Monday, February 18, 2013

Seeing The Invisible Mission Field

Recently the National Museum of the American Indian held a symposium on the depiction of Native Americans in sports. Being hosted in Washington, DC, the conversation naturally steered towards their NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The mayor of Washington has gone on record to oppose a new stadium for the football team inside city limits unless they drop the name.

A few weeks ago a blog previewed the hats that Major League Baseball teams would be wearing for spring training, showing a sample image of the Atlanta Braves' cap featuring an image of their mascot, the "screamin' indian", Chief Knockahoma, which hasn't been used since 1986. After considerable backlash, the Braves are wearing their traditional script A on their hats.

And don't get me started on the legal dispute over the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

I'm not going to weigh in on one side or the other. But I want to call it to our attention. How many of us cheer for a team, or wear a particular logo, without consideration of where that name or brand came from? The AP story on the Native American symposium highlighted a fan who wore his Redskins gear and was so moved by what he heard that he ditched them. He simply never thought of it before.

Face it, the Native American is the nameless, faceless race that used to inhabit North America and is often depicted as the bad guy in classic westerns. How many of you know a Native American? Depending on where you live, it is unlikely you've ever seen one. The idea of a sports mascot named the Braves, Warriors, or Chiefs doesn't cause us to flinch. A super-fan dressed up in a war bonnet with his face painted might strike us as odd, but not necessarily racist. Familiarity may breed contempt, but unfamiliarity breeds indifference.

We may not know them, we may not see them, but they're still there. They are still a strong and proud people. And they, just like the "foreign savage" we send missionaries to overseas, need Jesus.

I'm sensitive to this myself. I grew up just outside the boundaries of an Indian reservation. I grew up with classmates who were Arapaho or Shoshone. Every year my hometown would celebrate the "Gift of the Waters" pageant, an artistic reenactment of a treaty signed between the Shoshone tribe and the US Government handing over some of their land that included a natural spring the tribe considered sacred. Before I went away to college I knew the family of the Shoshone chief, Joseph.

Many missionary organizations emphasize raising up indigenous people to lead in local ministry. Yet we've forgotten about the indigenous in our own country.

So I was sad to hear of the sudden passing of "Uncle" Richard Twiss, a Native American missionary and founder of Wiconi International. If you've never heard of him, don't feel bad because neither had I. But I was ashamed because as much as I try to be "plugged in" to American Christian Culture I was ignorant to the man and this much-needed ministry.

Not knowing him, I can't speak much about him. But I encourage you to check out what others have said honoring his memory. (Lots of links: Christianity Today, InterVarsity, Out of Ur, Urban Faith, Sojourners, Patheos, and Red Letter Christians)

Also please pray for the indigenous of this country. Twiss' work is far from finished. May we be as moved to be missionaries to the natives of our own soil as we are to send missionaries to foreign lands.

No comments: