A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
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Excerpts about Zuni from:


by Bruce Terry
Missionary-in-Residence for American Indian Missions
Abilene Christian University


On August 12, 1996, I began a trip with Cary Watson, fellow Bible class teacher at the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, to the Apache Reservations of southern New Mexico and Arizona. We were gone for 5 days, returning on the 16th. During the course of the trip, we visited 4 Apache Reservations (the Mescalero, San Carlos, White Mountain, and Tonto) and the Zuni Reservation, also crossing the Ramah Navajo, Acoma, and Laguna Reservations.

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On Thursday, ...

Then we headed northeast toward the Zuni Reservation in western New Mexico. I was curious to know what kind of church growth had taken place on that reservation since I had written my master's thesis on this subject in 1971. To my surprise I found that the Christian Reformed Church there had grown to about 150 in attendance. When the current pastor, Mike Mecough, had moved there ten years ago, attendance had been around 70. It had grown to around 120 three years ago, at which time it began to grow more rapidly. He reported that the church had 22 families when he moved there and now had 46 families (the Christian Reformed Church usually counting by families rather than by members). The CRC has now been on the Zuni Reservation for 99 years and are making plans for celebrating their 100th anniversary of work there. Some of the growth has come through the school that they have maintained for many years. Mecough reported that Rex Chimoni, the second Zuni CRC preacher was retiring at the end of the month. His male children were strong leaders in the church. The church was now in its third generation and was looking for a Zuni cultural identity; the first generation had had to abandon Zuni culture entirely to embrace Christianity; the second generation had wanted to be Zuni in some way, but could not find a way; this generation was beginning to look at what elements of Zuni culture could fit within a Christian commitment. Unlike the Apaches, Zuni children still speak Zuni. Mecough reported that he could understand some Zuni, but that his children, who played with the Zuni children, were beginning to speak Zuni.

Mecough noted that the most significant change in mission policy in the last few years was adoption of spiritual warfare. He stated that this was not a position that the Christian Reformed Church was especially strong on, but that circumstances had forced him in this direction, ever since he had been literally knocked down by a student at the Christian Reformed school who showed evidence of being spirit possessed. He related that one evening he had received a phone call to come over to a student's house quickly. He had gone, expecting some other problem. When he arrived, he was confronted by this student struggling with around seven people who were trying to hold him. The boy spoke to him in a deep strange voice and said, "You are afraid of me, aren't you?" Mecough admitted his fear, not knowing what was happening. The boy broke loose from those holding him and attacked Mecough, knocking him to the ground. Next Mecough did the only thing that he could think of: he rebuked the boy in the name of Jesus and the child became much calmer. Since that time, the Christian Reformed Church has followed a policy of praying for those whom the Zunis see as spirit possessed with a positive result. This has contributed to the increase in growth in the last few years. Mecough noted that the Zunis have always known about the dark side of spiritual beings, but only now have they found a way to deal with it.

The Baptist church over the years has not experienced similar growth. Mecough felt that this was due to the methods being practiced by the former Baptist pastor. The Baptists have an all purpose hall in which basketball can be played. The pastor would let Zuni boys play there if they would watch Christian videos in English first. Many did that, but the videos had no impact; rather, they became an object of ridicule. The Baptists had also followed a plan of having different services for different clans at different times, but this did not prove effective either. The new Baptist pastor is a Zuni. He had been a member of the Christian Reformed Church who had moved to Missouri, married an Anglo Baptist woman, and become Baptist. He had then been sent by the Baptists to the mission at Zuni. Mecough felt that he might have a fruitful ministry in the future, but he had only been back at Zuni about a year.

The Catholic Church in Zuni is still following a policy of mixing Catholicism with the Zuni religion. The pictures of Zuni dance figures on the inside of the old mission have recently been enhanced. In fact, while we visited there, the artist was adding more detail to the painting. Mecough reported that although the Catholics now claim about 400 members, most are also active in traditional Zuni religion as well, although a few mourn over this mixture. The Mormons have virtually no influence, although they continue to maintain a building outside the pueblo.

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