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Pryor Commitment

Native American pastor in Montana stays faithful during COVID-19.

Jay S. Simpson has spent a lifetime watching God miraculously provide for his family. But when the Crow Nation’s executive branch shut down Mountain Crow Worship Center in Pryor, Montana, nearly a year ago to protect against the novel coronavirus, God took Simpson’s trust to a new level.

Simpson, 64, will celebrate 40 years of marriage with his wife, Marilyn, this year, but two years after their union began, Jay’s alcohol addiction almost destroyed the relationship. After a miraculous trip to Denver to find Marilyn during their separation, Simpson gave his heart to Jesus in 1983, and God delivered him from alcohol.

In 1988, Simpson graduated from Trinity Bible College with a ministerial relations degree, but he struggled to find a pastoral job after moving back home to Montana. For years, Simpson wondered whether he had misunderstood God’s directive to major in ministry.

“It was 20 degrees below zero, and I went outside, looked at the crystal clear stars, and asked God why he sent me to North Dakota to get this degree,” Simpson recalls.

Simpson believes God heard his prayer. In 2006, a pastor from the Crow Nation in Montana called Simpson and asked him to help at the Assemblies of God church in Pryor. After assisting for a year, the pastor asked Simpson, a member of the Crow Nation, to take over as lead pastor.

Simpson, the Native American presbyter for the AG’s Montana Ministry Network, has pastored faithfully for 12 years at Mountain Crow Worship Center.

Former Montana Ministry Network superintendent Alan E. Warneke, 73, says Simpson’s heart for God and the Crow Nation have inspired the church to reach out in the sparsely populated, economically challenged community.

“The church has a positive impact on the Crow Nation largely because of who Jay is and how well he represents the church,” Warneke says. “They’ve done a lot of ministering outside their church, distributing food, youth events, and Jay is really involved in the school and basketball camps.”

One Monday per month, the church partners with two other congregations to distribute canned goods, cereal, milk, bread, clothing, and diapers.

Ministry changed abruptly on March 31, 2020, when the Crow Nation executive branch shut down all schools, businesses, and churches in an effort to protect against the spreading of COVID-19. The restriction orders have remained in effect.

Simpson says Big Horn County, where Pryor is located, has been hit the hardest in Montana. Over 70 people on the reservation have died as a result of the pandemic, while drug abuse and unemployment cause further despair among many residents.

“The opiate problem is terrible, but the meth problem is the worst,” Simpson says. “There is so much hopelessness.”

Because churches remain shuttered, Simpson has responded to the crisis by trying to reach people through other means.

Although he never had live-streamed messages before, Simpson began preaching remotely on Sundays. Currently between 250-300 viewers watch the church’s online service. He says God has taught him peace during the pandemic.

“These 11 months have been a work of the Holy Spirit,” he says. “He's given me peace. He is helping me to bring all my cares to Him.”

Simpson hasn’t received a paycheck from the church since March 2020. Those who are still faithfully giving have paid for the church’s insurance and utilities. Simpson's unemployment benefits expired, but he says God has been sending unexpected checks in the mail and offerings of cash from friends and congregants. A rancher in the area has donated enough beef to fill the family’s freezer.

“We are doing what we can with the limited resources God has blessed us with,” he says. “God is full of mercy and compassion and He has been faithful.”

Rachel Ellis

Rachel Ellis resides in the mountains of West Virginia with her husband, Michael, and two children. She is a graduate of Evangel University and a licensed AG minister, as is her husband. Ellis works as a freelance journalist and artist, and she enjoys helping the people of God tell his story of redemption through the power of the written Word.