Native American Mission
The Mar Thoma Diocese of North America and Europe has been actively involved in mission work among Native Americans in the United States for the past 18 years. The Native Americans are indigenous people who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years. They belong to over 500 different tribes, each with distinct culture, language, and traditions. Many of these tribes struggle with poverty, health issues, alcoholism, unemployment, and other challenges. They have a lack of leadership and resources. Only 20% of the total population is affiliated with any Christian church. Of these, only 25% of the churches are led by the Native American leaders. The aim of the Native American Mission (NAM) is to foster spiritual and holistic growth of the Native American communities and provide them with opportunities for direct involvement in the mission.
Volunteers from different parts of the Diocese join together for mission efforts among the Native Americans. The mission serves the Choctaw Native American community in Oklahoma and Alabama and also the Navajo Native American community in northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and the southern section of Utah. The Mar Thoma Church works collaboratively with these groups to deepen Christian faith, have fellowship in Christ, and encourage leadership. God’s love is shown in action through organized activities throughout the various mission sites, including seasonal camps, youth conferences, Bible studies, Vacation Bible Schools, medical clinics, team building sessions, community carnivals, basketball tournaments, building and renovation projects, and leadership training for future church leaders. There is also a scholarship program in place for students who wish to further their education.
In 2020, people all over the world were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Native American communities, along with many other minority groups and low-income communities, have been disproportionately affected by this virus. Basic CDC recommendations regarding social distancing and hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of the virus are difficult to achieve in these populations. In certain areas, clean water for basic hand hygiene is scarce. Nearly one-third of Navajo Land households do not have access to running water. Housing shortages on reservations make social distancing very difficult. Many Native Americans that rely on their small businesses and tourism for their livelihood were also greatly impacted financially.
Despite not being able to travel and to have in-person Native American Mission activities this year, limited programs were conducted and support was provided for the mission work in various ways.
Alabama Mission: In Alabama, a virtual Youth Retreat was arranged on Zoom for the first time in October. Native American youths from Alabama and Mar Thoma youths from all over the Diocese were able to spend time with one another in praise and worship, prayer, group discussion, and meditation on the Word of God.
Navajo Land: In Navajo Land, 100 siphon drum pumps were provided to the area. People were retrieving water from communal water barrels by using shared straws which was very unhygienic, especially in the setting of COVID-19. The pumps help people retrieve water in a more sanitary and safe way.
Oklahoma Mission: There was a need identified to renovate the bathrooms at the facility located in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Mr. George Mathew (Dallas) has taken the initiative to undertake this project. The work began in September 2020 and will be completed by the first quarter of 2021.
Scholarships: Native American Scholarship Program also continued in the report year. The scholarship program is in place in order to provide financial assistance to motivated students and to encourage the overall community to pursue higher education. Youths filled out applications with their qualifications and goals. Higher Education Scholarships were awarded to a total of 13 youths in the report year – three in Oklahoma, seven in Alabama, and three in Navajo Land.
Acknowledgements: We acknowledge the prayer, support, and guidance of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos (Diocesan Bishop), Rev. Manoj Idiculla (Diocesan Secretary), Mr. Philip Thomas (Diocesan Treasurer), other members of the Native American Mission Subcommittee, Native American Mission promoters, volunteers, supporters, and well-wishers.
Along with the Office Bearers of the Diocese, the following persons served in the Native American Mission Subcommittee: Rev. Jacob P. Thomas (Convener), Rev. Thomas Joseph, Rev. Blezin K. Mon, Mrs. Nirmala Abraham, Dr. Suresh Mathews, Ms. Sheeba Kuruvilla, Ms. Thara Mathews, Mr. Aby George, and Ms. Sara Pritha Varghese. The following persons served as coordinators of the missions – Ms. Sheeba Kuruvilla (Oklahoma Mission), and Ms. Julianne Cherian and Mr. Joby Mathew (Alabama Mission and Navajo Land).