Plains Cree member Reggie Rabbit grew up in a Christian group home in Western Canada, but wandered from his faith as a teenager.
“I got lost and forgot my God and turned away from Him,” he said. Eventually, Reggie was so distraught that he attempted suicide and was admitted to a mental institution.
“Then I remembered how good it was when I served the Lord. I cried out to Him and asked for help. And God was faithful.”
One week after Reggie’s prayer, pastor and Mission to the World (MTW) church planter Marcus Toole appeared in his life and began mentoring him. Now—five years later—the 27-year-old is involved in ministry to the Plains Cree people alongside Toole at Jesus Church, established in 2004 by MTW and the Western Canada Presbytery (PCA).
Pushing Past Persecution
“Early on, I realized it was important to start a church on the reservation instead of in the nearby urban area of Edmonton,” said Toole of Jesus Church, which is located within Hobbema, an area that encompasses four First Nations reserves (called Native American reservations in the U.S.). “We needed to be on their turf. Right now, we’re doing lots of ministry with gang members and those involved with drugs.”
Some 60 people now consider Jesus Church their home, with 25-30 attending services each Sunday.
“It costs people something to choose Christianity here,” he says. “Coming to church is a big political statement in their community and there’s lots of persecution. So there’s a real honesty here that often isn’t present in the white community. It makes ministry here very rewarding.”
One kind of persecution Christians face in Hobbema is the practice of witchcraft, commonly called “bad medicine” by the Cree. “The traditional Cree religion is very strong here,” said Toole, explaining that it centers around manipulating the spirit world through medicine. “People are afraid to become Christians not only because their families will reject them, but also out of fear that ‘bad medicine’ will be put on them.”
Reggie Rabbit says it bluntly. “Witchcraft is real here, just like in Africa. Many whites can’t comprehend it, but it’s a strong presence.”
He has seen God work in amazing ways, however. “Once I was cursed by a group of local men who forced me to drink a potion they had concocted. But soon after, I learned that all of these men and their wives and children vomited and became very ill, while I was fine. We need to keep praying, fasting, and asking the Lord to break the stronghold of the enemy here.”
“The potion was probably an attempt at mind control to cause Reggie to snap out of being a Christian,” said Toole. “It scared him so bad that it almost worked. But when all the people involved got sick, Reggie was greatly encouraged that the Lord is stronger than bad medicine. It takes time for people to learn this lesson.”
Persecution can also occur when gang members and their family members are threatened with physical harm because of their faith in Christ. “To leave a gang at a minimum means being beaten up,” said Toole. “One top gang leader here told me that if he became a Christian he would be killed. I told him: ‘Jesus said … he who will save his life will lose it, and he who would lose his life for Christ’s sake will gain it.’ But the man never became a Christian on account of fear of persecution.”
Mobilizing Missionaries for Ministry
“Our long-term goal is to involve more churches in ministry to Jesus Church in Hobbema,” said Dave Krueger, project administrator for Native American/First Nations with Mission to the World. “As with all missions projects, it’s about developing trust and building relationships. Mercy ministry is a great way to show Christ’s love.”
Toole says that the greatest need right now is for more people to help in ministry in Hobbema, including interns, short-term missions teams, or two-year missionaries.
“We could use counselors, musicians, construction help, you name it,” said Toole. “We’d eventually like to extend our ministry to reach other nearby reservations and Native American communities.”
To learn more about Jesus Church and the work in Hobbema, contact Dave Krueger at email@example.com.