Friday, June 26, 2009

You Gotta Love Chuck!

I wanted to share this talk that Chuck Clevenger gave when he visited Westminster PCA Church north of Seattle a couple of weeks ago. Chuck is the youth director for Sacred Road. 

We love Chuck and his family (Neena, Asha, and baby Isaac) and are so thankful that they have joined us full time.  They are and will be a tremendous blessing to us, our team, and the people of White Swan.

Thanks for reading!


Opening Prayer

"I’m Chuck and I am here tonight to tell you about the work of Sacred Road Ministries on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

"My wife, Neena, and I met in college in Chattanooga, Tennessee and married in June of 1996. My family goes back for generations in southeast Tennessee. Neena’s parents immigrated from Pakistan two years before she was born in Chattanooga. We will be celebrating our 13th anniversary on June 29. 

"In the summer of 2002, we joined a team from our home church - First Presbyterian Chattanooga - on a week-long mission trip to the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington State. The first thing we noticed was how unbelievably hot and dry everything was. It was a huge shock - we were expecting lots of rain and coffee everywhere we went. 

"I soon realized that there was a lot more to Washington than what I had learned from watching Frazier reruns and listening to grunge rock. I am very happy, though, to be with you tonight on the wetter, cooler side of the state and to tell you about what our merciful, life-giving God is doing just a few hours away.

"Thank you for having me here. Clint has been a very big encouragement through email correspondence as we’ve transitioned out here.

"I guess its easy to see that the summer of 2002 had a profound effect on my life, we returned again the next summer and continued coming with teams every summer through 2006, when we began to suspect that God had put a peculiar longing in our heart for that dry desert and the people that live there.

"In February of this year, we moved with our five year old daughter, Asha, up from Tennessee and have been living in Wapato in the northeast corner of the Reservation. On May 9, we had a little boy who we named Isaac Anderson. Asha is the hindi word for “Hope” and Isaac means “He Laughs.” We kind of thought if we were going to move to the Reservation that hope and laughter would be two good things to bring along.

"Sacred Road Ministries is a PCA church planting ministry of your presbytery on the Yakama Indian Rservation. It began six years ago with the arrival of Chris and Mary Granberry and their four children on the Reservation in the summer of 2003. In 2007, Veronica Vasquez, joined the ministry team to oversee administration, help with homeschooling the Granberry children and work with youth. This winter, in addition to our arrival, Heather German from Tacoma, Gretchen Becker from Virginia and Emily Schmidt from Nebraska have all joined the team for 1-2 years. For the summer we are also housing 7 college interns. So it has been a very exciting time of expansion in the ministry. 

We can call that prayer request number 1. Team unity and cohesion.

Sacred Road seeks to plant a church in the small remote town of White Swan in the center of the reservation. White Swan has a population of around 3,000 and is the the most traditional portion of the Reservation. We also seek to obey Christ’s command to love our neighbors by loving the Yakama people, who we consider our first neighbors, well.

How do we do that?

In a growing number of ways. I know there is some interest here at Westminster tonight about sending a team on one of our short term trips, so thats a good a place to start as any.

We will be hosting somewhere around a dozen teams from churches around the country between May and August. Every other week, there will be 50 or so people coming to the Reservation to participate in the ministry of Sacred Road.

We also host a few teams during the Spring which works out pretty well for some of the churches out here that are closer.

Maybe we can start with the video here. Gretchen puts a video together of each and every team week. This is a video from a week ago when we had two churches from Alabama visit with us. One of them was the Granberry’s home church - Oak Mountain Presbyterian in Birmingham, Alabama.

Show Video

So how do we try to love our first neighbors well?

As you saw in the video:

We work with teams to paint and put new roofs on houses that may not have been maintained in decades. 

We mow yards and clear fields.

We pick up and haul tons of trash.

We cut, split and stack firewood that will help families get through the winters.

We will be play kickball, blow bubbles, draw on sidewalks with chalk.

We pass out Capri Suns and Hot Cheetos to kids that are yelling “I didn’t get one.”

We hug small children, give piggy back rides and wipe dirty noses.

We drink lots and lots of water.

We pray … a lot.

