We left a piece of our heart here last summer. "A dark cloud of impending death" - that's how the locals described their reservation when On Eagles' Wings arrived last year. Drug overdoses were at an epidemic level - slowly killing a generation of Manolo Indians.
What saddened our hearts even more was that this was among some of the earliest Native Americans to ever hear about Jesus. Long before many other tribes did. But today they are throwing out their history of faith in a passionate attempt to recover their pre-Christian culture. And viewing the Gospel more as an enemy than a friend.
Last year we had three nights in the park where the drug deals happen. Where the sin happens. Where lives are shackled and shattered.
It was our last reservation in our first summer without "Mama Hutch," my precious Karen. And God chose to end that summer with an unforgettable breakthrough on the final night. So many Manolo young people publicly choosing the Jesus-Hope the OEW warriors had so powerfully shared with them.
We had to come back. We have felt so strongly that we had unfinished business here. And we learned that there was a lot of buzz when the Manolos were told "On Eagles' Wings is coming back."
Mark, the Manolo brother who leads our local partner team, stunned us as he welcomed the warriors back. "Last year when you came, there were so many drug deaths in just that year. But since On Eagles' Wings came, we've had only one death all year. Something happened when you guys came!"
Actually, Someone happened! Jesus happened! And now the warriors who had delivered His hope to the Manolos were back to battle for more lives. And to show that Jesus continues to care about these dear people.
And, as we suspected, it was a battle. The enemy does not surrender a stronghold easily. One major weapon - the almost overwhelming smell of weed (marijuana) in the air, right where the warriors were sharing the hope they found in Jesus.
For some of them, it was the smell of chains they had walked away from when they met Jesus. They came to our vehicle, looking stressed, asking Brad or me to pray for them. Some had to leave the "battlefield" for a while as they renewed their strength to resist. It was the strongest, most pervasive drug presence I can remember at any OEW outreach.
One of our most enthusiastic rookies was unnerved by a conversation with a Manolo woman who turned out to be someone regularly in touch with the spirit world. She talks about Jesus. It became increasingly clear that this woman had been sent to try to deceive and confuse one of God's warriors. She failed.
We could only be with the Manolos two nights this time, and the first night turnout was significantly diminished. But it all came down to that one final night.
Our new warriors are stepping up now to share their Hope Stories publicly. Leslie (Seneca/Tuscarora), shared the darkness and depression that almost ended her young life, thanks to the pain inflicted by the abuse and abandonment of an addicted father. But when she talked about the Father she'd found when she found Jesus, she was radiant.
After a passionate final Gospel wrap-up, Matt (Navajo) gave a call to give themselves publicly to the Man who had died publicly on a cross for them. And to declare that they wanted to be part of standing for the Hope of Jesus in their embattled community.
One young man who had come to play basketball stepped forward immediately - "the loudest-mouthed dude here," we were told.
Then the Holy Spirit swept the court! It looked as if virtually everyone on that court had answered the call of Jesus. It was an emotional, powerful, hard-fought victory in Jesus' Name. For anyone who was there, it will be impossible to come here now without remembering that Jesus has been here.
But the victory was not won on that basketball court. It was won that afternoon, before the outreach. As the OEW warriors gathered in small prayer huddles all across the parking lot area where the battle would take place. In Jesus' Name, claiming as holy ground this ground so often used for unholy purposes. And believing God for a life-changing, community-changing breakthrough.
Their prayers were answered.
So were yours.