An Apache minister asks for prayers as he fights against the traditional religion of his people and proclaims the true gospel.
How would you complete this sentence?
Pray that I . . .
If you knew fellow believers in Jesus who were full of faith and love and you asked them to pray for you, for what would you ask?
Think about it. What’s going on in your life? What need do you have? What is something you want to do? Is there something you’d like to see happen? Anything important? Urgent?
There were some Christians in a city called Colossae. They were grace-saturated and God loving. They were faith full and faithful. They bore so much fruit and showed such a great love to their fellow brothers and sisters that it was becoming known even in far-off places. News of their faith and love even seeped into areas where you wouldn’t think it could reach: a Roman prison 1,300 miles away.
That’s where Paul was, under arrest and in chains. But he knew of the Colossians’ faith because he had heard of their faith. The word had spread. It even reached him.
But did it matter?
It did. By the reports of this faith, Paul was greatly encouraged. He was beaming with thankfulness and joy. Even though Paul did not personally know many of the people in Colossae, he was filled with confidence that he could ask these Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith Christian brothers and sisters to do something important and urgent: pray for him.
It was important, because, well, that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. It’s a matter of life and death. It’s urgent because Paul had only so much time to share the good news.
So Paul makes the bold request: “Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should” (see Colossians 4:2-4).
Pastor Gary’s prayer
This is Pastor Gary Lupe’s request too. And he’s asking you. Even though he doesn’t know everyone reading this article, he knows you are Colossae-like brothers and sisters, people who are strong in Spirit, firm in faith, and ready in prayer.
Maybe you have heard of Gary Lupe. Maybe not. He’s a Native American pastor living on an Apache reservation in Arizona’s White Mountains. After a dark and troubled past, he grew tired and began searching for something more meaningful, returning to the Lutheran church of his youth. Ordained in 2011, he’s attended WELS synod conventions, spoken at Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society’s rallies, and preached at mission festivals. He pastors two congregations, Cibecue and Cedar Creek. And he teaches classes in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS), where he once took classes himself.
But why this request and why now? Because it’s both important and urgent. Important, well, because that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. (Have I mentioned that before?) Urgent because he’s teaching a class in East Fork, Peridot, and Cibecue. The class? Apache Traditional Religion.
To put it mildly, the Apache traditional religion is a controversial issue. It’s divisive. It splits families. It divides congregations. It pits one person against another.
It’s a battleground.
And it’s being waged in full force. Pastor Gary has taken up arms—spiritual ones. He’s done what every Christian is urged to do: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:11,12).
So with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-17), Pastor Gary stands his ground before anyone who will listen.
And some are.
Pastor Gary teaches this class to the Apache in Apache. Not many people do this. Not many can. Pastor Gary is gifted with the Apache language and so much more. He has firsthand experience in the Apache traditional religion (see sidebar); he also has many years of firsthand experience in gospel ministry. He knows the people, and the people know him. He’s got the knowledge to share and the reputation that makes him credible.
That doesn’t mean everyone will listen. In fact, some have walked out of his church and out of his life. It doesn’t mean everyone will attend the class. In fact, many do not.
What it does mean is that Pastor Gary is a target. People have already taken aim with sharp tongues, harsh words, and fine-sounding arguments.
But even such an arsenal as this can’t penetrate the armor of God. In fact, the flaming arrows of the evil one are easily extinguished (Ephesians 6:16).
By teaching this class, Pastor Gary knows that he’s setting himself up to be attacked. He knows because God said he would be attacked. It comes with the territory. Satan doesn’t like Jesus’ forgiveness being clearly proclaimed. He hates the gospel being clearly shared. He despises it when baptisms take place or when Communion is received. He cringes when the gospel truth is being clearly declared and fully believed. It angers him when someone takes a stand on the clear Word of God. Pastor Gary is going against his own culture to speak on this issue.
Since this is the case, Satan, with his own clever schemes, deceptions, and fine-sounding arguments, will try his devil best to dishearten Pastor Gary and stop him.
Hence, the request. It comes humbly but boldly to you. Confident that you will pray. Trusting that God hears and answers your prayer. Believing that the power is not in the one saying the prayer but in the One listening to it and answering it.
“Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should.”
By the way, have you thought of something important and urgent that you’d like someone somewhere to pray about for you?
I don’t know what it is and maybe you still need to think about it more, but just know that your brothers and sisters in Christ would find it an honor to pray for you. Ask them. Here are a few words to start:
Pray that I . . .
More on Apache traditional religion
Pastor Gary Lupe shares more about the Apache traditional religion and how it affects his ministry:
I grew up on the White Mountain Apache reservation and call it home. In my youth my life was one of drinking and doing drugs. Even after living sober from alcohol for nine years and drugs for over five years, my life was still uneasy. The Apache elders had advice: Stop doing all the bad stuff and become responsible.
But what is responsibility on the Apache reservation? I hear about someone doing witchcraft for family gain. I hear of doing certain things out of order according to Apache belief, which will cause your life steps to be out of tune with the spirit world. There are many superstitious beliefs in Apache culture, including a strong belief in curses. An Apache will connect with the spirit world and ask certain individuals to be cursed through witchcraft. An outsider will never understand this way of life, but an Apache who has seen it does.
Now I have become a Christian and have served as a Lutheran minister for more than 10 years. God has a plan for this simple Apache man. It is to preach and teach his Word. The gospel is a good message of what God did to save us. Jesus came into this world to save us from sin, death, and the devil. That is what I preach and teach, nothing added or taken away, but this time it’s in the Apache language. This comes across clearer to an Apache-speaking person. The gospel message preached will make Apaches question their beliefs as taught to them growing up on the Apache reservation.
Apaches always have believed in a higher power. We are a very spiritual people. There will always be someone in our Lutheran church who practices Apache religion and does not want to let go. Do Apaches announce that connection to the spirit world? No! Because what is given to them is sacred and if they talk about it, they will lose the power given to them.
Jesus tells us in Mark 8:34-36: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” I tell my members they must let go even of the idea of who they think their god is from the Apache beliefs. Many Lutheran Apache members will not tolerate this message because it’s becoming too personal to their hanging on to the Apache religion. Some who hear this will sit through the entire Lutheran church service, but as time goes on and the message is repeated, they will leave the Lutheran church.
Pray that I keep proclaiming the gospel message in truth and love. Pray that many Apaches hear the gospel message and come to know Jesus as their personal Savior from sin, death, and the devil.
Learn more about Pastor Gary Lupe’s journey to Christianity at forwardinchrist.net/gary-lupe.
Author: John Holtz
Volume 110, Number 06
Issue: June 2023