Pewo, Donna Chaat

Church And Community Worker With Native Youth

PHOTO: COURTESY DONNA CHAAT PEWO

My call to ministry formed in my local church. I served as a worship leader, a Sunday school teacher, as chair of the administrative board—I was active. Then one Sunday our District Superintendent came to church and asked me if I was interested in going to lay-speaking school. I didn’t know what it was then, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. He said, “pray about it, and I’ll contact you again.”

I owned a custom drapery-workroom business with my friends. I was working, and I was doing church work, going back and forth. So, I prayed about it, and I said, “Sure, I’ll go.” I’m always willing to learn new things. I went to lay-speaking school and was certified as a lay-speaker. I was asked to fill in the pulpit at the church in Clinton, Oklahoma. The church membership was very low. I was one of many that went and filled the pulpit periodically.

I became familiar with the kids out there—they were much younger then. I was going through a hard time in my life, learning to live by myself again, and learning to trust God. I think the turning point was when I was at church one Sunday and as I was heading home, the thought crossed my mind: “I think it’s time to move on.”

By that time, we had a new District Superintendent and I told her I thought God was calling me to do something else. She said: “I know exactly what you need to do.” It was an “ah-ha” moment for me.

Once I committed and said yes to God, doors started opening. But I had to close some doors too, and that was difficult. I had to give up my business. That was scary and exciting at the same time, but overall, a big sense of relief.

Truly, in my heart, I was thinking: “God has seen you through so much. How can you turn away from him? How can you not serve him in whatever capacity you can?” That was the turning moment for me.

After that, things started falling into place. That didn’t mean the struggles went away. But my faith was strong, and I knew that God would see me through.

Clinton/El Reno Ministry

In 2012, I was commissioned as a Church and Community Worker and assigned to work with a new venture of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC), the Clinton and El Reno Church and Community Ministry. Today I meet with the children and youth twice a week, and other times for events for this ministry, the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center (CICCC).

Recently I received another appointment through the OIMC—I’ve just been appointed to a new faith community in Oklahoma City, the North Oklahoma City Native American Fellowship (NOCNAF). I’m traveling back and forth from Clinton to Oklahoma City.

Our focus at Clinton is on mending the relationship between the church and the Native American community that I work with—I serve the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal communities. I share the love of Christ with them and remain focused on education—because education is so very important for our Native American children and youth. By focusing on Christ, but also connecting to our traditions, cultures, and ceremonies, we become who God created us to be. God blessed us with these ceremonies and traditions. We’ve learned tribal hymns, had beadwork and moccasin-making classes, and we’re forming a parental alliance to support a dance troop that can perform at Native functions. It is also important for them to learn their hymns and hold onto their language so that it won’t die.

Learning to Serve

Since 2012, we’ve been in relationship with Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Providence has provided for some financial needs and repairs for the CICCC, and they host Vacation Bible School each year. From this relationship and friendship my youth became friends with the people and youth of Providence.

The year before last, we decided to take a mission trip to Mt. Juliet to visit the covenant church that supports us. We raised our own money—Indian Taco sales, raffles, donations from various groups and individuals—more than $3000 to take this trip. Some of these kids had never been out of the state of Oklahoma. We traveled with the Rev. David Wilson, our conference superintendent, and we took off to Mt. Juliet.

Once there, we worked in their food pantry. We fellowshipped with their youth and we worshiped together. The night before we left, they had a special service for us. We sang tribal hymns—and they laid hands on each one of the youth in prayer. It was a wonderful trip.

On the way back, one of my youth, Kehly Riggs, leaned over to me in the van and said, “Donna, you know, I didn’t know that people still cared.” That was a powerful statement. She felt the love from this group, the care. She’s had a hard struggle in her life. This confirmed to her that God loved her and blessed her with these wonderful people—and that God is still in her life.

I’ve tried to instill in these youth that when an opportunity comes, you need to go, leave your comfort zone, and experience God’s creation. The world is open and it’s there for you. Rely on God and ask God to help you as you move forward in your life. Even if everyone else takes off, God will be there.

Excerpted from New World Outlook magazine, Fall 2017 issue. Used by permission.

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