Influence

 the shape of leadership

Every Nation and Tribe

Taking the gospel to America’s indigenous people

Brent Maracle’s Mohawk name, Sakoneseriiosta, means, “He makes the day good for them.”

Maracle received the moniker from elders of his Mohawk tribe. Each tribal name among the Mohawk is unique, and each member is responsible for making his or her name honorable.

“Whenever anyone calls me by my name, it reminds me of my responsibility and obligation,” Maracle says. “Jesus is the One who brings eternal life and makes the day good. I see my name as a reflection of my relationship with Jesus and the mission He has called me to continue.”

Maracle is the newly elected president and chief of the Assemblies of God Native American Fellowship (NAF). Officially recognized in 1996, the NAF serves 190 churches across 104 American Indian territories and Alaska native villages in 27 states. It is the second-largest ministry to American Indians and Alaska natives in North America. Yet many tribes remain unreached.

“We are still only scraping the surface,” Maracle says. “There are 574 federally recognized tribes. Those tribes represent different languages, cultural backgrounds and practices, and nations and governance models.”

Taking the gospel to these diverse people groups presents significant challenges. After centuries of mistreatment and marginalization, many Native Americans are understandably wary of outsiders.

In some Native American territories, churches cannot own property. It can take years for a newcomer to learn the culture and language — and a lifetime to build relationships.

Few nonnative ministers are pursuing a call to American Indian territories. And even fewer indigenous people are doing so.

“Historically, Christianity has not done well in American Indian country,” Maracle says. “The purpose of the Native American Fellowship is to strengthen American Indian ministry leaders, to network our churches, and to encourage church planting in areas where there is no AG presence. But there are complexities that stand in the way.”

Maracle is a fourth-generation Assemblies of God adherent on both sides of his family. His father, John E. Maracle, is a longtime U.S. missionary and the previous NAF leader.

Growing up on native lands, Brent Maracle developed a strong sense of identity as both a Mohawk and a follower of Christ, which he says was vital to his faith formation.

“I know our traditional songs, stories, social dances, the history of our people, and our governance models,” Maracle says. “The gospel wasn’t anglicized. I learned how to have a relationship with Jesus as a Mohawk. I was raised to believe that following Jesus made me a better Mohawk.”

Maracle had no interest in vocational ministry, however. After graduating from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, he attended Harvard University, earning a master’s degree in government. Although he pursued a business career, Maracle also hoped he could one day use his influence and education to help his tribe navigate federal laws and perhaps reclaim lost territory.

In 2020, 516 credentialed Assemblies of God ministers — or 1.4%
of all AG USA ministers — self-identified as Native American.

Maracle was on an executive track with Fidelity Investments when he began sensing a call to ministry.

“God spoke to me while I was on a train into Boston and said, ‘I’m calling you into ministry,’” he remembers. “That was a scary moment. I put it off because I didn’t know if it was true.”

A year later, Maracle took a step of obedience and started the AG credentialing process. He left the corporate world in 2012 and transitioned to a full-time ministry position at Christ Revolution Church (AG) in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he still serves as lead pastor. He also ministers to American Indian territories across the U.S.

“I wanted to give back to my people through my knowledge of law and policy development, but I’ve done more as a minister of the gospel,” Maracle says. “I learned from my parents and grandparents that if you do what God asks you to do, He will fulfill your desires. And I believe doors will continue to open for the Native American Fellowship as people do what God calls them to do.”

In 2021, the NAF delivered more than 16,000 boxes of food to homes in eight American Indian territories within the Iroquois Confederacy, which includes the Mohawk Nation. Only two of those territories have a church.

Native Americans have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. According to 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Indian and Alaska Native people are at increased risk of becoming infected with COVID and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease compared to the general population. As a result, some tribes have sought isolation.

“Most people from the outside weren’t even allowed to get out of their cars in these areas because of COVID,” Maracle says. “No other organizations were allowed to go in and distribute food, but we were. They didn’t just see us as Christians; they saw us as brothers, sisters and cousins. Because of that, we were able to share the gospel.”

Native Americans have been a part of the Assemblies of God throughout the Fellowship’s history. At the first General Council in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in April 1914, two of the founding members were Cherokee natives from Oklahoma.

In 2020, 516 credentialed Assemblies of God ministers — or 1.4% of all AG USA ministers — self-identified as Native American. Maracle wants to see that number increase as more Native Americans respond to the gospel, hear the call to ministry, attend AG universities, and take the good news to every tribe.

“The vision is to continue to raise up native ministers, network native churches, and empower native ministry,” Maracle says. “The vision is to encourage our young people to know that they don’t have to cease being Mohawk or Navajo or Apache or Sioux or any of the 574 American Indian nations.

You don’t have to cease being who you are because of Jesus. Jesus will fulfill the substance of who you are. You can continue to speak your language, know your cultural ways, and participate among your people.”

In Revelation 7:9, the apostle John saw worshippers from “every nation, tribe, people and language.” The Native American Fellowship is trusting God to bring the indigenous people of the U.S. — all 574 tribes — into that heavenly multitude.

This article appears in the Fall 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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