"Sometimes when we struggle, we wonder, 'Where is God in all of this?'" said Dr. Emerson Falls, newly appointed president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.Falls, the first Native American to lead Oklahoma's Baptist convention, challenged Oklahoma Baptist University students to realize, "Sometimes God is near in the 'far away.'"
Falls spoke to OBU students in weekly chapel service Wednesday, Nov. 19, in continuation of the study of the book, "The Knowledge of the Holy," by A. W. Tozer. The senior pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church, a predominantly American Indian church in south Oklahoma City, Falls spoke on the topic, "The Faithfulness of God."
The chapel service also honored Native American heritage with an original worship song by OBU senior Delana Deere, a member of the Absentees Shawnee and Ponca tribes from Norman, Okla.
Representing the Sac and Fox and Choctaw tribes, Falls incorporated his Native American heritage in his explanation of where students can find God in the midst of life's struggles.
To illustrate times of hardship, Falls discussed the 1831 Indian Removal Act, often referred to as the Trail of Tears. Before this time, many Native Americans had chosen to abandon their traditional religion and follow Jesus Christ, embracing the Christian faith. During the relocation, colonists forced Native Americans in the southeastern United States to abandon their homelands and travel to what now is Oklahoma. The Native Americans suffered from disease and starvation as they traveled.
Falls explained that on the journey, however, a remnant of the people who were Christians before the Trail of Tears refused to abandon their faith. They were the encouragers during the exhausting journey, the ministers who helped others along the way. As a result, he said, Christianity among Native Americans is strongest in Oklahoma, with more than 200 Native American Baptist churches in the state.
"We must realize we are only ambassadors on Earth, not permanent residents, and no matter what life brings, we must believe that His purposes are going to be good," Falls said.
He referred to the Book of Habakkuk as an example of God's people demonstrating faithfulness. In Habakkuk 1, the author cried out for deliverance feeling as if God was distant from him. Habakkuk came to realize, though, that God was carrying out a bigger plan for his life, and while he did not understand the suffering, he trusted God.
"Suffering can either make us bitter, or it can make us better," Falls said. The Christian believers who ministered to others on the Trail of Tears, he said, had become better.
Habakkuk 3 reveals that God did not change Habakkuk's circumstances; God changed Habakkuk's heart. In spite of his suffering, Habakkuk chose to praise God. Falls encouraged OBU students to choose the same.
"Sometimes a trail of tears leads us into heaven," Falls said.