Context & Community—Striving to Be Good Missionaries
“What would you say to people in 2030?” I was asked for a video during InterVarsity’s National Staff Conference in January 2020.
I didn’t really know; only Creator God knows what the future holds. Eventually, I said, “I don’t want to be a bad missionary.”
As soon as I said that, it hit me—I believed I wasn’t serving Native students and their community well. It reminded me of being back home on the reservation, where I saw missionaries sharing the gospel but who weren’t very relational. Others would try to be, but then they wouldn’t stay for long.
Throughout my life, I never thought I’d be a missionary, let alone a good one. But as followers of Creator Sets Free (Jesus), called to share his good news to all people, we’re all missionaries in some sense (Matt 28:19–20). And being called to be a missionary on campus has brought a lot of healing in my life.
Since January, I continued wrestling with this fear and deception, something I think many of us can relate to. We’re so afraid of being bad missionaries in how we share the gospel with friends, family, and classmates to the point that we’re scared to act or say anything at all.
And then the pandemic happened.
We Don’t Need Titles to Serve God
When the coronavirus broke out in the US, I couldn’t keep up. I knew I wasn’t in the right mindset to continue ministry like before. So I went camping with a friend in the middle of winter, not for a retreat but rather a reformation in my life.
I believe Creator God told me to go back home to the Navajo reservation. I questioned it but knew I needed to trust in him now more than ever and overcome this fear of being a bad missionary.
Being on the reservation gave me a different perspective on ministry. I knew that Creator God had called me to disciple Native students to start witnessing his presence in their homes and families. I had to do this in my own home too. This helped release my fear, and God helped me realize that just by being present and listening to and caring for my family, I was doing ministry. We don’t need to have titles or even be called “missionaries” in order to seek his kingdom.
Missionaries as Relatives
When I went on a trip with another campus minister, Courtland, we drove through South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Courtland received a vision from Creator of Jesus hitchhiking onto the reservation.
This really healed a part of my spirit, leading me to think about the teachings and stories Native people learned before missionaries arrived. And like Jesus hitchhiking onto the reservation, humbly, relationally entering the culture, I believe Creator God is reminding us to honor a culture’s customs and traditions as we contextualize the gospel.
It’s like what Donnie Begay, Nations Native Ministry Director, shared during Native InterVarsity’s recent LiSteN webinar. He stressed how the gospel still lives on today and can be shared with Native students on campus as we treat each other as relatives.
This connects to Acts 17:10–34 where Small Man (Paul) traveled to Athens and starts sharing God in a way the Athenians can understand:
In times past Creator overlooked this empty way of thinking. But now he wants all people everywhere to return to the right way of thinking, because he has chosen a day when he will decide, for all people, who has done right and who has done wrong. He has chosen a man who will do this and has shown all people who he is by bringing him back to life again from the dead. (vv. 30–31, First Nations Version)
Today, Creator continues using Small Man’s example to teach us what it means to be invited into people’s homes, villages, and campuses to share the gospel. Creator God used all this to help me see that being a good missionary really looks like being a good relative to others. The gospel is a way of life not an expedition.
Being Relatives on Campus
Accept God’s Invitation
The old saying goes “out with the old, in with the new.” For many Native students learning about Creator’s Son, they often hear something similar, that they have to forget their heritage and cherished traditions to follow Jesus. It can be very disheartening.
But when we decide to believe the Good Story (gospel) and follow Creator Sets Free, he fulfills our identity. He renews our culture and customs. I’m on that journey myself, understanding more about my Dine’ identity and how Creator Sets Free is my fulfillment. What I might have missed is allowing the Holy Spirit to help me, to let him heal my wounds and revive our culture and language.
Find a Community to Help You Receive the Gospel
I’ve witnessed Native students go on a journey in community, contextualizing the gospel through their understanding of sharing stories and customs, discussing about Jesus, culture, and how to love one another. They learned that it doesn’t matter what background you come from; the community can help you receive the gospel well and become a good relative to each other.
Native InterVarsity became the community where I met Creator Sets Free and saw how my identity was redeemed in Creator’s Son. And even after college, I’ve learned we still need each other’s help as my alumni friends continue to strengthen their identity with Creator Sets Free.
Listen & Contextualize the Gospel
In Matthew 22: 1–14, Creator Sets Free shared about how the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. Later, the king noticed a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. The king questioned him, and the man was speechless and then was removed.
This story has many layers to it, one of them being how it can connect to contextualization. Creator Sets Free allows us all to be good relatives and missionaries by giving us the wedding clothing and inviting us to the banquet. The wedding clothing can represent contextualizing the gospel well as we honor people’s customs and dress for the occasion. By wearing the wedding clothing and honoring culture, we honor Creator Sets Free and have the chance to invite more people to the banquet to hear his Good Story. But if we ignore people’s culture completely, it’s like failing to wear the proper clothes for a wedding and may bring dishonor to Creator Sets Free.
Looking back on the journey Jesus has taken me on this year, if I were asked that same question about what I’d say to people in 2030, I think I’d have a different answer now: “Learn how to be a relative among one another. Trusting Creator Sets Free can heal us from intergenerational trauma. Seek to listen to each other well.”
If you’d like to learn more about our ministry through Native InterVarsity, visit our website here.