29 Summers of Hope. This one was different...
"Muscle memory." You've seen it as you've watched Olympic athletes...when you drive...type on your computer...play a musical instrument. It's "a movement repeated over time that creates long-term muscle memory, eventually allowing it to be performed with little or no conscious effort."
After 29 years of reservation rescue missions with On Eagles' Wings teams, we've developed some strong muscle memory for how to get it done.
This year? Forget muscle memory! A pandemic changed everything. God thrust us into the "new thing" He wanted to show us. Against the backdrop of our mission being more desperately needed than ever.
Everything was hard. Having enough warriors to accomplish our mission. Having the cooks and support staff needed. COVID-safe lodging and eating arrangements. Even having the leaders we needed.
And there, on that stage of human impossibilities, God showed up! And displayed His glory! As evidenced in the two outcomes we work and pray for:
- Lost people reached and rescued with the Gospel.
- Leaders emerging for the work of Christ in Native America.
God amazed us on both fronts!
The Team We Couldn't Build
It was six days before our mission to our first reservation - with only 12 warriors committed. We've never had so few, so late. COVID-related issues and job imperatives had converged to keep some of our best from being able to serve this year.
I found myself urgently praying Joel's ancient prayer: "Bring down Your warriors, Lord!" (Joel 3:11)
He did! By the end of WLS, we had 21 warriors, representing almost that many tribes! Yes, the 2021 team would be one of our smallest - a third less than our 2019 team. But it turned out to be our "Gideon's army" team! Small, but mighty! Our "God of the 11th hour" had done it again!
The Team That Wouldn't Quit
And what a team they were. Some snapshots...
Always on mission...
- From their first night on their first reservation, every warrior - rookie and veteran - was personally connected with a local young person within the first minutes of our first event. It's those personal connections that ultimately become personal commitments to Christ before we leave!
- Over 16 nights of outreach on seven reservations, it was every warrior "all in" - every night! In record-breaking 107-degree heat. Small crowds. Overwhelming crowds. Hard hearts - that they wouldn't give up on. These were truly warriors!
- Sometimes literally running to catch up with someone. Prayer-walking the crowd, looking for their divine assignment. Coming to our vehicle, desperate for prayer, so wanting one they had met to open their heart to Jesus. Going "out with weeping, carrying seed to sow...." Later returning "with rejoicing" over the victory in a lost heart.
Representing Jesus' love with skin on...
- Like Landon, repeatedly carrying cups of water to people in the crowd on a hot night. Or warriors finding the one on the edges, all alone. Or listening as someone they had just met feel safe enough to pour out the never-spoken, dark secrets of their heart.
Passionate in worship...
- I can't remember a team who sang praises to Jesus with such love on their face and passion in their voices. Sometimes I just had to stop singing, just to watch and listen.
Powerful in prayer...
- Gathered around our hosts, praying fervently for these who invited us, who will care for those we reached. Or in prayer huddles, praying for one another and the battles they will face at home.
They were what God's people everywhere need to be!
The Leaders Who Are Hope for Their People
Each night, Brad and I sat in our vehicle, praying. And watching - watching our young team leaders not need us! Changing the game plan as needed, troubleshooting popup emergencies, sensing the crowd and making on-the-spot adjustments in program or strategy.
Somehow this smaller team has revealed an amazing maturity in these leaders - stepping up to boldly and wisely meet every challenge.
One very moving moment - the night we showed the warriors the new video that presents the vision for the On Eagles' Wings Leadership Center, soon to be built on our campus. Without knowing it, some of these battle-tested young heroes were watching their future.
God's Voices in the Night
"I never imagined there could be anything that would give me the joy and fulfillment I feel when I'm preaching the Gospel. But there is. Watching you guys do it!" I was talking to Dillon (Navajo) and Greg (Creek), the two young communicators who were our Gospel presenters all summer - presenting the Gospel and extending the public invitation.
Young warriors in whom I've been privileged to invest some of my lifetime of Gospel ministry. Who have emerged this summer as powerful Native evangelists who will be doing it long after I'm with Jesus. Coming up behind them are Gospel-presenters like Travis (Cherokee) and Carrie (Navajo), who are rapidly growing into powerful messengers, as well.
Young and gifted Native leaders. Young and powerful Native evangelists. Emerging in this summer of the small team that proved to be so big.
They are what hope for Native America looks like.
A Trail of Light After a Long, Dark Night
We saw it on every reservation this summer - the emotional toll the pandemic has exacted on Native young people, already starved for hope.
But, thank God, we saw lights going on everywhere we went this summer. With a smaller team and less reservations than other years, 345 Native young people that we know chose Jesus this summer - plus those who just quietly prayed with one of our speakers.
We saw unforgettable Jesus victories at center court, as those the warriors had fought for, publicly declared their new beginning with Jesus. We saw our hosts, COVID-battered leaders who fight year-round for their young people, with new vision and new hope. And we saw tomorrow's Native leaders emerging before our eyes. And we saw the breakthroughs you prayed for. Thank you!
No Summer of Hope has ever been this hard. But no Summer of Hope has ever been so permeated with the power and presence of our Jesus. It has opened our eyes to a future more powerful, more supernatural than anything we've seen before.
We have seen His glory. And we - and this holy movement we call On Eagles' Wings - will never be the same.
* Names and locations changed for privacy.