Native American Minister Need
The new leader of the Assemblies of God Native American Fellowship believes the AG is better positioned to reach indigenous peoples with the gospel than other denominations, yet he acknowledges the task is overwhelming.
Mohawk citizen Sakoneseriiosta Brent Maracle succeeded his father, John E. Maracle, as chief/president of the Native American Fellowship, which formed in 1996. Last year, John Maracle, 71, also finished serving as one of the Fellowship’s 21 executive presbyters after 14 years.
The Native American Fellowship is one of two dozen ethnic and language groups in the AG. Maracle has many of the same goals of his father. He wants to see an increase in the number of Native leaders who can start self-governing churches on reservations, territories, urban centers, and elsewhere.
There are 190 Native American churches in the Assemblies of God across American Indian territories and Alaska Native villages in 27 states. Tribes are hardly homogeneous. Native Americans differ in their language, culture, and worldview.
While there are 622 federally recognized Native nations in North America, the Native American Fellowship is only reaching 37 of them.
“We still have a vast majority of Indian nations that are unchurched and not hearing the gospel,” says Maracle. His Native name, Sakoneseriiosta, means “He makes the day good for them.”
Native pastors note that a major obstacle to evangelization is a history among earlier Christian groups proclaiming to Native Americans that their traditions were ungodly.
In addition, Maracle points out that residential and boarding schools established by some faith groups generations ago irreparably harmed Native peoples. Children had to conform to Anglo styles of attire and haircuts. Teachers prohibited Native youth from speaking their own language. Those who resisted often faced beatings.
“The Jesus presented to Native people for hundreds of years was not the real Jesus,” says AG Native pastor Jacob J. Valtierra in Wisconsin. “Missionaries told them their culture was bad and demonic. Most Native people despise Jesus because of this history.”
“My goal is to encourage our young people that you can be Native and still have a relationship with Jesus,” says Maracle, 46.
The other paramount roadblock to growth is a lack of proclaimers. The majority of existing Native church pastors are elderly — some in their 80s — and they have no one on the horizon to replace them.
Maracle is traveling the country engaging young leaders. One avenue is a partnership with Global University to offer bachelor degrees both online and through Native educators in churches. Maracle also is seeking ministers through Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, youth conferences, and Acts 2 Journey connections.
Lloyd Lee, Native American Fellowship treasurer, is a full-blooded Navajo who spent his childhood and youth on the reservation in Arizona. He earned degrees from American Indian College in Phoenix and Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant — where he has pastored since 2000.
Lee laments that relatively few Native American Pentecostals who seek higher education end up in ministry. He leads an intercultural church, New Hope Assembly of God, that is part of the Choctaw Nation in southeastern Oklahoma.
“Our biggest need is pastors,” says Lee, 66. “I’m not sure who is going to take my place.”
In early adulthood, Maracle didn’t seem a likely candidate to enter ministry. Although he found his faith renewed while attending the AG’s Evangel University (where he met his wife, Shana), Maracle went on to earn a master’s degree in government at Harvard University. He subsequently embarked on a 15-year career in Boston as a Fidelity Investments adviser/trader for well-heeled clients.
One day in 2007, as Maracle rode a commuter train to work, he says the Lord told him he needed to pastor. While still working as a lead research manager for a global strategy team at the financial investment company, Maracle obtained ministerial credentials and became a campus pastor at Calvary Christian Church under senior pastor Tim P. Schmidt in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. After ordination in 2011, Maracle left the investing profession and became full-time pastor of Christ Revolution Church in Lexington, Massachusetts.
It isn’t a primarily Native American church; the ethnically diverse congregation draws adherents who are affluent and highly educated from the biotech loop that includes Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University. Shana grew up in Long Island and has a master’s degree in education. The Maracles have six children, ages 21 to 8.
Maracle would like to see more Native Americans such as Valtierra become AG pastors. Valtierra, 42, and his wife, Maria, planted The Gathering Place in Greenfield, Wisconsin, in 2020 with help from the AG’s Church Multiplication Network.
Valtierra’s father, Thomas Valtierra Jr., became the first ordained Native American AG minister in the Minnesota District. Thomas, part of Red Lake Nation (Ojibwe tribe), worked as an evangelist across the U.S. and Canada. Jacob — and his six siblings — often went along in his youth, attending services that stretched late into the night, with manifestations of signs and wonders.
Jacob, the firstborn son, became the first in his family to attend college and he went on to earn a master’s degree, at North Central University. He met Maria, at the AG school in Minneapolis, where he also received his bachelor’s degree. The couple now have four children.
After graduating, Valtierra discovered his life’s calling: ministering to Native people. He began connecting with members of over 30 tribes in the Little Earth housing project, where his brother T.J. still is involved.
“I saw the plight of people in homelessness, poverty, addiction, prostitution, crime, and violence,” Valtierra says. “We felt comfortable in urban ministry.” Valtierra notes that 70% of Native Americans in the U.S. live in metro areas.
While leading The Gathering Place in Greenfield, a Milwaukee suburb. Valtierra presents Jesus as loving and merciful. He incorporates indigenous language, attire, and food at church gatherings.
Native leaders acknowledge there is an acute shortage of church planters. Valtierra believes many Native young people need to be convinced of their capabilities because they don’t see themselves as potential ministry leaders
Nevertheless, Maracle and Valtierra believe the AG is in the best position among denominations to reach out to Native Americans because of its indigenous church model track record.
“I haven’t seen another denominational configuration like the Assemblies of God that allows for a self-governing structure within a voluntary cooperative fellowship,” says Maracle. “When Native people see non-Indians cooperating and taking the lead from a Native, it speaks volumes. It is the reverse to what they’ve been subjected to in history.”
Maracle is grateful for AG pioneers, including his father, in ministry to Native Americans.
“We have a responsibility to make sure the path they’ve laid before us stays clear,” Maracle says. “We are in an age when people are willing to listen. We believe there is an urgency to proclaim that Christ is coming back.”
“With the leadership of Brent Maracle, the AG Native American Fellowship will be able to pass the mantle to younger leaders,” Valtierra declares.
Lead Photo: Brent Maracle is the new leader of the AG's Native American Fellowship.