We sweat, groan, get dirty and smash our thumbs in order to show a people that their Creator loves them. That the God who made them - sent His son to die for them them.

It is, as Chris points out every week, a small reflection of what Christ does for us.

He cleans and maintains his home in our hearts.

He removes the obstacles and litter in our path that keep us from experiencing Him.

He comforts us in the scorching deserts and chilling winters of our existence.

He brings us joy and celebration in His presence.

He sustains us with our daily bread.

He carries us through our trials.

He intercedes for us before the father.

He groaned for us at Calvary and suffered every torment and indignity so that we might be with him eternally.

It is because of Him, that any of us can do what the teams and Sacred Road do. It is because of the hope that He has given us that we can confidently and excitedly share it with folks on the Reservation that are so desperate for any kind of hope.

And folks, thats only the start.

When teams come, we talk to them about witnessing and testifying - two concept you see a lot in the early church in the Book of Acts. It is amazing to see some of the transformations that take place when someone who has never even been on an Indian Reservation begins to spend time with people, especially the children, whose lives are filled with the brokenness of the abuse and addictions that are so prevalent in the lives of Native Americans today.

The Yakama signed their treaty in June of 1855 and lost about 91% of their traditional homelands. The treaty wasn’t ratified by the Senate until 1859 which allowed further incursions into their territory. Indian Boarding Schools and other misguided government programs continued to lead to tremendous loss of life, culture and identity. 

The average life span of a Yakama Indian is reportedly 39 years with some of the leading causes of death being suicide, traffic fatalities and heart disease.

I know about people being people changed by a trip to the Reservation, because I was one of them. I mentioned coming to the Reservation with Neena in the summer of 2002 for the first time. We were wholly unprepared for the way the children in one of the housing projects - Totus Park - latched onto our hearts. And I never would have imagined leaving our homes and families to be part of full time ministry on the Reservation. 

We had a pretty good life in Tennessee. All of the grandparents lived there. Most of the Aunts and Uncles too. Good jobs. Great church. But when we first started talking to people about moving up here, the response I got a lot was “Its about time, its all you talk about.” Without even trying, I had been a witness and testified to not only the spiritual darkness on the Reservation, but also the work of God’s Holy Spirit,  in a way that my friends had noticed.

I probably told them about throwing football with a little boy at Totus, even while all the other kids were playing tag and how when he saw me squinting in the afternoon sun - he ran home and got a pair of sunglasses to give me. We threw that football all week long and at the end of the week, as we were leaving - I gave him a picture of the two of us together and a little keepsake to remember me by.

He ran home and called to me from his front door. I thought there was an emergency so I ran over. 

“Do you like animals?” Has asked.

“Um, yeah?” I replied. This could go anywhere.

“What kind”?

“Dogs?” Oh I hope I’m not getting a puppy. There are more dogs on the Reservation than you can imagine.

“What about deer?” He asked. Okay he can’t give me a deer.

“Yeah, deer are great. Beautiful. Graceful.”

So he gave me this wallhanging. 

And his mom thanked me for spending time with him. I couldn’t really speak much for an hour or so after that. I managed to say thank you. I think I kind of mugged him with a hug and told him that Jesus would be with Him when it didn’t seem like anyone else was and asked if He believed that. 

He said he did.

The next year Lucus moved to Montana but now I have his cel phone number and we talk 2 or 3 times a year. He might come out to the Reservation to visit family this summer.

Another funny part of the story, as I was walking back to the van after all of that, another kid I had played a lot with - Johnny - came up to say goodbye but I was pretty incoherent at that point and out of keepsakes - so I gave him a flashlight I had in the car. He was 11, I think.

This past Thursday night, Johnny was unexpectedly in the front seat of my car on the way to a youth outing, now 17. Telling me about how he remembered that flashlight.

I love believing in a sovereign God who has plans for each of us. I mean, how else do you explain stuff like that?

One more quick story about kids ministry at Totus Park - this one from just a few months ago, maybe six weeks after our arrival in February.

It was our first backyard bible club at Totus of this year. My first in a couple of years and I got there early with Stephen. Stephen is another 17 year old in our youth group. He has been living with the Granberrys for the last several months and was the first baptism Chris performed after his ordination. 

