A deeply wounded people. An embattled team of God's warriors. A promise in the sky.
Those are "headlines" from On Eagles' Wings challenging rescue mission to the Tomasa people. A people who have been on our hearts for a long time - but where the door has opened only this year.
On night 1 on their first rez, the team had battled the discouragement of literally no one there when they started (that ultimately changed, and there was a great response). On night 1 with the Tomasas, they battled being overwhelmed by too many people!
The "battlefield" (basketball court) is a beautiful tribal facility. The good news is that when the team arrived, they found lots of ball players already there - usually some of the most influential people on a rez. The bad news was they had basically taken over half the court for a night of hard core hoops. Creating an invisible "basketball wall" at midcourt between the ballers and the warriors.
The Tomasas carry some deep wounds from the past - from racism, rejection and injustice. On a rez, where there's pain there's drugs. And more and more Tomasa young people are speeding down that deadly road.
But the basketball wall was going make this a tough night 1 to begin to break through. With the strong male presence, there weren't many women for our women to talk to. And when basketball is your identity, you play with fierce intensity. For hours on end.
You could see it when our guys tried to connect with some of the players. The wall remained. You could see it as two warriors shared their Hope Stories. The OEW half of the court listened intently while the ballers just kept driving, shooting andrebounding.
In our vehicle, we prayed fervently that the wall would be broken. And when Luke (Apache) began his story of abuse and life-wrecking choices, one-by-one the ballers suddenly stopped dribbling the ball for the first time and turned and listened to a clear presentation of the Good News of Jesus. It was as if Jesus had turned and said to them, "Peace be still!"
On the OEW end of the court, one young woman was listening intently to a Hope Story of a warrior who was sexually abused, who turned to promiscuity in her pain and shame. Only to ultimately find in Jesus the "living water" that healed her soul and satisfied her heart.
That Hope Story opened up a conversation for Mindy (Navajo) with a local girl who said, "It's very hard for me to be in this park." The last time she was there, she was sexually abused. But she came to see this team - and left with that "living water" from Jesus.
Night 2, storms filled the weather radar. So many times, God has answered our prayers by literally stopping or redirecting a storm around an OEW event. Not this time. Our God, whose ways are higher than our ways, sent the storms our way, causing us to call the event due to weather - for the first time any of our veterans could remember.
The warriors had prayed hard for a break in the weather. They were poised to rescue that night. Encouragement was needed. And there it was. In the sky. The most vivid, most complete, longest-lasting rainbow I've ever seen in my life!
We all stood in awe of this promise in the sky! God was saying in cosmic color, "I'm here...I'm with you...I love you."
That set the stage for a final night when, unlike night 1, all the basketball stopped every time there was a Hope Story. Total attention. Like Mindy's. Who concluded by saying, "Jesus can break down that wall of pain in your heart. Two weeks before I found Jesus, I almost attempted suicide because my pain was so great. Without Jesus, I would not be here."
At wrapup time, once again, one of those basketball players was one of the first to walk forward at the invitation. Finally, a breakthrough. At center court. In personal conversations.
And once again, these warriors, forged in the crucible of so much pain, have demonstrated the fighters they are. And the God they love has again shown them His smile and His glory. Painted in the sky.