A First Nations reserve in Alberta had closed its doors to the gospel because of a pedophile priest. But now it was allowing members of a Chinese church in Edmonton to conduct a Vacation Bible School.
“That was because of their black hair and brown skin,” says Herman Nells.Nells and his wife Cynthia are Navajo Christians, and this story strengthened God’s call on them to leave the New Mexico congregation they had successfully pastored for 12 years, and come to Canada to serve First Nations people. They had seen their need in Canada’s north — and later also in Port Alberni, while they attended a First Nations conference there.
At that conference, they met some Christians on the nearby reserve and asked why they did not attend a church. They were told it was because of the trauma of the residential schools.
So they asked what it would take for them to become part of a church. The answer was, “If we had our own native pastor.”
That helped them decide to make their home in Alberni, though they hope their ministry will extend beyond there to include Victoria and other Island reserves.
What will be their strategy? Where and how will they start? To these questions the couple simply say they don’t know yet.
They believe God has called them; but now they have to find out how the people live, what their concerns are.
“The situation here is very different from Arizona, where we come from,” Herman says. “We are going to make connections, ask questions. We know God is always working at revealing himself, and we don’t want to destroy what he is doing.”
Cynthia adds, “It will take time. A lot will be just being with the people. Relationships are so very, very, very important. Everything that happens in their lives is based on relationships. People need to know that we really do care, really are interested, that we can be trusted.”
What do they think about what is going on in the Longhouses? Is that compatible with Christianity?
Cynthia answers that their parents knew all the rituals and ceremonies — but when they became Christians, they set them aside, and did not pass them on to their children.
Does she feel any less Navajo for that? “My parents were full-blooded Navajos, and I am a full-blooded Navajo,” she replies.
Herman has some further comment on that question. His grandfather was a medicine man, and his father was an apprentice medicine man; but in between the ceremonies, they still had a problem with alcohol.
Evidently, the ceremonies did not fill their inner emptiness — the emptiness only Christ can fill. The same can be said of the present trend to go back to the longhouse rituals: they have not helped to reduce alcohol abuse and suicide.
Does that mean there is no power in those ceremonies?
“When Jesus was raised from death he said that all power was given to him. Whatever power those ceremonies have, Jesus’ power is greater,” is Herman’s answer.
Cynthia points out another key factor.
“On the reserves, supernatural things take place, and people live in fear of being cursed, of being haunted by things that can harm them. Many traditional practices are based on fear: ‘If you don’t do this, something bad is going to happen to you’. But Christians have authority over those dark forces, so we don’t live in fear.”
Where will their finances come from?
“We don’t know,” says Herman. “We just know we needed to come, and God will take care of us. We have had some help from our Nazarene District, and also from the Nazarene churches in Victoria and Alberni.
“Back home we both were bivocational, so we were looking after ourselves. But the problem with that here is that we would not be able to travel during the week, so we hope that we don’t have to take a second job.”
The Nells can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org The Southside Nazarene church in Alberni will also be pleased to provide further information: 250-724-7275.