4Fires Bridges Native American Culture with God, the Creator

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

peters235The sacred herbal blend known as the Knick-Knick symbolizes lifting prayers to God the Creator.White puffs of smoke drift upward as the Rev. Mike Peters uses a white eagle feather to fan the Knick-Knick, a sacred herbal blend of spearmint leaves, red willow bard, sage, sweet grass and the bayberry bush.

The smoldering herbs are a symbol of the prayers sent to the Great Spirit, or in the case of Peters’ ministry, the Holy Spirit.

Peters tells the dozen or so people gathered in a circle that the Knick-Knick and Revelations 8:4 have a symbiotic bond: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God's people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”

“We bring these prayers for healing, for thanksgiving,” said Peters, an ordained minister with Resurrection Life Church. “I am redeeming this ceremony of prayer. As the smoke goes up, the prayers go with them and the Creator’s blessings came down. Those aren’t my words. I redeemed it back because of this verse.”

Simple but not simplistic

It’s a simple explanation. But Peters will quickly add it’s not simplistic.

For too long white European settlers believed their way to worship God was the only valid way. It’s an assumption that remains threaded throughout many churches and denominations still today, said Peters, founder of the contextual ministry he launched in 2007 to Native Americans called 4Fires Ministries.

As a result, white Christians often consider a blend of Native American culture and Christianity as unchristian and pagan, even satanic.

Peters begs to differ.

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4Fires is the Yashana Lodge that meets on Wednesdays downstairs at Northland United Methodist Church, 1157 Northlawn Street in NE Grand Rapids.

Yashana is Hebrew for “victory and freedom now.” There at Northland UMC, the Eastern Woodland traditions are activated in the lives of those who desire to follow Jesus.

A Jesus-filled culture

“4Fires helps Natives find true cultural meaning that’s lined up with the Bible,” Peters said. “I’m not trying to persuade Natives who already are going to church. I want that 95 percent who still hate and aren’t going to church. I want to show them our culture is more Jesus filled than they realize.”

What Peters is referring to is the heinous acts taken against American Indians by the church and the federal government partly because their cultural traditions were far different from the white settlers.

A trail of sorrow

That includes the forced relocation of Native American nations in the United States known today as the Trail of Tears, following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which herded them from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern U.S. to an area west of the Mississippi River that had been designated as Indian Territory.

peters2235The drum is an instrument that honors God.Many suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while going on the route to their destinations. Many died.

Then there are the Indian boarding schools operated by white Christians that sought to strip away American Indians of every vestige of their Native culture and replace it with a culture and language foreign to them. They were forced to wear clothes and cut their hair to resemble the dominant white culture.

It was a soul-crushing experience that many alive still recount today, said Peters. His father for instance was forced to “enroll” in a boarding school that forbade him to speak his native Odawa language. “Peters” is a last name ascribed to his family. “Wasaqum” is their Native name.

“He (Peters’ father) was told God doesn’t understand Odawa,” Peters said. “They burnt my dad’s tongue with a hot coal poker when he did. They told my dad when God made you, He made a mistake and we’re here to correct that mistake.”

For these historical reasons, many Native Americans still consider Christianity a “white man’s” religion, Peters said, and do not want anything to do with it.

Contextual ministry is vital

That’s why it’s vital that 4Fires is a contextual ministry, meaning Native people are discovering they can worship of the triune God from within their Native culture using redeemed cultural expressions like the drum, flute, dance and smoking their prayers.

God the Father, coming to Earth in the form of a human being, is the greatest example of contextualized ministry that ever was, Peters points out. Jesus, who is God, became immersed in the historical, social, religious, linguistic and cultural contexts of the Hebrew people.

Such a ministerial drive doesn’t contain Peters to a single Wednesday gathering at Northlawn UMC. He travels to various states in the Midwest, as well as Canada and Mexico, bringing the contextual message to Native people with an eye on walking the Jesus way through the Native culture.

A new wind blowing

“My comfort zone is people out there who are not in church,” Peters said. “I’m starting to see a new wind of the spirit in Native land. I’m starting to see people get hungry and ask, ‘how to I stay Native American and Christian?’”

Peters has some answers.

It’s for those reasons he obtained his credentials and was the senior pastor of Native American Assembly of God for 10 years.

Today he is the executive Director of Grand Rapids-based Sabaoth Ministries, which includes an urban ministry to children called Base Camp and is the Ogimaw, or leader, of 4Fires Ministries.

Peters is a Little Traverse Bay Band Odawa citizen whose relatives are one of the oldest Native families in Grand Rapids.

His grandfathers included Chief Me-tay-wis and Chief Wahsaquam, his uncle was Chief Isaac Peters. Peters himself is a an ordained third generation minister.

Peters dubbed his ministry 4Fires to reflect the three nations that historically characterize Michigan: Odawa, Ojibwa and Potawatomi. The fourth “fire” is the Holy Spirit.

“I find the Creator loves me the way I am,” Peters said. “He died on the cross so I can be a Native American follower of Jesus. God has a plan for my life and my Native American brothers and sisters. We’re not a mistake. We’re children of God.”

CONNECT

For more information, call (616) 745-8733.

http://www.4fires.org/

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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