When you support Native American Ministries Sunday, you equip seminary students who will honor and celebrate Native American culture in their ministries. You empower congregations that find fresh, new ways to minister to their communities with Christ’s love. This podcast introduces you to people who benefit from this special day. In today’s episode, we’re pleased to introduce the Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell.
00:23 // Rich welcomes Chebon to the show.
00:57 // Chebon talks about his role with Native American and indigenous ministries.
01:51 // Chebon tells us how receiving a scholarship through Native American Ministries Sunday helped him focus on ministry.
02:50 // Chebon talks about the likelihood of not completing seminary had he not received the scholarship.
03:35 // Chebon talks about his seminary training.
04:10 // Chebon talks about the importance for churches to engage in Native American Ministries Sunday.
05:40 // Chebon tells us the history of Native American Ministries Sunday.
07:30 // Chebon talks about overcoming the challenges that Native Americans face.
10:00 // Chebon offers advice to anyone wanting to become involved with Native American and indigenous ministries.
Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the podcast. I’m super excited to have you here today as we count down to Native American Ministries Sunday, a really special Sunday, an important Sunday in our annual calendar. We’re super excited to have Chebon Kernell with us today, welcome to the show today.
Chebon – It’s good to be here. I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to talk about some of the work of Native American ministries and of course the Special Sunday.
Rich – Nice. Well you are the Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries, that’s a big title, that sounds super important.
Chebon – It is and sometimes I avoid saying it because it distracts.
Rich – With the General Board of Global Ministries obviously. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that role and kind of give us a bit of the Chebon story, tell us your story.
Chebon – Okay, as you know I work for Global Ministries and a lot of what I do is probably centering around social justice and I do a lot of education on the needs of the Native American community. Some of that’s internally with the general agency at Global Ministries, but it’s also helping some of our annual conferences engage with Native people in their area. Then also there’s some administrative portions of that job description. I help to oversee some of the funds that are given for Native American Ministries Sunday. I really try to go into our constituency and let them know that there’s this grant opportunity that exists. Some of our churches don’t realize that that opportunity is there.
Rich – Nice. Now are you a recipient, obviously today you’re helping distribute some of those funds, but you’re also a recipient of some of these funds, is that correct?
Chebon – That is correct, now I have to go way back but early on, and this is probably around ten years ago maybe, I was an award recipient for the seminary award, a scholarship.
Rich – Okay, very cool.
Chebon – I went and prepared for fulltime ministry that I received, I believe for, maybe four consecutive years, a scholarship that transformed my life. It really removed the burden of having to pay for tuition fees, travel expenses, all of that from my consciousness and I could focus on bettering myself in ministry. So yes, it was a long time ago but I am a recipient of those awards that were given.
Rich – Now how important would you say that this kind of award was to you personally, to impacting your ministry today? What difference did that make in helping you with education, to then ultimately obviously have you serve in the area you serve today?
Chebon – In the words that I use was it transformed my opportunity because I really believe that, even right now, had I not had that opportunity to have that type of funding, I would be embedded in some form or fashion, paying off the fees, mainly the tuition, and for me located here in Central Oklahoma, I had to travel a distance. So all of that, it would have just added up in expenses, and to be honest, I’m not sure that I would have been able to survive all of those challenges, all of those expenses, and there’s a high likelihood that I may not have completed seminary. So I’m just thankful that all of that was removed because of that scholarship.
Rich – Very cool. Now where did you go to seminary?
Chebon – I actually went to, now I do get some harassment from my Methodist [Inaudible: 00:03:38], I did go through a Disciples of Christ run seminary, a theological seminary, which I’m very proud of, very wonderful colleagues and even at the time, Methodist outnumbered the Disciples of Christ.
Rich – That’s great, that’s fantastic. Why is it important for churches, who may be listening in today, church leaders who are listening in, to support Native American Ministries Sunday? Why is it important to support this offering?
Chebon – It is vital that in some form or fashion we compel our sister churches to support this date because for many of our congregation, some of our new fellowships, Native American, this is the only kind of funding that they receive. So really it’s the life blood of so many of our ministries. We have some of our churches engaging in children’s ministry to Native American boarding schools here in Oklahoma, they have been a recipient of one of these grants. Then we also have another one where we are sending seed money, we have granted them seed money for a new fellowship start. So instead of closing Native American churches, which is the common kind of denominator in churches, they are starting a new church.
Rich – Very cool.
Chebon – So this fund is helping them to get off the ground. So I think it’s so vital that sometimes, this is the only funding that they get that’s internal, so very vital and the way we look at that is that we hopefully, we kind of define it as a partnership between the Native community and the relative across The United Methodist Church. So I really think, if some of our churches could understand how vital and important that is for the livelihood of ministries.
Rich – Very cool. Do you know the history of Native American Ministries Sunday, where it was started and how it came about today?
