Julienne Judd, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference
When I was five, I received a doll for Christmas. It came with one set of clothing; of course I immediately lost her socks and underwear. The next morning, thanks to my mother and my father’s white socks, she had a pair of underwear, tops and bottoms. I remember thinking, Clothes from socks.
I began to notice my mom cutting material and sewing the pieces together; amazingly, they turned to clothing. She had to have noticed my interest, since my face was always in the middle of whatever she was sewing.
One day she threaded a needle for me and gave me some scraps to put together. That was it; I was hooked. I loved putting colors together, and thinking of ways to cut the material. I watched my grandmother sew on her old treadle machine. Quilts, stuffed animals, clothes, all cut and sewn without the aid of patterns. I didn’t know patterns existed until I went to junior high school.
I sewed by needle and thread for several years; then one day my mother gave me a toy hand-crank sewing machine. Later, my grandfather brought a battery-operated sewing machine, but my first “real” sewing machine was given to me by my father for my thirteenth birthday. I used that machine for 20 years before it gave out. It dressed my children, provided gifts, and aided in many experiments. The year I declared my candidacy for ordained ministry, my husband’s birthday gift to me was a new sewing machine.
Though I began in the Oklahoma Conference, my heart’s desire was to serve my own people, in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. I am from the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and I knew where God had called me to be; it was only a matter of time before I had the opportunity.
When I went into my first sanctuary in the OIMC, I immediately envisioned sewing banners and paraments; I made my own designs and enjoyed making them, but something was missing. When the UMW had their craft sale, I made several items, but no matter what I made, I felt as if they were not complete. Somehow, I felt incomplete.
Four years later our conference offered a continuing education course that changed my world, though I didn’t realize it at the time. The study included experiencing Native American traditional ways of worship. It was not that I didn’t have knowledge of these ways; it was just that I was a product of past generations being told that “if you are a Christian, then you can’t be Indian.” Yet, experiencing traditional worship and prayers stirred feelings that I could not define or ignore.
During that summer I taught an adult vacation Bible school class. The last lesson was about Peter speaking to the Jerusalem council on behalf of Paul and Barnabas. I read from Acts:
And in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (15:9–11 NRSV)
Suddenly, my heart was flooded with a sense of understanding, relief, and freedom. The Jerusalem Council’s expectations for Gentiles receiving the Good News was for them to become Jewish Christians, in the same way that the European Christians wanted the Native people of America to receive the Good News and become European Christians, letting go of who we were created to be.
My freedom and completeness came in acknowledging that I could live the Good News just as I was created, a Choctaw and Kiowa woman, with all the history, culture, and tradition of my people. I began to see with new eyes the possibilities of Native ministry in a new and different way. I encouraged the congregations to embrace who they were, through language classes, songs, cultural immersion, and remembering and sharing their history.
My gift of sewing took on a new dimension; everything I sewed for the church included designs and symbols from the tribal affiliations of the congregations. Once a year I encourage a traditional clothing sewing class; we learn together while listening as stories are told—stories and conversations filled with the joy of what has not always been accepted in the church. How wonderful to hear, “I never dreamed I would own a dress like this,” or “I want to share this design from my clan for the banner,” or “Pastor, our word for God is . . .”
The timeless gift of sewing allows me to capture anew for the churches a visual expression of living the Good News as Native American Christians. We use no patterns. Instead, we cut; we sew; we remember; we are.