Tweedy Sombrero, Desert Southwest Annual Conference
One of the hardest things to do is to believe in yourself, especially when it seems that others do not believe in you or your work, do not believe in your ability to do the work, and do not believe that you can be the leader you are called to be.
Self-doubts can rush forward in full force when one is appointed to a church that is culturally different from one’s own. My first appointment to an all-Anglo church not only overwhelmed me but also left me feeling very daunted. All my self-doubts resurfaced, and all those old ghosts began to appear again. All my life I had battled with the concept that “I am stupid and would never amount to much.” Even during seminary and on the way to my first appointment, I continued to struggle with these feelings. One exception occurred during my graduation from seminary when all those older Indian women sat behind me and cheered me on as I walked across the stage to receive my master’s degree and was “hooded.” Their applause and confirmation not only encouraged me but also gave me the feeling of great self-worth.
Then I left the comfort of my church, the Native church I loved and served for eleven years, and moved into the unknown. Entering into a totally Anglo church brought back all those feelings I had fought for years. It had been the Anglo teachers all those years who kept telling me that I was not good enough, while the whole time God was showing me that I was. How easy it is for us to fall into negative views about ourselves and then keep them going!
For nine years now, I have served in Anglo churches. The road has not been easy, but it has been rewarding. I am grateful for the opportunities to educate these congregations about Native American life, spirituality, and issues, and I am grateful that through this service I, too, have grown in my relationship with God. God continues to lead me into the unknown and yet still gives me assurance of continued divine presence.
One of the hardest and greatest lessons of my ministry arose when a church member became very ill and his family requested that I not come to minister to him, even though I was his pastor. The man who had become ill had fought with me the day I was appointed to serve that congregation. When I went to make a home visit, he yelled at me through the door that he would not allow drunken Indians into his house or on his property. He confronted persons of other races at the church door, telling them to leave because this was an Anglo church and not a church for any others. He apparently came to church only to put me down and yell at me about how I was not meant to be there as their pastor. “What was the bishop thinking?” he complained.
Now I was prevented from ministering to this man who lay sick and was dying. I walked to my car, telephoned one of the former pastors, and asked him to come and pray with this man. He did. I was glad to relinquish that responsibility, but God would not have it so. God made a way for me to go and be with this man, to hold his hand, and to pray with him. There were certain issues to be discussed and shared as I visited with him every day. One of the most important was that I loved him and forgave him for all he had done and said to me. Ephesians 1:13 tells us that our hearts are sealed by the Holy Spirit because we believe in the risen Christ. I shared this verse with the man, saying that he and I are brother and sister in God and that we are serving on the same team. He was forgiven. The next day he passed away, and his funeral was conducted by the pastor in another church.
Our church members, wanting to show their support for me as their pastor, decided not to attend the funeral. I thanked them for their loyalty but explained that this man had been a member of this church for a very long time and that he and his family deserved their love and support, especially now. If they really wanted to support me, they should attend the funeral and uphold the family. This truly was a life-altering experience, not only for me but for all the people of the church. Through that experience we built a strong bond of love and care for one another. Believing in the moving of the Holy Spirit is what takes us beyond ourselves and holds us to our responsibility to God. We are all sealed in our hearts because we continue to dare to believe in the risen Christ. This is what keeps us moving forward and gives us the wisdom to make changes in each other’s life.