CBF Oklahoma mission project reflects diversity, embodies unity
The Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma’s signature missions project reflected unity through diversity this month.
For several years, CBF Oklahoma has partnered with the Oklahoma Indian American Baptist Association to sponsor ministries alongside Native American congregations in the western part of the state. In mid-July, Native American, Hispanic and Anglo congregations from Baptist and Pentecostal traditions joined forces to share the love of Jesus with Watonga.
The event began Friday, July 12, with the arrival of a youth mission team from Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo, a Spanish-speaking congregation in Fort Worth, Texas. They chose this project “because we wanted to learn about the Watonga Indian Baptist Church,” explained Anyra Cano, youth pastor at Victoria en Cristo. “We wanted to come alongside them and do what they needed us to do.”
They started by learning. “We met with Pastor David Lee and Quinton Roman Nose, one of the key lay leaders,” Cano explained. “He gave us an orientation about the Native American people in the area, mostly Cheyenne. He helped us understand the dynamics of the area and of the people we wanted to serve.”
“This was a tremendous benefit to our kids,” she added. “He asked, ‘How many of you believe God is already here?’ The whole youth group raised their hands. Then he went into the history of how Native Americans came to know Christ. This reinforced our understanding that we weren’t there to ‘bring Jesus,’ but to work alongside the church to exalt Jesus. We were there to support the church.”
They launched their support by getting to work. That afternoon, they prayer walked the community around Watonga Indian Baptist Church and Iglesia Cristiana un Nuevo Amanecer, a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal congregation.
The next day, they walked the neighborhood, distributing flyers in support of a Vacation Bible School to be conducted beginning Monday by youth from First Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a predominantly Anglo congregation.
“Here’s a cool thing,” Cano reported. “When we went to pass out flyers, we thought, ‘What if we had somebody to pick up the kids?’ This was something Watonga Indian suggested; more children could attend VBS if someone picked them up. So, on the flyers, we wrote a number to call if they needed a ride to church. When FBC Norman arrived on Sunday, they already had received calls from the kids, asking to be picked up.”
On Sunday morning, the Victoria en Cristo group led worship at both Watonga Indian and Nuevo Amanecer, contrasting the Baptists’ reserved worship style with the Pentecostals’ exuberance—a learning experience, Cano said.
That night, Watonga Indian hosted four other congregations—First Baptist Norman, New Wine Church of Oklahoma City, Nuevo Amanecer and Victoria en Cristo. They shared leadership in worship, with participants speaking or singing in English, Native American and Spanish languages. Cano preached.
“We are gathered here with as many people as possible to create one voice to praise God,” proclaimed Watonga Indian Pastor David Lee.
The service was “fantastic,” noted Steve Graham, coordinator of CBF of Oklahoma, who praised the musicians and Cano for inspiring the worshipers toward unity across lines of diversity. “It was a beautiful moment.”
“It was an amazing night of worship,” added Clint Taylor, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Norman. “Bringing multiple congregations and multiple cultures together to worship the one true God was incredible.”
The next morning, Victoria en Cristo and First Norman worked together to prepare for the Vacation Bible School. Then Victoria en Cristo headed back to Fort Worth, and First Norman stayed on to continue the VBS the rest of the week.
During VBS, the context of the Watonga children’s lives impressed the Norman mission team, Taylor said.
“During the week, we realized family was tremendously important to them,” he noted. “We had several groups of kids we picked up or dropped off at three different homes—theirs, their grandparents’, and their aunts’. They all lived within blocks of each other.
“As we were reminded by a 5-year-old little girl while eating breakfast one morning: “My mom tells us as long as we have family, we have a lot. … And the Lord is good!”
In VBS, the children learned Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”
Although the Norman students could see rural Native American Watongan children through a suburban, middle-class Anglo lens, “the reality is, they are rich in Christ, they are rich in family, and they are rich in community,” Taylor said. “I am so glad we can come away from the time we spent in Watonga with these truths.
“The relationships we have built through our four trips to Watonga are strong. Although we come from different backgrounds and cultures, we all worship and serve the same Lord, and as the 5-year-old reminded us, the Lord is good!”
Earlier this summer, South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, sent teams to Geary, Okla. for complementary events. South Main conducted work projects, a playground ministry and a nursing home ministry. Seventh led a Vacation Bible School.
All taken together, the projects advanced the cause of Christ, Graham said, noting, “It’s kind of like we took a step up … this summer.”