The 2022 Indian Falls Creek in Ada, Oklahoma, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the ministry with prayer, worship and preaching, with leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention and Oklahoma Baptists in attendance.
More than 2,100 Native Americans from tribes across North America assembled at the family camp that was founded in 1947.
The event, held July 31–Aug. 4, included morning classes for all ages, morning and evening worship, recreation and special activities. Highlights included a Veterans Recognition Ceremony, Pastors’ Wives Fellowship, and baptism services at the creek.
The camp also featured a historical display of photos and included times of sharing memories from more than seven decades of the camp history.
Evening worship singing was led by worship band 1Nation, and preaching was led by camp pastor Jay Mule, who is pastor of Chief Cornerstone Baptist Church, Geary, and director of missions in Cheyenne Arapaho Association.
Historic visit, SBC resolution
This year’s IFC also featured another historic event. A sitting SBC President visited the camp for the first time.
Bart Barber, who was elected as president by Southern Baptists at the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in June, participated in the camp on Aug. 1.
After touring the Falls Creek campgrounds and meeting with pastors, Barber spoke in the evening assembly.
“We love the churches of Indian Falls Creek,” he told the crowd. “They are an important part of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Barber addressed a resolution that was adopted by SBC messengers in June.
Known as Resolution 4 and titled “On Religious Liberty, Forced Conversion and the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report,” the resolution formerly decried the forced assimilation and conversion of Native peoples.
Religious liberty and Baptists
Barber stated that religious liberty has a long history among Baptists.
Recalling the ministry of Roger Williams, a Baptist pioneer who founded the First Baptist Church of Rhode Island, Barber said Rogers believed Native peoples “deserved to have the opportunity to hear the gospel, to decide whether they believed the gospel, and to make their own choice without repercussion from men as to whether they would or would not follow the gospel.”
Barber introduced Mike Keahbone, pastor First Baptist Church, Lawton, who served on the 2022 SBC Resolutions Committee with Barber and helped draft the resolution.
Keahbone spoke about the resolution during the evening assembly, and he mentioned his own family’s experience, remembering a great uncle who was a victim of the abusive practices of forced assimilation.
“He was in the boarding schools that people talk about in this report,” Keahbone said.
“His boarding school was Fort Sill Indian School. I remember growing up, hearing how he was punished for speaking his native language, for speaking Comanche,” he noted. “He was punished severely. And then, years later, he would become a soldier. He was a Code Talker and would use the same language he was punished for speaking in school to help turn the tide in World War II.”
Keahbone read aloud the 475-word resolution that encourages Southern Baptists to resolve to “stand against forced conversions and distorted missiological practices as contrary to our distinctive beliefs as Baptists in religious liberty and soul-freedom (The Baptist Faith & Message, Article XVII).”
The reading of the resolution was met with thunderous applause from those in attendance.
Victor Cope, IFC executive director, spoke passionately against the forced conversion tactics imposed on Native Americans.
“We are not going to stand for it anymore,” he said of Native peoples being forced to assimilate against their wills. “I am so proud that (at the SBC annual meeting) we took a stand as a convention (of Southern Baptists), as a state convention and all of (Native believers).”
Cope also spoke about the need for contextualized gospel witness among Native peoples in North America.
He then led a blanketing ceremony, where honorees were wrapped in blankets with traditional native patterns woven in and prayed for by the IFC assembly, honoring Keahbone, Barber and Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer for Oklahoma Baptists.