, ten times greater than the rest of the people in America.”
In addition, Hutchraft says, they struggle with sexual crimes and abuse, as well as drug and alcohol addictions. There is a common theme of despair and hopelessness. According to Native American Aid, the 22% of Native Americans living on reservations face conditions comparable to the third world.
“I have a native brother who [said] ‘Ron, I listen on the news and in all these things that were broadcast. [They] talk about African Americans and Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, and my ears are all ready to hear my people. [I] never do.’”
Forgotten plans, forgotten people
Christians know that the only hope that can combat any brand of despair is the hope found in Jesus. In the beginning, there were some Christians who wanted to share the Gospel with Native Americans. Hutchcraft says some of the first translations of the Bible were directed towards different tribes.
But somehow, reaching that mission field didn’t happen back then, and it’s a mission field all but forgotten by today’s Christians.
“Four-hundred years later only 4% know Christ. This is a Great Commission disaster. And if there is one group of people for whom American Christians are responsible to represent Christ to, it would seem like it would be the people who were here first. It would be the first Americans, the Native Americans. If not us, who?”
Hutchcraft explains, these people haven’t been forgotten by God, they’ve been forgotten by his people. He calls it a double blindness. The enemy has blinded Native Americans so that they believe Jesus is the white man’s God. Unfortunately, from the beginning, they have had plenty of reason to substantiate this belief.
“They have lost their land, they have lost their language, they have lost their culture, they have lost their lives. And often it was in the name of Christianity– doing things that Jesus would have had nothing to do with—that he would abhor.”
The other blindness is God’s people not seeing the huge need in these communities.
Hutchcraft says the solution to this blindness is not to go rushing in to try and do something. The problem from the very beginning is that the Gospel messenger was an outsider who understood very little about the Native American culture.
“The messengers of the hope of Christ need to be Native Americans who have been changed by this savior. And, I know that for a fact because I have seen it with my own eyes.”
Through “On Eagles Wings,” RHM has been able to empower Native youths to reach out to their own people. God is really doing something through this generation.
“I have watched what happens when we go out with the team of Native American young people who have lived the hopelessness, who have lived the violence, who have lived the despair, who have lived the addiction and the brokenness. And when they stand up on a reservation basketball court surrounded by their people, and they tell about what this Jesus has done, all I can tell you is when they give people an opportunity to come to Christ, they see what few if any missionaries in this 400-year history have ever seen.”
He’s seen thousands of Native Americans publicly choose Christ.
What can YOU do?
If you feel like God is asking you to do something there are a couple of ways to help. Consider partnering with “On Eagles’ Wings.”
But first, Hutchcraft says, we must commit to prayer and consider where our hearts are. He is praying that from this conversation would arise thousands of gatherings of Christians to pray for first Americans. Join a chorus of voices asking God to bring hope where despair reigns.
Another thing to consider is whether or not you have been ignoring the plight of Native Americans because of stereotypes or assumptions. Hutchcraft says if you have, asking for God’s forgiveness is a good step. And if there are First Nation individuals in your life, ask them for forgiveness too.
Finally, if we have friends, neighbors, or coworkers who are Native Americans, Hutchcraft suggests that you take time to sit down with them—not to talk, but to listen. Ask them about what it’s like to be Native American today—what breaks their heart, hurts them. What do the rest of us need to understand?
Next month, 50 young Native leaders are planning to attend a leadership training conference. You can help send them here.