Native Assembly provides blessings and questions

Sharon K. Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

When should I speak and when should I listen? I wrestled with many questions like this as I worked with Native Mennonite Ministries and Poarch Community Church to host 400-500 people for the bi-annual Native Assembly of the Mennonite Church in Atmore, Alabama.

Due to the enormous burden of responding to the needs of Hurricane Katrina survivors in the Gulf Coast region, the on-site planning for Native Assembly was severely delayed. As unmet deadlines passed by, the organizing loomed large for Pastor Steve Cheramie-Risingsun, the host chair. Meanwhile Blooming Glen’s Damascus Road Team was praying for appropriate ways to involve their congregation in Hurricane Katrina recovery. Team members Rick and Barb Gebelein met Pastor Steve at a Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) gathering and began devising a plan to provide administrative assistance and web site development for the Native Assembly. Laura Kanagy from Lancaster Mennonite Conference and I were called to go to Atmore at various times while Blooming Glen members and others provided funds that were matched by Franconia Conference. As July arrived, much work remained and it was discerned that I should return to assist during the Assembly itself.

The coming together of the Native peoples from various tribes in the US and Canada was a wonderful celebration. Leaders and participants shared marvelous testimonies of their faith in Christ and their hopes for the Church through their native languages, stories, music, customs, dress and artwork. As I engaged in the intense cross-cultural experience, many questions arose which I still ponder. How should I show respect for the Poarch congregation and Assembly participants when I am unfamiliar with their cultures? How could I maintain proper perspective when showered with much heartfelt appreciation? How should I respond when the lines of responsibility blur? For a gathering so special as Native Assembly, should I even be here to witness it? As Christians I think we need to wrestle with these kinds of questions as we attempt to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries locally, in the US and abroad.