By David Dombrowski
Chief Editor, Lighthouse Trails Publishing
I find it rather interesting how God has orchestrated things in life, which demonstrate His great love and ongoing mercy to ordinary people like myself. But, more specifically, I am thinking right now about how years ago I happened to come across a copy of a nearly forgotten book at the university library while working on a project. I still find it amazing that this secular humanistic library even had a copy of Stories from Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires – a book written by a missionary to the Canadian Native peoples of the 1800s sharing not only his life among them but the amazing stories they would tell him as they would warm themselves before a fire. This book is a treasure of the long-forgotten heritage of the Cree and Saulteaux tribes and how their lives were wonderfully transformed through the proclamation of the Gospel.
Though I first read that book over thirty years ago as a young university student, in 2010 God put it in our hearts here at Lighthouse Trails to publish this nearly forgotten book; then, when we were preparing to release it for publication, Nanci Des Gerlaise, a Canadian Cree, contacted us about a book she had written titled Muddy Waters. The great surprise was that Nanci, whom we then sent a review copy of the Wigwam manuscript, recognized in it the name Mask-e-pe-toon as being the name of the best friend of her great, great grandfather. Nanci agreed to write the forward to that book. We also agreed to publish Muddy Waters. Later we added a DVD titled I’ll Never Go Back!: The Testimony of Chief Shoefoot. In this film, Chief Shoefoot shares his own story of what life has been like for him both before and after he received the Gospel, hence his words “I’ll never go back” became the title of the video. Chief Shoefoot is a member of the native people known as the Yanomamo. The Yanomamo reside in a northern region of South America bordering Venezuela and Brazil. Hearing that Chief Shoefoot is part of a Yanomamo tribe especially caught my interest because I remembered studying these people in an anthropology class back in 1972.
Anthropologists have been studying the Yanomamo for many years now, and the typical reaction by many anthropologists to missionary outreaches to these people is that they would have been better off if they had been left alone. Granted various missionary efforts were probably not conducted as they should have been, the fact remains that Jesus commissioned the Gospel to be shared with the whole world. What makes this video unique is that it is the testimony of an actual member of the Yanomamo tribe sharing his viewpoint and his side of the story, and his conclusion is an emphatic yes to having received the Gospel. Contrary to what these anthropologists are saying, Chief Shoefoot makes it clear that his life has been forever changed for the better.
Today, even much of the mission field has been marred by the mentality that we should be less intrusive about sharing the Gospel (see New Missiology). Now don’t get me wrong; it’s true that there may be many non-spiritual aspects of a culture that don’t need to be changed, but the Gospel is very intrusive in calling all people everywhere to repent (turn from the direction in which they are heading) and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came as Savior to the whole world, and people from all tribes and nations are offered one way to God. But today organizations, like YWAM, have been taking a more politically correct approach in assuming that every culture already has within their religious traditions an acceptable pathway to God, and our only duty is to encourage them in what they already believe and are already doing with little more than perhaps an occasional reference to the Jesus Christ of the Bible. The sad truth and reality is that although many peoples and cultures may believe in some type of supreme being and do have a sense of right and wrong, the Gospel is unique in that it is God’s revealed Word and offer of salvation based on grace through faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to a gospel of good works based on a belief in the innate goodness of mankind and God’s willingness to accept any and all man-made plans of salvation.
