Local Church Serves as Connection Point between Congregation and Tribal Community
By Bryan Tener
Throughout the gospel stories, we witness Jesus engaging people in their immediate needs with compassion, while at the same time bearing witness to an alternative to empire—God’s kingdom. For those who follow Jesus, engaging the community around us is an important aspect of discipleship. It is essential that we meet people’s needs and offer an alternative to fear, violence, and death. The gospel witness that the church offers is one of hope, justice, and life; and that witness is being lived out in many ways that make a difference in all kinds of places.
One example of the gospel being lived out is in the ministries of the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Their congregational focus is on reaching young children and families, most of whom are from the Cheyenne Arapaho tribe, whose tribal headquarters is nearby. That community has many gifts and strengths, but its members also face challenges, such as inadequate access to health care, financial problems, and other issues. Clinton Indian Church engages the community with compassion while seeking to address systemic issues of justice.
The congregation serves as a connecting point for members within the tribe. The congregation frequently updates and provides information about what is taking place through the tribe.
In low income homes and communities, Wi-Fi technology is not always accessible, even though it is vitally important, especially in a pandemic when learning from home replaces in-school education. The church helped assist tribal families to receive grants, so that they could have access to what they needed for education. The church helped connect families with back-to-school supplies. It also provided the community with important information about where and when COVID-19 testing would take place. Such testing was a necessary step for those participating in important tribal ceremonies.
The church also provided free haircuts for children returning to school and used some Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference funds to purchase back-to-school clothes.
Clinton Indian Church partners with the Wesley Foundation at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and college students tutor children throughout the school year. Connecting the community and church family with tribal resources as well as working to help meet the needs so that the children can more fully participate in school and learn and grow makes a difference in the lives of the people the church is reaching.
The church also works in partnership with the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference in gathering support and donations to help with other tribes that are experiencing severe challenges. This spring, the church and conference collected for the Navajo area and the Four Corners Native American Ministry in Shiprock to help support their COVID-19 relief efforts. In the past, the church has helped with support and supplies for Standing Rock and the water protectors work as well as for the Pine Ridge reservation flood relief.
Clinton Indian Church has helped support members of the OIMC in taking part in the Indigenous Peoples’ March and the Women’s March on Washington DC that took place in January 2019. The church also works to end racist mascots that caricaturize Indigenous peoples. Joining in these events adds to the voices of those who are seeking to be heard, to make whole broken systems, and to support justice and֫—with it —hope and life.
The work and ministry of Clinton Indian Church engages the community and connects its members with the tribe and its resources. It supports the tribe in growing in knowledge of its cultural and spiritual heritage as well as connecting people more deeply to God and one another. The church is a source of compassion, as members help to meet immediate needs. They are a voice for justice as they partner with larger movements that seek to offer wholeness and equity. They bring together the gifts and strengths of the community and partner and walk alongside one another, so that lives will be changed, the gospel of Jesus Christ will be lived out, and all will flourish.
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