Chebon – Now, I do know some of the history. This goes all the way back to the 1980s. I know I’m dating myself but I was in my early teens, maybe even pre-teens. Initially the day was called Native American Awareness Sunday.
Rich – Okay.
Chebon – It was really a component just to help our denomination to just recognize the presence of Native American people. As time went on that notion was kind of challenged to say, “Well we’re more than just … you just don’t notice us. We’re an active … we’re living and thriving.”
Rich – Right.
Chebon – So it evolved 90s into today, where now it’s more, how can you partner with us in ministry? And that request is there because within the Native American communities you see so many challenges. Some of the figures go up into 25% to 30% of our Native American communities that are under the poverty threshold, so imagine how some of our areas like this are very challenging and it becomes very difficult to function that way. So that’s where we said, well this grant opportunity is a way for other churches to help us and walk beside us, not just to receive a handout but to be a partner in the ministry.
Rich – There’s a wide variety of Native ministries that are within our community that are serving different kinds of churches and all different kinds of ministries, even today I appreciate you’ve kind of given us a sneak peek into a number of different ones of them, but what would you say, are there some kind of common traits or kind of common issues that you see Native American ministries across our movement, looking to tackle or to help with?
Chebon – I think we have some similar, I don’t know what to call it, just for lack of a better term, poverty issues that some of the non-Native ministries see as well and that’s in terms of just relevance. What we see in terms of the practice of the church is a form of Christianity that was really first indoctrinated in our communities, probably with the first generation of missionaries that came here. During that time you might say, “Well it wasn’t really our socially justice minded ministry,” but what we see first and foremost, is that that kind of understanding that came from the missionaries was more a doctrine of obedience.
So as one was converted to Christianity that was it, you know teaching on discipleship, there was little teaching on what does it mean to be active in representing God and Jesus in life.
So that’s something that we’re really trying to get our communities to understand today, is that with all of the social elements that Native American communities face, there is more than enough avenues for entry, we’re active in transforming the world around us. So that’s really what we’re convincing churches that it’s more than just a worship service on Sunday morning, it’s your life when you go out and how do you encounter your children, how do you encounter your elders, how do you stand up for the women of our community?
In Native American communities right now the figures are scary in that around 50% of our indigenous women on this continent have suffered some form of violence in their lifetime. What I ask is, how do we empower the women of our community, how do we, as people of faith, be the ones standing up saying this is [Inaudible: 00:09:21].
Rich – Right.
Chebon – So we’re talking all kinds of things and that’s really the challenge that we have, it’s how do we teach that to our churches, that it’s more than just a static way of believing, it’s a faith that compels us to action.
Rich – Absolutely. If someone’s listening in today and they say, “I want to be more involved, I want to be more engaged with Native American and indigenous ministries,” how could they plug in? Maybe they’re a church leader, maybe they’re an individual, maybe they’re someone in a church, how could they plug in, what would that look like for them?
Chebon – The first thing is, I would check with their local annual conference and all of our annual conferences are requested to have a Committee on Native American Ministries.
Rich – Okay.
Chebon – That is a committee that is built up of the local leadership of areas, and here’s the difficult part, because not all of our annual conferences have them.
Rich – Okay.
Chebon – So what I would say is it’s definitely a good thing to ask a couple of questions, “Well, why don’t we?” you know, in every state in the United States.
Rich – Yeah.
Chebon – So what I’ve asked all of our denominations is that maybe if we don’t have a Native American church, or a Native American fellowship, then why aren’t we in some type of relationship with that community? We should be, at least in our… “Oh there’s a health plan down the road,” or “Oh there’s a resource center, library or some kind of education center down the road,” you know to access those. But I think the first and foremost thing is to call our annual conference because a lot of them do have a Committee on Native American Ministries.
Then the second portion, we do have people across the connection, such as myself and my office, the Native American Comprehensive Plan, the Native American International Caucus, who does a lot of social justice work.
Then, of course, what a lot of people describe as the heart of Native American ministries, the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. We have from time to time posted educational events within their boundaries, so that people can be educated on some of the challenges of the ministry and also the things that Native churches are doing today.
Rich – Very cool. Well I appreciate you being on the show today, Chebon. It’s been great to have you and give people a taste of your ministry and yourself. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners as they’re tuning in today?
Chebon – The last thing is this, anything from the smallest to the biggest of actions, everything is appreciated. In the United States today, Native American people only make up 1% of the population, so I think when we engage in advocacy, when we engage in just supporting Native American Ministries Sunday, it’s so vital to have partnerships with the non-Native community in our sister churches across the connection. So from any, just raising the awareness in our local church, to supporting the Special Sunday, whatever it may be, we’ll always help and it is appreciated.
Rich – Nice. Thank you so much, Chebon, for being on the show today. I really appreciate your ministry. Thank you for taking time out, I know you’re busy and I appreciate you taking some time with us today.
Chebon – No problem, I sure do appreciate the invitation, thank you.
Rich – Thank you so much.