The truth is that God has declared in his Word that all are sinners and in need of a Savior. So while it may be true that God has not called us to impose European customs on the indigenous peoples of the world, the Gospel is God’s “culture” for all mankind, offering salvation and eternal life to anyone who puts his trust in Jesus Christ. All I can say is that I personally am so glad that God “imposed” Himself on me when I received Christ as my Savior; and in both Muddy Waters and in the I’ll Never Go Back video, you will witness the powerful and convincing testimony of two people – a medicine man’s daughter (in the book) and a former shaman or witchdoctor (in the film). Their stories are evidence that knowing Jesus Christ as Savior is more precious than anything the world has to offer,
So, while it may be true that people from all over the world have a sense of right and wrong, the spirituality of all tribes and nations must give way to the truth of the Gospel rather than trying to reshape the Gospel to make it more palatable to any culture. After all, what part of the Gospel would we change? The fact of the matter is that the “preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Thus, it remains that the Gospel will always be offensive and politically incorrect to the unbeliever regardless of cultural setting. The Gospel is offensive not because it is the “white man’s religion” (which it never was) but because it is the way God chose to redeem mankind – which appears foolish to the carnal mind. But as Scripture declares, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Now, let me share something that caught my attention as I was watching the I’ll Never Go Back video. I was listening to Chief Shoefoot share how he became a shaman or witchdoctor and about the spirituality that ensued, and I was amazed by the realization that as he was describing his spirituality as a shaman, he was describing the spirituality that is being promoted in the church today as “cutting-edge Christianity.” In fact, Chief Shoefoot’s spirituality was far ahead of contemplative spirituality and the New Age of today. Furthermore, they were already incorporating spiritual disciplines into their meditative practices. When I realized this, I listened to Chief Shoefoot very attentively and with much interest because I understood then that they had been practicing “contemplative spirituality” and the “spiritual disciplines” probably for many centuries – perhaps even longer than the Desert Fathers. In listening to him describe his spirituality as a shaman, I also realized that he was at the same time describing where the spirituality of contemplative prayer, the New Age, and the spiritual disciplines will be in the future.
So, while the meditative practices and disciplines of the Desert Fathers phased out to near extinction after the Middle Ages and has been “resurrected” today, the Yanomamo have preserved and developed these practices and brought them to full fruition. In other words, as the church and the New Age movement are in unison developing these practices, they will in time become like the Yanomamo.
In the film, Chief Shoefoot describes how he was introduced to shamanism at an early age because he was far advanced for his age in spiritual acuteness. Like contemplative prayer and New Age meditation, connection with “God” is accomplished by going into an altered state of consciousness (i.e., the silence). A drug is used for this purpose along with chanting (mantra), rhythm, and dancing. Spiritual disciplines – to include the withholding of food and sleep (i.e., fasting) – were also used to make the spiritual senses more acute. Chief Shoefoot, as I listened to him describe his story, was much more advanced than the mystics and contemplative prayer leaders of today. He literally saw into the spirit world and beheld various spirits which the Yanomamo even had names for.
The Yanomamo shaman recognizes the spirit world as a reality, not a superstition. According to Chief Shoefoot, spirits of various sorts are seen as desirable and are invited to “get inside your chest” while others are avoided as being evil. I am reminded how contemplative leader Richard Foster warns his students to beware of dangerous spirits when they practice contemplative prayer. In Faith Undone, Roger Oakland talks about this:
Proponents of contemplative prayer say the purpose of contemplative prayer is to tune in with God and hear His voice. However, Richard Foster claims that practitioners must use caution. He admits that in contemplative prayer “we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm” and that sometimes it is not the realm of God even though it is “supernatural.” He admits there are spiritual beings and that a prayer of protection should be said beforehand something to the effect of “All dark and evil spirits must now leave.”1
What Chief Shoefoot realized too late is that none of these spirits are good and those considered to be evil cannot be avoided either. He learned that once a person enters into the occultic or contemplative realm, he becomes subject to the spirits that inhabit that realm. Christian mystics who engage in contemplative prayer think they are encountering the Holy Spirit, but Chief Shoefoot literally saw that this realm is inhabited by nothing more than demons who in time also made their habitation in him (and in other members of the tribe).
Understandably, much of the activity of the tribe was marked by immorality and violence. Even anthropologists who are unsympathetic to the Christianizing of these tribes recognize that there is a problem in their social and domestic interactions. Consider, for example, the following quote from an anthropological source regarding the role and treatment of wives in Yanomamo culture:
It is interesting to watch the behavior of women when their husbands return from a hunting trip or a visit. The men march slowly across the village and retire silently into their hammocks. The woman, no matter what she is doing, hurries home and quietly but rapidly prepares a meal for her husband. Should the wife be slow at doing this, the husband is within his rights to beat her. Most reprimands meted out by irate husbands take the form of blows with the hand or with a piece of firewood, but a good many husbands are even more severe. Some of them chop their wives with the sharp edge of a machete or ax, or shoot them with a barbed arrow in some nonvital area, such as in the buttocks or leg. Many men are given to punishing their wives by holding the hot end of a glowing stick against them, resulting in serious burns. . . . It is not uncommon for a man to injure his errant wife seriously; and some men have even killed wives. Women expect this kind of treatment. Those who are not too severely treated might even measure their husband’s concern in terms of the frequency of minor beatings they sustain. I overheard two young women discussing each other’s scalp scars. One of them commented that the other’s husband must really care for her since he has beaten her on the head so frequently! . . . Some men . . . seem to think that it is reasonable to beat their wife once in a while “just to keep them on their toes.”2
For lack of space, let me just say that the interactions of men with each other both within and between tribes is often not peaceable either. But, in any case, Native Spirituality plays a highly significant role in the happenings of these tribes.
