My husband and I have been on the Yakama Indian reservation for the last couple weeks working with Sacred Road, a ministry started by Chris and Mary Granberry eleven years ago. Indian reservations are difficult places for ministry. The reservation is a foreign culture within the United States. It is a poverty culture—and the Granberry family, with the obvious leadership and strength of the Holy Spirit, has made a glorious impact on this place.
I was privileged to be here when they had the grand opening of
their new church building this past Sunday, June 22, 2014. The week before, his home church from Birmingham and two other church groups helped to build playgrounds, spread bark, put up siding, paint, and place concrete for multiple basketball goals. This Sunday I got to see the fruit of eleven years of hard labor as people streamed in to see the results of years of support and prayers.
Every Sunday, buses move out promptly to pick up children and adults to ride to services. This Sunday the church was also packed with guests who have faithfully given to the ministry, and children who were anxious to play on the new playground and to eat their weekly meal prepared by the staff and summer interns.
I don’t know how they have done it. Year after year the Granberry’s have given generously—often out of their pockets. They feed hundreds monthly, minister to homeless children, and offer safety to them when violence breaks out in their homes—a too-frequent occurrence. They face the difficulties of the highest rates of suicide and homeless children in the United States. Despair is great, but this ministry brings Hope, with a capital “H”.
During the summer months, they bring hope to local children by having Kid’s Klubs in area parks.
Have you ever seen cows in a field move toward the farmer when he arrives on the field with food? I did, just the other day. It’s a very similar experience at the two parks. The children see the buses coming and move like a herd toward hope.
One year, two of the staff members arrived a little early to the park on the first Kid’s Klub of the season. They were waiting for the vans to pull in—loaded with games, crafts, and people who would play with the children who lived in slum-like Indian housing around the park. They walked onto the grounds, and a few of the children playing there asked them, “Are you the Church people?”
“Yes, we are,” was the reply.
The children began to jump up and down and squeal with delight. The Church people had arrived, and they were bringing hope to a terribly weary land.
Chris has been asked to bring similar ministry to the reservation at Warm Springs. At the beginning of one of their ministry weeks, numerous volunteers had come into town expecting their gifts and special talents to be used in meaningful ways. Instead, they were put to work in bright orange vests and were told to pick up trash along the side of the road into town. For many, the work seemed demeaning—it often does when you minister in such a despairing place.
But what the team didn’t expect was the response to their humble, backbreaking labor. People began to stop and ask, “Are you the Church people?” Then, they began to ask the orange-vested volunteers to pray for them. And it wasn’t just one person who asked, but many. What? No one saw it coming. Church people—humble service—prayer—hope.
What the volunteers didn’t know was that a big Indian gathering was being held that weekend. By picking up trash, they were contributing to the reputation of the Church and Jesus Christ. They became the kind of “Church people” Jesus wants representing Him.
In this place, the Church is seen as loving, joyful, merciful, kind, humble, long-suffering, and faithful.
But this reputation came after YEARS of faithful service. Seeds have been sown in the hard soil of unbelief and despair through self-sacrifice and have been watered with blood, sweat, and tears. To enter this culture, one must be willing to die and feel the bitterness of compassion for those who have been oppressed or held in bondage to darkness and despair for too long.
Wherever the Church goes, this should be our imprint. The theology of compassion and truth speaks loudly here.
This past Sunday at Hope Fellowship, I saw a whole family baptized in addition to several teenagers who had made confessions of faith. I saw laughter, deep joy, and the feeding of hundreds. I got to witness one of the children rip in half the mortgage on the facility they were still in the process of completing. The mortgage is paid in full! I heard the testimonies of people who have been impacted by Sacred Road and saw the LONG list of churches and communities who have given in one way or another to the ministry.
God has been working in this isolated little valley.
Today, as I was leaving the reservation to go to Yakima, WA, (the city) I saw fields being watered by irrigation. The fields were sparkling green in the morning sun and smelled of freshly harvested mint. Yesterday, just by chance, I got to see and smell a harvest created by the watering of God’s eternal grace and the steadfast labor of humble “Church people.”
Today, I can only worship God for his mercy in sending this family here and pray for the continuing and growing work at Sacred Road and Hope Fellowship Church.