My very first introduction to Native American ministries was a book called “One Church, Many Tribes” by Richard Twiss. At the time, I was 16 and had no idea who this man was, or what I was getting myself into by signing up for a 2 week trip to Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. I knew that God had placed it on my heart, and I had no good explanation for it. I simply had to follow through.
Little did I know how much that book would change my life. Richard Twiss founded Wiconi International in 1997 with his wife, Katherine. Wiconi in Lakota means “life”. This is their heartbeat:
Our aim is to provide education, encouragement and offer practical support to Native American families and communities in creating a preferred future. Historically, Native people have been underrepresented and underserved in mainstream America. Economic, cultural and social barriers continually limit access to viable resources, thus hindering many healthy community change efforts. Wiconi’s primary mission is to empower and serve Native people to experience a desired quality of life and a hope-filled future through authentic relationships and culturally supportive programs. We seek to live and walk among all people in a good way, as we follow the ways of Jesus– affirming, respecting and embracing the God-given cultural realities of Native American and Indigenous people, not rejecting or demonizing these sacred cultural ways.
On this website you will find resources to educate and inspire you to walk among Native American and Indigenous people in a way that reflects the life of Jesus in a culturally relevant and contextual way.
After my first trip to Standing Rock, I returned for three more summers and led a trip through Gordon’s student ministry program to help over our spring break. The partnership/ministry I participated in is largely based on Richard Twiss’ vision for recognition in the church of the many beautiful cultures that God has created. The aim is to allow God to work in our hearts and in our communities to find ways to praise him within the our cultural context. We need to allow for God’s redemption to flow across the Earth, across every tribe and nation – not to eradicate them – but to lift our unique customs, cultures, languages, dances, and songs to the Lord.
As a young white Christian, I need to understand that my theological framework does not dictate who can and can’t worship God. I hope that all I say and do brings glory to God’s work here on Earth, and that my actions and thoughts reflect God’s loving desire to redeem and reconcile His creation to Him. I think that starts with us reconciling to each other, and acknowledging that our Christianity and worship cannot be formulaic and exclusive. This is a cause to which I am deeply committed.
Richard is family, Tiyospaye, to many people I care deeply for in the Lakota community. In a sense, he feels like tiyospaye to me as well. His life, his story, his passion and his love have forever changed me as a young Christian woman.
After suffering a major heart attack on Wednesday evening, Richard was taken off of life support earlier today. I prayed fervently these last few days begging God to let His healing mercies flow through his body and restore the failing organs. I cried to God asking Him to not take away His faithful servant. There is still so much to be done, and for the first time there is a wonderful, caring, dedicated and faithful Native American Theologian becoming prominent in the Modern Church. He has touched so many lives but there are so many more who need to hear him sing, to hear his drums, to hear his heart and humor. I cried to Travis today before I got the news. I don’t want Richard to die. I want him to hold on.
And as much as I know and I firmly believe that God calls us to pray for miraculous things to happen – for impossible healing – I know that He can’t always answer those requests. It has been a struggle in my prayers for Richard because I was praying for peace and healing to happen a certain way. God doesn’t want us to pray like that. He wants to hear the cry of our hearts and our deepest desires. He needs to hear our pleas. But I know that He also wants and needs for us to be open to the way He works. Often times His works come through circumstances that I don’t understand, and look nothing like the outcome I had my heart set on. The healing that had to be done these last few days was in me. I needed to be healed from thinking Richard had to be here to do God’s work. His impact on others will continue his vision, which I know is and was ordained by God.
I spoke with a few friends today. My dear Jessica who moved to Standing Rock to continue working in Native American ministries. To Terry, Richard’s nephew. To Jennifer, the woman who introduced me to Richard, the Jesus Way, and cross-cultural partnership. I talked to my team advisor from college who went on to lead 2 more reservation trips and was able to meet Richard just 10 days ago. I am thankful to have received some messages from friends who knew what an influence Richard was and is to me and my Lakota “family”, both Native and non-Native. I am heartbroken for his family and the communities and friends that are already missing him.
Feeling the loss as I do tonight makes me so thankful that we have a cause, a community and a purpose we love so dearly. I am trying to rejoice in the thought of Richard dancing and singing with eagle feathers in his hair before the throne of God. And He says to Richard, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.