Please pray for Stephen, he has a lot of challenges. Prayer Request Number Two.

So Stephen’s a big Indian kid and I’m this 40 year old white guy getting out of my Ford Taurus and walking over to what used to be a  basketball court that is the ministry center at Totus. It doesn’t have any basketball goals but is pretty well covered in skate ramps, broken glass and graffiti.

There are about a half dozen little kids riding their scooters around the ramps as the two of us start to walk over. Everything stops. All activity just halts and they just stare at us as we come closer.

Finally, I get uncomfortable enough to yell out “How are you guys doing?”

A little girl on a pink scooter looks at me and asks.

“Are you guys the church?”

“Well, I guess we are.” I call back

And the kids just start hooting an hollering and running around dancing. And my first thought is wow what a great ministry.

Then I realize. Its not a great ministry. Well it is, but you’ll see my point. He’s a great God. Its a joyful gospel. It really is good news. I need to be reminded of that. Growing up in the South in the Bible Belt - its easy to lose sight of that. 

I never went anywhere as the church in Tennessee and was greeted with that kind of enthusiasm.

In addition to the summer teams that come, we have a number of ministries going on around the year.

Sacred Road hosts a Christmas feast every year that celebrates Christmas with 300-400 Yakama with traditional foods and gifts for everyone.

There are mercy projects like wheelchair ramps and home repair that go on throughout the year

We have a weekly Tuesday night bible study that we call our baby church. It meets at the Indian Longhouse, which is pretty amazing. It begins with a meal for as many as 60 or 70 people. After dinner we have a time of worship and singing and then split into three groups for bible study - adults, children and youth. My main responsibility is overseeing the development of the youth group.

Its been really neat to see what God is doing in bringing our youth group together. I think we’ve probably had about 22-24 kids come to our meetings at one time or another with 8-10 attending regularly in just the last few months. A lot of these kids have had little or no exposure to the bible and come from pretty traumatic backgrounds. We meet with them weekly at the Long House and try to have smaller, less formal group meetings every other week for discipleship and to develop deeper relationships.

Prayer request number 3. Meaningful spiritual growth and deeper relationships with the youth group.

I can not begin to describe my gratitude and awe at what God is already doing in our youth group. In our relationships and our prayers together - it is already so much more than I hoped for, so much more than I know I am capable of. It serves to me as yet another reminder of God’s great love for the poor and disenfranchised and for me and our staff at the same time. We all need these prayers. We all need his forgiveness. We all need His gospel of grace.

So - I don’t think being a witness and testifying means you have to move to the Rez, but please notice the invitation on all of our materials - Come and See. Its on my shirt.

Do you know where that comes from? 

John 1 where Andrew first encounters Jesus.

It begins in verse 35.

 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" 

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them,  "What are you seeking?" 

And they said to him,"Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 

He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ)

I love how Jesus almost never gives a straight answer - He easily could have said - the old Johnson place down on Elm Street, but no he says Come and See. Experience where I am staying.

Sacred Road’s invitation is to come and see come and see what the Christ, what Jesus, is doing on the Yakama Indian Reservation. We invite you to participate by your gifts, your prayers and your presence. 

What will you see?

Isaiah 58:6-12 is sort of a theme verse for the ministry. I think it’s what all of us who are involved with Native American ministry are waiting to see.

"Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of wickedness,
   to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
   and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
   the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
   you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
   the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
 then shall your light rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the LORD will guide you continually
   and satisfy your desire in scorched places
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters do not fail.

 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to dwell in.

In a lot ways, The Reservation is an ancient ruin that needs to be rebuilt. And even though we know that Isaiah was using the city of Jerusalem as a picture of what God will do among His people, we know that He is also looking forward to that new Jerusalem in which every tribe and nation will glorify God the father.

In truth, it is Jesus, who is the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in which is good because I’m a lousy carpenter. But even though he doesn’t need our help he invites us to do even more than come and see, but to participate in His work of changing this world from one of despair to one of hope.

This is our hope and His plan for the Yakama Indian Reservation and all of His creation.