Wesleyan Natives from the Dakota District presented General Conference attendees with a meaningful glimpse into their customs as well as their faith.
Rev. Larry “Plenty Star” Salway, co-pastor with his wife, Dale, of the fast-growing He Sapa New Life (Wesleyan) Church in Black Hawk, South Dakota, gave the devotional message for the Tuesday morning session of the 12th General Conference.
The Wesleyan Church highly values its ministry with Natives in the United States and Canada. Wesleyan Native Ministries, a subsidiary of the denomination, has been in existence for almost 70 years. WNM, (formerly known as WNAM), partners with Wesleyan Natives to evangelize and disciple Natives of all tribes.
Rev. Salway understands the importance of WNM’s existence—and the deep need to communicate Jesus’ hope among His people. He said the unemployment rate on many reservations is 95 percent. Approximately 60 percent of homes located on reservations have no running water or electricity. High school graduation rate is 60 percent, and infant mortality rate is 300 percent greater than the U.S. average.
“Hope is difficult to come by,” Rev. Salway said, but he knows his family has a purpose in Black Hawk.
“This is where God has called us to labor—to minister to our own people,” he says. “God is restoring the honor of our culture. Our dignity has been restored, and healing and restoration are in process.” Reservations in New Mexico, Arizona, New York, and South Dakota have people continually placing their faith in Christ.
The believers from He Sapa are proclaiming the gospel, both in word and action.
“We go into new communities and take new gifts to the elders, and we honor our children with gifts, as they are considered sacred,” says Rev. Salway.
The church is communicating an accurate gospel, but its members are doing it in such a way that non-believers can relate to the message.
“We are not contextualizing the gospel or using social programs,” he says. “We are using Jesus to lead people to Him.”
Before official business of the day began, General Superintendent Dr. Jerry Pence, presented a lifetime achievement award to Dr. Jerry Yellowhawk, a Wesleyan Native leader and Respected Elder, who placed his faith in Christ in 1953, at age 18.
Married to Johanna, he has pioneered new churches and served as district superintendent of the Wesleyan Native District. He has also assisted Wycliffe Bible Translators in providing a version in his native Lakota language. In 1955, Oklahoma Wesleyan University conferred a doctorate of divinity to Yellowhawk. Dr. Yellowhawk is retired now, but is still influencing others to answer the call to minister. His grandson, Steve, is one of those who has answered the call and is now working on his Masters degree in preparation.
“The sun is setting for me, but there are young men obeying and answering the call,” said Rev. Yellowhawk.
Before concluding his acceptance speech, Rev. Yellowhawk prayed for the crowd in his native Lakota language. He then joined Rev. Salway, his grandson, and Salway’s son in a traditional Native dance. All were dressed in their native dress.