Article courtesy of ChristianWeek (www.christianweek.org)
Written by Josiah Neufeld, ChristianWeek Staff
WINNIPEG, MB – It wasn’t until Mikey finished talking and noticed his listener was crying that he realized his own painful story had the power to heal.
That was two years ago on a reserve in Wisconsin. This summer 19-year-old Mikey headed south on a Greyhound bus for his fourth summer with On Eagles’ Wings, a ministry that takes young First Nations youth to reserves and communities across North America to share their own stories of how God has brought them hope.
Three other Winnipeggers joined On Eagles’ Wings for the summer–Janine, 17, her 22-year-old brother Josh and Derek, 17. For security reasons team members with On Eagles’ Wings (OEW) prefer to only have their first names published.
“There were some pretty run-down reservations,” says Derek. “Broken homes, the aftermath of violence–people tell us about drug abuse.”
Every summer OEW invites youth between the ages of 16 and 35 from Ojibwa, Cree, Navajo, Nez Perce, Seminole and other First Nations to the “Warrior Leadership Summit,” a giant conference put on by OEW where youth are trained for summer outreach trips.
After the summit two teams of youth travel to First Nations communities where they camp out in a schools or community centres, shoot some hoops, make friends and share the message of Jesus.
This summer the Canadian team of 32 traveled to eight communities in Alberta while a similar sized U.S. team visited reserves in New York state. Events are focused around “hope stories,” personal testimonies told by team members about their encounters with God. The three-day visits usually close with altar calls.
“It’s about Native youth reaching Native youth,” says Tiffany, one of OEW’s staff. “Native youth will listen to Native youth because they come from the same background.”
“We’re there to let people know they’re not the only ones going through it,” says Mikey. “That’s why we have people on the team telling stories.”
Mikey’s own story began in a home full of alcohol-fueled violence where he learned to act on his anger and earn acceptance by fighting, drinking and dealing drugs. On an OEW trip two years ago Mikey started talking with a young man angry at his mother for giving him up to foster care.
“I told him about my life, how my mom used to drink,” says Mikey. “I remember she gave me up when I was 10 or 11.” Mikey went on to tell his listener about his own realization that he needed to forgive.
“I told him how I used to hate my mom too and how I forgave her,” says Mikey. “I told him, ‘You don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus.'”
By then Mikey’s listener was crying and asked Mikey to come with him. He wanted to offer his forgiveness to his own mother. OEW director Craig Smith, an Ojibwe from Minnesota, says he’s convinced this generation of Native youth is positioned to act as a significant voice for the Church.
Although Native teens across North America are experiencing hopelessness and pain with suicide rates five to seven times the national average, and struggling to find an identity between vanishing traditions and urban “gangsta” culture, Smith says his people are “ahead of the curve.”
“Native people were positioned here by God for a redemptive purpose,” says Smith.
Despite terrible things done to Native people by the Church during the past centuries, including the horrors of residential schools, Smith says this is the first generation where “our issues aren’t with the white man anymore. We’re now self-destructing.” But Smith says his people will emerge from this suffering with a unique voice.
“We’re in the midst of disfunctionality and pain, but as the rest of society takes its plunge we could well become the spokespeople for God.”
“We’re not here about a religion,” says Mikey. “We’re here to tell you about a relationship with Jesus…that blows away stereotypes of a white man’s God. You can’t say it’s about white people because I’m pretty dark for a white person.”
Inner City Youth Alive is always looking for volunteers to assist with the program by serving as role models. For more information, click to contact ICYA.