On the outside they look pretty much like all other American 20-something-year-olds. But every now and then I need a reminder that, inside, some of these IBC students come from a different world.
He sat in my office to report on his ministry progress. He preaches at a local Native church on weekends. I probably brought up the subject of Native religion, since I’m doing a paper on Peyote for my on-line class at Columbia International University. This started his telling me about his background. I had no idea.
When he was fairly young, he yielded himself to spiritual forces for the purpose of being able to help people by diagnosing their illnesses (as a traditional Navajo hand trembler). It started when his aunt drew the figure of a lizard on his out-stretched arm. He felt a mild tingling sensation as something other-worldly took place. From then on he was able to diagnose the cause of illness when his hand would involuntarily tremble over a sick individual. Then his hand pointed to objects in the room to indicate who might have witched the patient, or contact with what (a dead person, snake, owl, etc.) might have brought on the sickness.
At first it was exciting, but as time wore on, it became disturbing. Reggie (not his real name) increasingly felt as though something was not right. He began to hate the spirit that provided this power. There were those times when the spirit asserted its authority over Reggie, urging him to kill himself. Reggie became depressed. He sought spiritual help as the stress increased. He had changed his mind. He wanted to be free from this force that controlled him at times. Thousands of dollars later and still there was no relief. The traditional medicine men were unable to help. Reggie was close to losing hope when another relative suggested a preacher she knew.
Reggie walked despondently into the church to meet the pastor. He held out almost no hope that this unassuming man could provide release from the spiritual forces that bound him. When Reggie explained his predicament, the preacher nodded knowingly. “I came out of the same thing,” he confessed. Finally, Reggie thought, someone understands!
The preacher shared the Gospel with Reggie, instructing him to trust Jesus as his Deliverer. Reggie did, and his life was instantly transformed! The power was gone, but so were the fear, depression, and most of all, the hopelessness. How he ended up at IBC is a story for another time. It is good to be reminded of the darkness from which many of the students come. Most of the girls have suffered abuse. Two sisters come from a home where the father is still a practicing snake priest in the traditional ways of the Hopi. Others battle alcohol or drug addiction. Life is serious and death is never far away. Recent events in this country have been a good reminder that the darkness is real for all of us. Twice in the past few weeks I’ve heard reference to God’s judgment having already fallen on America. The thought was not that God’s wrath was overt, but that He has simply withdrawn from us, allowing us to go our own way. Even a cursory glance at the news reveals an appalling shift in morals. Even ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to entertain the notion that extracting fully-formed babies from the womb, still alive and wriggling, and removing their brains to sell for the benefit of someone else could possibly be moral. And marriage? Freedom of religion? Don’t get me started. But the most fearful of all is that perhaps God has indeed withdrawn from us and we haven’t even noticed.
So how is this a Christmas letter, you ask? Well, Christmas is all about HOPE. The greater the darkness that surrounds us, the brighter the light of Christ will shine. There is no hope apart from Him. And through Him, there is hope without bounds.
Thank you for your faithfulness in prayer and support on my behalf and on behalf of those whom God has chosen as His among Native American people. The new year brings with it the hope of having completed another class toward a masters in Intercultural Studies (Introduction to World Religions), of accompanying a student to Urbana December 27-January 1, of beginning new classes at Indian Bible College, and welcoming at least several new students. Only God knows what else the new year will bring, but we can rest assured that He is still in control, in spite of appearances.
Please pray for God’s work in my own life, in the lives of the IBC students, and through me in the lives of those who live around me. Let’s join together in praying that the light of Christ would yet shine in this nation, and in and through multitudes of Native American people to the glory of God.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”