1. The year was 1842, and a Belgian Jesuit Priest named Pierre-Jean Desmet made contact with the people of a Salish-speaking Tribe who called themselves the Scheechu-Umsh (The People Found Here); most likely meeting with them at a tribal gathering spot at the mouth of the Spokane River as it emerged from a large inland lake now called Lake Coeur d’Alene; a spot which later became a US Army Fort grounds and after that a 2-year college.
a. The tribe had met white European-descended people before: a delegation went south in 1806 to meet Lewis & Clark on their return journey; French fur traders had been among them since the early 1800’s (creating a French word to describe their trading approach as ‘sharp tongued’ or ‘heart of an awl’ – the ‘Coeur d’Alenes’).
b. And they had heard from Iroquois trappers about a new religion called Christianity.
c. But this was the first time someone had come for the express purpose of bringing them the message that Jesus Christ had died on the cross for them, and given them the invitation to follow Him.
d. They had met the first missionary to come to Coeur d’Alene.
2. But to tell this story we need to back up about 70 years to a Schitsu’Umsh Chief named Circling Raven, who, before any white man had come, had a vision that strange people would come wearing ‘Black Robes’, with ‘crossed sticks’ and words of great spiritual power.
a. He wasn’t the only Native American who received such a vision. A medicine man of the tribe in today’s Eastern Montana, named Shining Shirt, also had a vision of the ‘Black Robes’ remarkably similar to Circling Raven’s.
3. It was the Montana Salish tribes who, in the 1830’s, remembered the prophesy and actually embarked on a quest to find the Black Robes.
a. The native peoples were reeling. Disease introduced by contact with Europeans killed half the people of the Northern Rockies between 1780 and 1810. Alcohol introduced by contact with traders devastated adult populations. The balance of trade tilted away from the Natives and poverty was growing.
b. Tribal leaders wondered if the Black Robes’
spiritual power would help them navigate the uncertainty ahead. They sent delegations east as far as St. Louis, where they met the Jesuits and Father Desmet.
4. Desmet had a heart for Native Americans and a strong sense that his life’s mission was to serve them. He was angered by the white mistreatment on Natives he saw in Missouri and
Iowa. He wanted to not only convert the tribes to Christianity but to improve their plight. He had a vision of evangelizing a great Western Kingdom of Christian Indians.
a. When he came to Eastern Montana he
was greeted with joy and openness to conversion, he quickly expanded the mission’s reach to over a dozen neighboring tribes, the Schitsu’Umsh in North Idaho.
b. An initial “Sacred Heart” mission to
the Coeur d’Alenes was planted near on the St. Joe River near present day St. Maries, but the Spring floods washed it away. A new mission and beautiful church was built near present day Cataldo, now a State Park which preserves the church, the oldest remaining structure in Idaho.
c. When the US Government redrew
the boundaries of the reservation for the tribe in 1877, the mission was relocated to Desmet, south of here just off Hwy 95 in Benewah County.
5. Today, the Sacred Heart Mission is no more, having closed in 1974 and the abandoned mission school burned to the ground in 2011, the Coeur d’Alenes remain a people profoundly shaped and guided by the Christian faith introduced to them by Desmet and the Jesuit missionaries.
6. Tribal historians write that the
Gospel of Peace, and new sustainability practices such as farming taught them by the priests largely delivered the people from the wars and conflict with the whites over expansive tribal lands which destroyed or displaced other Native American peoples.
i. Their native homeland is greatly
diminished but they still live near the shores of the great lake and fish its waters.
b. But the missionaries’ influence, over
time, grew authoritarian and repressive, forcing children into schools for re-education, banning tribal rituals, cooperating with policies which kept the people impoverished and marginalized.
c. Yet recent economic opportunities have brought a revival to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, reflected in both traditional beliefs and practices and a particularly native-style Christianity blending the Gospel teaching with ceremonials, songs and dances.
d. There is the love of Christ among the Coeur d’Alenes, and strength in the Schitsu’Umsh people.
7. Jesus followed his mission as well. It was
to make the weak strong. And he brought his message to the people, to their homes, to their workplace, to their community.
a. One story in the Gospel of Mark chapter 2 goes like this.
i. Read scripture
ii. He came as a physician to
the sick and the sinner.
iii. The word ‘sinner’ means to be missing the mark, falling short of the target.
iv. The word ‘sick’ means to be afflicted with misery – physical, moral and spiritual.
b. Jesus said that the “well,” those who are strong and healthy enough, untouched by sin or spiritual sickness, don’t need a physician, but in saying this he knew no one could honestly claim to fit that category.
i. One of the greatest missionaries in the history of the church, and one of its first – the Apostle Paul -wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” [1 Timothy 1:15]
c. So Christ came as the Son of God to proclaim salvation, forgiveness and deliverance from sin, and new life with a new mission. He came to make the weak strong.
8. Having never heard of Jesus, and having never met a Christian, Circling Raven and Shining Shirt looked deep within their hearts and the lives of their people, and guided by the Holy Spirit began longing for something more.
a. Even though the message of hope and new life in Jesus Christ was tainted by the imperfection and pride of the missionaries who worked in His name – after all, they were sinners in need of a physician too – the Coeur d’Alene people continue to believe that to know Christ is to know strength.
9. So what about you?
a. Setting aside everything you have heard or think you know about Christianity specifically and religion generally, if someone interrupted your day like Jesus did Levi’s, looked at you with eyes of undeniable understanding and love, and invited you to follow him – would you get up? Would you attend the party? Would you follow him?
i. Is there a longing inside you for something more? A strength you don’t have but believe you could?
b. And what about you Christians? As those to whom Jesus passed on His mission – are you on it? Or are you sitting outside the history – knowing it but not a part of it?
i. God got here because Pierre-Jean Desmet answered the call. God got to you because someone in your life answered the call. God will get to the next person because you answer the call.
10. Task over the course of this message series: Learn the history of Mission in CDA and let it help you define Your Mission Field
11. Think of it 2 ways
i. As an individual person
ii. As a church
b. This is Valentine’s Day –are you on a mission to bring strength to your Spouse/significant other
i. Are we on a mission to bring Christ’s strength and healing to couples and families in our community?