A Church and Community Worker for the Cheyenne and Arapaho
From the September-October 2012 issue of New World Outlook
By Donna Pewo
Donna Pewo began her missionary message at The Advance exhibit with a Cheyenne tribal hymn that she teaches to the children she works with at the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center. Readers can hear Donna Pewo singing the hymn as part of the special feature slideshow on the
New World Outlook September-October 2012 homepage, newworldoutlook.org.
My name is Donna Chaat Pewo. I am a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. I’m serving under the General Board of Global Ministries as a Church and Community Worker in Clinton, Oklahoma, at the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center. I also serve El Reno United Methodist Church as a licensed local pastor. I am the mother of two adult children and grandmother of five beautiful grandchildren.
Because God has seen me through so much that has taken place in my life, my call and passion to serve God were very strong. I just did not know in what capacity I would be serving. One night in 1999, I had a dream that I was on a road. At the far end of the road, there was a fork—one path leading to the left and one to the right. As I was standing there, looking in both directions, I heard God say, “Follow me.” God wanted me to follow—and that was the turning point in my life. The decision to follow God’s road has placed me where I am today at Clinton Indian Church and Community Center.
As a result of listening to God’s call, I have been led to a community center that is dedicated to the Native American culture of the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. The church and the community center together are providing an opportunity for Native American people—not only in the church but also in the surrounding community—to become involved in the gospel and in living out God’s call to love, mercy, and justice for all.
A Mustard Seed of Faith
The Clinton Indian Church and Community Center focuses on children and youth. We strive to encourage and empower children to fulfill their potential and to dream of a future with hope. Given the rich cultural background from which the children come and given our rethinking of the church’s concept of mission, we trust that life and freedom in Jesus Christ will shine through in all the work that we do. We believe that, through the power of forgiveness, we can undo some of the past damage inflicted by the church on the Native American people of this area. Our goal is to build a new, positive relationship between church and community.
I’d like to share a story with you about one of my ‘tweens. Macy, who attends public school in Clinton, Oklahoma, is a sweet girl who is not yet a teenager. Recently, she encountered some troubling experiences. Taunting remarks were being directed toward her at school. In addition, Macy was singled out by her teacher to answer questions in class about Native American tribes—not just her own tribe but tribes all over the country. That embarrassed Macy, because her experience is only with her own tribe.
The teacher assumed that, just because Macy was Native American, she would know about all the different Native American tribes. Actually, that assumption made Macy very uncomfortable—and it also made her angry. She has also had to deal with non-Indian children making verbal statements about her, her sister, her mother, and her grandmother, just because they are Native American. Her family has been targeted by gossip and ridiculed to the point that Macy feels she is being treated like an outsider in her own school—like an “irregular” person.
Macy’s anger and hurt almost drove her to the point of retaliation. “I wanted to fight them all,” she said, “but I remembered from Bible study that God has made us and loves us the way we are as Indian people. We’re beautiful in God’s eyes. All I can do for the people who are talking about me and saying unkind things about my family—all I can do is to pray for them.”
Macy is a wonderful example of how a tiny mustard seed, once planted, grows and develops into a tree. Macy has been coming faithfully to the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center. At church, she has engaged in worship, Scripture, and singing. She has also been able to share her story, concerns, thoughts, and emotions with us at the center.
A Ministry of Healing
That little bit of faith that was planted in Macy and in all the children at the community center continues to grow and to get stronger each day. We are able to bring this community together and to assist the people so that their needs are met. We can work to heal wounds left by past afflictions and to move forward, building a strong and positive ministry for the church, the center, and the community.
In an 1864 massacre in Sand Creek, Colorado, the Cheyenne and Arapaho people were deeply wounded, losing 168 unarmed people, including women and children. The massacre was led by a Methodist pastor and local army officer, John Chivington. Chivington’s superior, who approved the raid, was also Methodist. So Sand Creek stands as a symbol of a violent past involving Methodists.
Today, while the Cheyenne and Arapaho treat the church with respect, I think they are very leery of United Methodists. Their wounds are still open. Yet, by our coming together with them and sharing the love of Jesus Christ—in a way that will help them to feel loved, welcomed, and at ease—we can make a difference. I think our presence in the community is vital.
“Well, the church doesn’t care about us. Nobody comes out here.” Those were the comments I heard when I first arrived at El Reno Indian UMC. The residents felt neglected. So one of the ministries I have set for myself is a ministry of presence—just being available. I go out into the community and visit with the people and help them to feel God’s love. I assure them that we are here in a positive way. I believe we must be the ones to extend an olive branch, because we want their wounds to be healed and we want to practice our healing ministry in a respectful way, with humility and grace. Native peoples need to have the opportunity to worship God and to know Jesus Christ. We Native Americans have worshiped the Creator in our own ways—in our own traditions and ceremonies. In today’s society, Native spirituality and Christian spirituality can blend together.
Church and Community
The children I work with at the church and community center range from age three to age fourteen. About 35 children regularly attend our programs. On Tuesday evenings, we have a gathering for the youth. On Thursday evenings, I gather the elementary kids and also work with the youngest group. Then, on Sunday afternoons, we worship together. El Reno Indian United Methodist Church is about 40 minutes away. The congregation I serve is also made up of Cheyenne and Arapaho people.
Our children have taken ownership of the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center. They take care of the church property. If anyone does something improper around the church, they will let me know—and that’s great.
When I gather the children together, we have a healthy snack. Then we go outside and play for recreation. We recently put a computer lab in the community center, using refurbished computers. We have a time for arts and crafts and a time for Bible study, in which we come together and discuss the word of God and share it with one another. I listen to the children’s stories. I give the children time to share with me what’s on their hearts. Many of the children come from broken or single-parent homes. Some of their parents are either incarcerated or have been incarcerated. Some parents are not working. There are many struggles and problems that the children have to deal with at home. The community center and the church are places of refuge for them.
I encourage other United Methodists to join us. Join me in this mission with the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center. Help us to nurture, encourage, and empower the lives of each child we have now and of many more who live in the surrounding community. We seek to help them fulfill their potential and make their dreams a reality. Through your prayers and support, we can make a difference in the lives of each one of the children at the church and the community center.
Donna Pewo was commissioned as a Church and Community Worker with the General Board of Global Ministries on Sunday, April 29, at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida.
Photo 1: Donna Chaat Pewo, a United Methodist missionary, serves as a Church and Community Worker with Cheyenne and Arapaho children in Clinton, Oklahoma. Pewo also serves a congregation in El Reno, Oklahoma. Both ministries are part of the work of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
Photo 2: At the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center, Donna Pewo focuses on empowering Native American children and youth to fulfill their potential and dreams.
Photo 3. After her commissioning, Donna Pewo received a ceremonial handmade blanket from fellow members of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
Credit: Paul Jeffrey