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Reaching Every One

Comprehensive ministry assists Native Americans in Minnesota.
Daniel L. Pack hadn’t even started serving the Lord yet when he began to feel compassion for Native Americans.

In 1995, Pack, now a missionary candidate with U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries, traveled to Wounded Knee in South Dakota’s Black Hills with a friend interested in Native culture. He sensed a heaviness as he learned about the Wounded Knee massacre and other tragic elements of Dakota and Ojibwe history.

Pack didn’t respond to those concerns right away. His lifestyle at the time didn’t include God — until a frightening car fire got his attention. After a narrow escape, he sought God’s direction in changing his life. He also felt led to pray for Native Americans. While assisting with youth ministry at Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois, Pack helped lead a mission trip to the White River Apache reservation in Arizona, which helped confirm his calling to ministry.

For training, Pack enrolled at North Central University in Minneapolis. The city has the highest concentrated urban Native American population in the United States, and Pack’s school housing providentially landed him in a high-percentage neighborhood. Two key connections happened. First, he met a local pastor, Ryan O’Leary, at a church ministries day on campus. At Indian Fellowship Assembly, he also met Erin Buzzell, another student who had been praying about ways to serve broken people.

Pack eventually became the church’s bivocational pastor. He and Erin married in 2007 and have three children, Elise, 10, Jacob, 8, and Charlie, 4. By 2017, however, they realized they needed a greater commitment of time and resources to effectively meet the tremendous needs of the community. They determined to become full-time missionaries and expand the church’s Akina Kids’ Club to focus on reaching school-aged children and their families. The former church building now houses Akina Minneapolis. Akina, the Ojibwe word for all, inspired the ministry goal of “Reaching Every One.”

Needs are great in and around the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Little Earth of United Tribes, 220 units in three square blocks with an average of two children per unit. Although the area offers nearby Native art galleries, tribal offices, and an event center, it also has high suicide rates and the city’s lowest high-school graduation percentage. The 61 percent single-mother population is much higher than the HUD average of 38 percent. Children grow up with historical trauma passed down to them, as well as personal trauma in their homes. Opioid use is at epidemic proportions. Funerals due to alcohol or drug-related incidence are a regular occurrence.

To address these trends, the Akina ministry approach emphasizes mentorship and positive connections for children and youth. Tuesday and Thursday dinners are served family style, with small group leaders hosting tables. On Thursdays, a group program gives a safe place to connect through games and activities, and on Tuesdays, discipleship and literacy are combined in Minogi, the Ojibwe word for “he/she grows well.” Coordinated by the 37-year-old Erin, a trained teacher, the literacy program incorporates Bible teaching. Practical skills such as gardening also are taught. Although some activities had to be altered this year due to COVID-19 concerns, there are typically summer camp opportunities, including an arts camp.

Even during pandemic shutdowns, Akina has been able to minister, delivering food packages and lessons to homes. “It was important to continue building relationships in the community,” says Dan, 48.

Mentors and volunteers come from the home church the Packs attended, Emmanuel Christian Center Assembly of God Spring Lake Park campus, and several other area churches. North Central University is another source for volunteers. Church participation in the ministry contributes to another Akina goal: helping promote healing between Native and non-Native people, who have historically remained separated.

“Dan and Erin Pack are impacting a community of young Native Americans with a message of hope in a time when it is needed the most,” says Ben D. Breit, chief of staff at Emmanuel Spring Lake Park. “They are helping young men and women realize the incredible potential they have in Christ. As a church, we are thankful that we get to partner with them.”

Because autumn U.S. Missions commissioning activities have been canceled due to COVID-19, the couple’s goals include appointed missionary status by April 2021. In the meantime, they are seeing exciting results, including two recent baptisms.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.