On Wednesdays at 7 p.m. EST, an average of 15 people arrive at Northland United Methodist Church, 1157 Northlawn St. NE in Grand Rapids, to worship the Lord in a Native American contextual ministry known as 4Fires. About 20 minutes later, people from across the nation and around the world join them without walking into the church.
The reason the number of people hearing the Bible study mushrooms is because of live video streaming Facebook makes possible. But it gets better.
Another 200 to 300 will hear Mike Peters' sermons after they're posted on his Facebook page, which can be found online. People must first "friend" request Peters in order to watch his online messages.
Peters is the executive director of Base Camp Urban Outreach, which includes an urban ministry to children called Base Camp and, in the case of video streaming, 4Fires, of which Peters is the Ogimaw, or leader.
And it's not just the number of people hopping online that's noteworthy, said Peters. It's who they are: Native Americans who are reluctant to attend a Christian church because it still represents a "white man's" religion that historically has mistreated American Indians. But, adds Peters, they'll listen to a sermon in the comfort and privacy of their homes.
"We have Natives watching that span all the way to Seattle, Washington," said Peters. "I've had people in the Philippines watching us. We're reaching out, because of technology, to a mass of people who are wondering how we contextualize our Native sacred ways with Christianity. They're getting teachings from the Bible and seeing a common denominator from all cultures.
"I'm getting older, and I can't be everywhere, but we can reach Natives who will not step into a church but are curious about what we are doing."
Helping to fulfill the Great Commission
Another reason for the good news is geographical borders do not shackle Facebook video streaming, nor does it require Peters to pay travel expenses, yet he still is helping to fulfill the Great Commission.
"We're instructed by the Great Commission to go out which is the opposite of in," said Peters. "Churches today are inward focus and think they'll come to us. Jesus says, 'No, we're to go to them.'"
Another gratifying reason for video streaming his messages is people ask him follow-up questions via Facebook messages.
Technology increases outreach
"So through technology, we're adding the outreach and the mission of spreading the Gospel all the while it's low in cost," added Peters. "I can't go up to northern Canada because you can't fly in because there's not roads but online people can grab a cup of coffee and just enjoy a good Bible study."
Whether a person is Native American or not, Peters also hopes his Bible studies can build a bridge of commonality the Lord and tradition make possible.
"We're reaching into the traditional cultures and finding there's not a lot of difference as we look at the seven characters of the Holy Spirit versus the seven teachings of the Grandfathers," said Peters. "The traditional teachings the Creator has given to the Anishnabe is to teach them what is important so that they know how to live."
Seven Grandfathers teachings
The Seven Grandfathers are traditional teachings on Love, Humility, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, Generosity and Respect, according to Peters' website, http://www.4fires.org/. Each of the Grandfathers is a lesson that is viewed as a gift of knowledge for the learning of values and for living by those values.
Except for the third Wednesday, Peters' Bible study is video streamed.
4Fires is the Yashana Lodge that meets on Wednesdays downstairs at Northland United Methodist Church. Yashana is Hebrew for "victory and freedom now."
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 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.
For more information, call (616) 745-8733.
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