By Kim Plummer Krull
Like many a college student, Robin Santos says she felt homesick and lonely when she began classes at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.
But after getting involved with the Haskell LIGHT Campus Ministry, the second-career student, 27, says she “knew that I wanted and needed to be here.”
“Because they’re also Native [American], they know about the same life experiences and are really upfront,” Santos said of the Rev. Will and Patricia Main, Haskell LIGHT Campus Ministry co-directors. “They’ve had their own ups and downs and tell you that God can meet you wherever you’re at.”
Work is underway to share Christ with more Native American students as Lutheran Indian Ministries participates in Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) Laborers For Christ program to build a new campus-ministry center.
Located on the edge of the university campus, the new center ultimately will include 8,600 square feet — quadruple the size of the ranch-style house that has served as the ministry home since the 1970s.
When Sunday worship draws 40 people, “we’re overflowing,” Rev. Main said of the current ministry center.
The new sanctuary will seat 150, an improvement that’s part of the project’s first phase, which is expected to be completed this summer.
Construction is being tackled in two phases to avoid disruption to ministry, Rev. Main says, ensuring that students continue to have a place where they can “hang out and hear the Good News.”
Such outreach is needed. Of the approximately 2.9 million American Indian and Alaska Natives in the United States, less than 5 percent know Jesus as their Savior, according to statistics from the 2010 National Congress of American Indians.
Opening more doors to Christ is the reason Laborers traveled from as far away as Florida to work near a student body of nearly 1,000 Native Americans from federally recognized tribes.
Laborer John Davito, project manager, says he sees “a lot of enthusiasm” for the new campus-ministry center, where Laborers began working last fall until winter weather brought construction to a halt.
“We know the impact this ministry can have on the student population,” said Davito, one of five Laborers serving on the team. Most of the Laborers are living in their RVs, parked at a nearby recreational facility, while they work for the ministry.
After construction resumed this spring, Haskell LIGHT hosted a Native American “honor ceremony” for the Laborers, with drumming and singing by a Native American elder.
“We prayed blessings over them and honored their sacrifice to come and be with us,” said Rev. Main, a member of the Dakota Sioux tribe who completed his pastoral training in 2011 through the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
The pastor said he appreciates Laborers’ willingness to accommodate Native American traditions — including the design of the new Haskell LIGHT chapel.
Unlike the traditional Lutheran church design where the pastor preaches from an elevated pulpit, the chapel is being built so the pastor can speak from a lower position, looking up at worshippers.
“The lower part of the teepee is always the place of honor,” Rev. Main explained.
The new campus-ministry center also will feature state-of-the-art technology, the potential for online distance-learning, including, perhaps on down the road, theological training — an exciting possibility, Rev. Main said, for Native Americans “who have expressed interest in becoming pastors and deaconesses.”
Along with better serving more Haskell Indian Nations students, Main says he sees the new center as an outreach tool. The ministry plans to invite other organizations — from the university and the Lawrence community — to use the enhanced space.
“We want to do some relationship building,” said Rev. Main, who hopes the project’s second phase — a two-story addition with space for fellowship, study and educational and counseling opportunities — will begin later this year, depending on fundraising.
Haskell LIGHT is only one program of Lutheran Indian Ministries, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization which also does outreach on reservations in Washington State and in remote Alaskan villages.
Santos — who also serves as Haskell LIGHT administrative assistant — says the opportunity to worship and also remain true to their Native American heritage is important to students at the university, which was founded in 1884.
Like Pastor Main, she appreciates Laborers’ dedication to ministry — even when ministry may vary from what Laborers know in their own home congregations.
Even though she and other Native American students may “pray and do things a little differently, [Laborers] are not concerned,” Santos said. Laborers “are trusting in God to direct the new center for the betterment of the university and the city of Lawrence.”
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted May 12, 2015