People don’t grow into mature Christians until they serve others, says American Indian pastor and ministry leader Bruce Plummer.
“I just believe serving people first is so critical when you want to share the Gospel with them,” Plummer says. “You can tell people all day long you love them but until you show them, they’re not going to hear you. It’s a core belief I have.”
In his multifaceted ministry, he invites mission teams to come to Montana to serve with Montana Indian Ministries: picking up trash and handing out water and coffee in four weeks of powwow ministry, five weeks of Indian camp ministry for children and youth, and construction/maintenance/mercy ministry to people on the reservation.
Plummer, of Sioux, Assiniboine, and Cree heritage, also takes mission teams from four Montana reservations to do similar ministries elsewhere in the United States, Mexico, Central America, Australia, and the Philippines.
In addition, he started and currently pastors Frybread Fellowship on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, and another church of the same name in Great Falls, where urban Indians live.
Plummer also helps train tribal men to lead their families through the Fatherhood is Sacred ministry; in ministering to American Indians by leading them through grief and shame; and in providing training for Native Americans in chaplaincy so they can be certified to minister to tribal people in non-reservation hospitals. On Friday nights in the summer, he shows family-friendly films on the outside wall of the church building.
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“I’m constantly trying to figure out how to effectively reach our people,” Plummer says. “In serving their social problems, then I can share what Christ has done for them and what God can do for them.
“My job,” Plummer continued, “is to take the indigenous people, who already believe in the Creator, from Genesis 1—In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth—to John 1—In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God—and I have to do it in a culturally contextually relevant way.”
Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, told SBC Life he is “grateful for all Bruce is doing” because “the needs are tremendous and the challenges, daunting.”
When Plummer became a Christian at age twenty-one and God didn’t instantly turn his skin white, he realized it was okay to be Indian. That was contrary to his reservation upbringing and the stories told by his father and others of that generation, most of whom had been taken from their homes to be “civilized” in boarding schools.
Realizing God loved the Indian he was, Plummer began to rejoice in his Indian culture. Today he wears Native attire, prepares Native meals, sings Native songs, plays Native drums, participates in Native sweat lodges and powwows, and tells American Indians it’s okay to be the person God created them to be.
“Bruce—Chief Geshka Wamni Tanga—is a follower of Jesus who can serve his Savior without abandoning the culture into which God chose to place him,” Pastor Lenny Loe, of Georgia, says. “He is honored by his people by being recognized as a chief, a tribal elder, a pastor, and a man of God.”
Paul Ragsdale, an outreach leader at Houston’s First Baptist Church, noted the effectiveness of Plummer’s ministry.
“When we began helping Pastor Bruce in 2008, there were probably not five hundred evangelical, Bible-believing, church-going Indians in Montana,” Ragsdale told SBC Life. “Today, there is a great percentage—at least 25 percent—of the Fort Belknap Reservation who know Jesus as their Savior.”
More than 2,400 Indians in the last fifteen years of Montana Indian Ministries have made a profession of faith, Plummer said.
“We have several young men and women who have felt called to serve in the ministry—many now are in college and serving in various ways with their home churches,” Plummer said. “Those who have grown up on the reservation and are answering the call have overcome incredible odds and are genuine miracles in the making.”
Those “incredible odds” include a pervading sense of hopelessness because of chronic joblessness, inadequate health care, and unrelenting poverty that leads to many forms of abuse, broken families, various addictions, and loss of pride in their identity and heritage, Plummer said.
Under a banner of “One Earth, One People, One God,” Montana Indian Ministries works with its partners to share the Gospel with Montana’s eleven tribes of American Indians on seven reservations and in the state’s urban areas.
“God has gifted Bruce with a culturally-relevant vision to reach his people with the Gospel while others have been largely unsuccessful,” Eric Brown, missions pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas, says. “It is obvious that Bruce holds tight to what Southern Baptists believe but more important, what the Bible says.
“The darkness where Bruce lives makes the ministry even more difficult,” Brown continued. “He deals with hopelessness in his people, men and women that do not expect to live past their fifties. Montana Indian Ministries has been a driving force to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a guarded people who feel secluded and forgotten.”
Ministry partners financially support the work.
“I don’t charge for anything, for powwows or camp, one of which has three hundred kids,” Plummer said. “If we’re obedient, [God] will take care of everything else. I’m trusting God completely for everything: for the air I breathe, the food I eat, and every time I get in the shower I say, ‘Thank you God for the hot shower.’”
When God told him to move into full-time ministry on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation—previously he was pastoring three churches and working as the manager of a feed store and fuel station—God also told him to pick up trash, Plummer said. Plummer knew that meant God wanted him to go to powwows, a type of Native festival that can draw four thousand to fifteen thousand participants for a four- to eight-day event.
Some say going to powwows, dancing, drumming (said to invoke Native spirits), and going to sweat lodges (a place of prayer for American Indians) are things Christians should not do. Plummer says he keeps his focus on the God He knows from personal experience and the Bible.
The stumbling block in reaching American Indians is that they know there is a Creator; they just don’t know who He is, Plummer says, “That’s my calling, to tell them.”
– Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press