Now, I imagine my statement made earlier that those who practice contemplative prayer or New Age mysticism will eventually become like the Yanomamo must now sound too extreme or at least a tongue-in-cheek statement. Actually, it would bring me much comfort if I were to know that I am completely wrong in this assertion. But I am deeply concerned about people, many of whom are Christians, delving into contemplative prayer, eastern meditative practices, Yoga, and New Age mysticism thinking that they will better themselves by doing so. All of these are occult practices that will tie the user in with the demonic realm though he may think he is connecting with “good” spirits or the Holy Spirit.
It is not unusual for people to join the New Age movement or engage in Yoga or meditative practices like contemplative prayer to reap health benefits to include higher levels of relaxation or to live a more victorious life, but, all the while, they are being introduced to something demonic both in origin and operation. The Bible makes a clear statement about occult or mystical practices in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 by sounding the alarm that these practices are “an abomination unto the Lord.” Then, too, Jesus warned against praying as the heathen do by using “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7), which is a clear indictment against chanting or the mantra-like words and phrases used in contemplative or meditative prayer.
Yet, more and more Christians are joining in contemplative or mystical prayer, thinking it will make them stronger spiritually when the opposite is the case. In fact, what Christians are being drawn into is very antichrist in nature. Our research shows that those who engage in contemplative prayer in time see less and less relevance to the Cross (the atonement) to where it becomes unnecessary. The reason for this is quite simple: contemplative prayer makes a person feel one with and a part of God to where a sacrifice for sin no longer makes any sense.
Contemplative prayer is one and the same thing as New Age or mystical prayer; both are occultic practices in that they bring the practitioner into the demonic realm though he believes all the while that he is connecting with God. Then when I heard Chief Shoefoot’s testimony, I realized that shamanism is one and the same thing as contemplative or New Age mystical prayer as well. As one adherent of mysticism explains, “The meditation of advanced occultists is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics.”3 Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, who helped pioneer the modern-day contemplative prayer movement identified with Buddhism (saying he “intend[ed] to become as good a Buddhist as [he] can”)4 because he realized that the prayer of the Buddhist monks was the same as his. Alice Bailey, whom I consider the mother of the New Age movement, predicted that New Age (or occultic) spirituality would not go around the Christian church but rather through it. She called it the “the regeneration of the churches.” In explaining this, Ray Yungen says:
[I]nstead of opposing Christianity, the occult would capture and blend itself with Christianity and then use it as its primary vehicle for spreading and instilling New Age consciousness!5
In other words, occultic prayer all over the world is coming to a head and bringing about the great falling away that the Bible predicts will happen. Modern day proponents refer to it as quantum spirituality; and through borrowing terms used in physics, they tell us that if enough people meditate at the same time, we will achieve a critical mass, and we will then witness the dawning of the age of Aquarius where peace will guide our planet. However, Alice Bailey and New Age leaders who have followed her see Christians who do not practice New Age style meditation as in the way because they are not being “vibrationally sympathetic.” Such people, they maintain, will have to be eliminated! Having come from the New Age movement, Warren Smith has been warning Christians about this for some time. New Age leaders speak of love, but those who have birthed and perpetuated the movement have something much more sinister in their hearts.
We at Lighthouse Trails, as do other ministries like ours, have a sense of urgency to call all Christians to return to their true roots – namely the Gospel and the Word of God. Our loyalty needs to be with our Savior and not with the traditions of men. Whether we are Native American or of any other descent, Jesus Christ needs to be more precious than any of the things that would make us appear politically correct or gain the favor of men.
1. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing), p. 99.
2. Napolean A. Chagnon, Yanomamo: The Fierce People (New York, NY: Holt, Reinhart adn Winston, 3rd edition), pp.112-113.
3. Richard Kirby, The Mission of Mysticism (London, UK: SPCK, 1979), p. 7; as cited in A Time of Departing, p. 32.
4. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969), as cited in A Time of Departing, p. 78.
5. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2nd edition), p. 124.