"I didn't think I could present the Gospel on my own. And then - like you guys said - I felt God take over."
It was only Tanya's (Hopi) second night as an On Eagles' Wings warrior.
Fresh from our Boot Camp rescue training. And already doing what so many believers never do - explaining the Good News of Jesus to someone who's lost.
In this case, a young woman, desperately in need of hope, on the Sandstone Reservation. That night Tanya experienced the incomparable joy of leading her first person to Christ. On a night when the freshly-minted team of this Summer of Hope saw nearly one-fourth of the Sandstone young people there indicate a commitment to Jesus!
Tanya's come a long way to her first rescue moment. The Hope Story she shared with that girl would break your heart. Ripped from her parents and brothers because of alcoholic and abusive parents, placed in foster care. Tanya first went to alcohol and drugs for relief. Then to bleeding out her pain, cutting her wrists, her arms, her thighs, her stomach. She says, "I felt worthless, useless, unworthy, unloved."
Today all you see is her radiant joy and infectious sweet spirit. From hopeless to contagious hope - that's the story repeated 47 times over in the bold warriors of this year's Summer of Hope.
We were drawn back to this Sandstone Reservation by the hearts of local believers who have prayed for a way to reach their young people. And who are deeply committed to the aggressive follow-up of those who choose Jesus. Their leader is a respected tribal leader who regularly plays ball with some of those they have most wanted to reach.
It was exciting to see these warriors in their white and blue team t-shirts launch out that first afternoon to go house-to-house, inviting people to "check out our events." Then, that night, to see them around that basketball court to make those connections and conversations that would, in many cases, become commitments to Jesus.
The Hope Stories on that court brought almost total silence. But in many personal conversations, many of the Sandstone young people seemed to be evasive, unwilling to engage spiritually. I assured the warriors that people were praying for them all over the country, and even the world. It's discouraging when you're new and people drift away from you. It's encouraging when you know people are praying for you!
Minutes before our final Gospel wrap-up on Night 3, Brent (Nez Perce) shared how "one day I looked in the mirror and I saw my dad and brothers who I didn't want to be." The dad and brothers who had hurt and belittled him mercilessly until he believed them - that he was a mistake. He told about being invited to "this conference" - which happened to be Warrior Leadership Summit. On the way there, he wrote in his journal, "If this doesn't change me, I will go home and take my life."
Instead, he found Life! He found Jesus. And now he fights for young men like him on reservation after reservation. After a night of basketball, pizza and Hope Stories, the moment of truth came. When David (Creek) ended a riveting presentation of the Cross and a risen Savior by inviting those who wanted Jesus to declare that publicly by coming to center court.
The Sandstone young people came from all directions! As our veterans saw God's glory again on a reservation basketball court. And our new warriors saw this moment of breakthrough for the first time.
In the moments after the harvest, the leader of the local follow-up team said, "The first people to step out were the guys who came for basketball - the guys I play ball with. I thought they would be some of the most unlikely to ever do something like this!"
One of the reasons for the breakthrough is people like the older man who told me, "When On Eagles' Wings was just starting in 1992, I began praying that some day you would come here for our young people." And then he wept. What we experienced here at Sandstone was nothing less than an answer to his prayers. And yours. Those prayers will be profoundly needed and spiritually decisive as we head now to eleven more reservations.
For our veteran warriors, this was a reminder of the miracle-working Savior we serve. For our new warriors this was a giant step forward in their walk with Jesus. Warriors like Tanya. Who told us in her Hope Story, "I hope to become the person Jesus created me to be." She's well on her way.
* Names and locations changed for privacy.