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Living on Faith

A Cherokee youth gains it all—and gives it up for Christ

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“Native American ministry is hard, but it’s what we signed up for,” I told a room full of people at a conference of the Native American Association of the C&MA. Involved in Alliance work among America’s first peoples, they nodded in complete understanding. Every one of us had a story of redemption and calling, of God’s leading that had brought us to the ministry. This is mine.

I am a full-blood Cherokee from Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I was raised in a family that abused drugs and alcohol, and my parents, both teenagers, split up when I was two years old. Because she drank a lot and later became addicted to drugs, I didn’t really know my mom until I was eight. I lived off and on with both my grandma, who, ironically, was a drug- and alcohol-abuse counselor, and my dad. He started selling drugs when I was nine.

Despite a difficult upbringing, Chris Ballard obeyed the call of God on his life. He now pastors the Alliance Bible Church in Hays, Mont., located on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

My grandma was a Christian and often took me to her church. I enjoyed the music, but because the services were in the Cherokee language, which I had not learned, I couldn’t understand everything that was being said. After my mom entered a rehab program, she came back into my life. At the age of 10, I moved in with her, along with my siblings. She started attending an English-speaking church and made me go as well. It was there that I first started praying for my dad to have a relationship with me again.

I didn’t really understand what I was praying for—or who I was praying to—until I was 15. I had been to more than a dozen schools as a kid, but in eighth grade I began attending a small country school. I got involved in wrestling and became one of the “popular” kids. It was “cool” to go to church youth group, and there I accepted Jesus as my Savior. Now I really understood who listened to my prayers. After that, I started to pray harder for a relationship with my dad. This went on for about a year. I kind of got mad at God because I was praying to Him and serving Him, but I didn’t think anything was really happening.

And then I saw my dad. At 16, I had been kicked out of school and was in danger of not being allowed to compete at the regional wrestling tournament because I didn’t have a coach. My mom and I happened to see my dad drive past and I got her to follow him. When he pulled into a gas station, I could see that he had drugs and guns in his car. I was so desperate to reenter his life that I offered to be his right-hand man in his drug business.

Chris is an avid bow hunter and has made several connections through this passion.

But then I told him about the upcoming wrestling opportunity and gave him an ultimatum. “I need you to stand in my corner,” I said. “If you don’t show up at the tournament, you will no longer be my dad.” I said this because I was tired of being let down by everyone around me. The next day he came to the wrestling competition, and that was the last day he ever did drugs. Dad and I started going to church together, and I drew closer to the Lord.

When I was 17, I went on my first missions trip with On Eagles’ Wings, a ministry that reaches out to young Native Americans. We journeyed to Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, going as far as the Northwest Territories, to share the love of Christ on 10 reservations of the First Nations, as Native Americans are called in Canada. That is where God totally changed my life, speaking to me about going to Bible college and other things He wanted me to do. Janine, a young First Nations woman from Winnipeg, was also on the trip, and we married two years later.

When I returned to Oklahoma, I had the intention to follow God’s calling but got sidetracked by the world’s values—fancy cars, a nice house, a family, and a good job. Over the next three years, I worked hard for all of that in the construction industry—and I got it.

I served the Lord by helping with the youth and being a young-adult Sunday school teacher, hoping to fill the void left in my heart from knowing what the Lord really wanted me to do. But it didn’t. The money, cars, and house didn’t satisfy me like everyone said they would; I still had an emptiness inside.

Chris and a friend drive the backroads of the reservation in search of prime hunting grounds.

One night at a revival meeting, the Lord spoke to me again: OK, you have all these things that I let you have, and you’re still not happy. Will you follow Me now? I surrendered my life to Him, giving Him my job, my house, and everything I owned.

In 2010 I went on another missions trip with On Eagles’ Wings and found myself in the exact spot I was when I was 17. During the trip Ron Hutchcraft, the founder of On Eagles’ Wings, told me about Mokahum Ministry Center, a residential discipleship training facility for adults, located on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation near Cass Lake, Minnesota.

I applied and was accepted—but they told me they had no married housing. My wife was eight months pregnant with our first child but was willing to go wherever the Lord called me. Some people hinted that we shouldn’t go or told us outright that we should stay in Oklahoma. But I read Isaiah 6:8: “I heard the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” And Matthew 6:25–34 deals with worrying about food, clothes, and shelter: “‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’”

Janine and I left Oklahoma on those verses, with just a couple of boxes of clothes. When we made it to Minnesota, we still didn’t know where we were going to live, but we knew the Lord wanted us there. And He provided. We stayed at Oak Hills Christian College in nearby Bemidji the first night. And the next day we found out we had exactly enough money to move into Oak Hills’ married housing. My wife gave birth to our first son, Nicolas Joseph, that November.

The Ballard family outside their home in Hays, Mont. (L–R): Nicolas, Chris, Zachariah, and Janine.

We’ve been living on faith ever since. We can count many times the Lord has provided since we’ve surrendered our lives solely to Him. My whole family is Christian. My dad is an evangelist, and my mom is fully serving the Lord. My sister recently graduated from Mokahum as well. All this happened from prayer and the faith to back it up.

Mokahum’s executive director, Zane Williams, introduced me to The Alliance, and I became an official worker. After graduation from Mokahum, we accepted the call to pastor the Alliance Bible Church in Hays, Montana, a small community on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, which is home to the A’aninin (Gros Ventre) and Nakota (Assiniboine) tribes.

As I told my fellow Alliance workers at the Native American meeting last August, Native American ministry is hard. Neither Janine nor I had lived on a reservation before, so we have had to adjust to a different lifestyle. Our community is small and isolated, but because there are two tribes in residence on the land, there is often tension between families who may not want to associate with one another. Alcoholism and drug addiction make ministry a challenge, as does a spirit of depression, as if there is no hope.

However, in the 18 months we have served here, our church has grown from 4 to 20–30 in attendance. Our family has been accepted, and I often hunt and fish with our neighbors. We have people here who are like a mom and dad to us and a grandma and grandpa to our two sons.

Our first love is Jesus Christ; we love people because He loved us. No matter where you or I serve—whether as pastors or as laypeople—we must not forget our first love.

One Tribe in Christ

The first day Chris and Janine visited Mokahum Ministry Center in Cass Lake, Minnesota, they shared God’s calling into ministry. Details needed to be worked out, but clearly Mokahum would be the training center that would prepare them for where God has them now.

At our recent Native American Association Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, I shared that as a student, Chris told me he was going to grow a small church near Mokahum to more than a hundred in attendance before he graduated. There were smiles and chuckles from our association pastors and delegates; each of us knew that, because of the difficulty of American Indian ministry, achieving those numbers in our native communities is not the norm.

I see similarities to a young Navajo man God called to Mokahum in the 1950s. After graduation Herman Williams answered the call to pastor a tribe other than his own. God used him in reaching tribes and other people groups in North and South America and throughout Europe. Before God took him home, I was able to hear my dad’s heart and the challenges of his 50 years in Alliance Indian ministry.

Church discipleship and biblical training must be a priority among our people. God has called me to lead the staff at Mokahum in training and equipping pastors like Chris to take the gospel to our people. I received a report that there were more than 100 people at the 2013 Christmas service at Hays Alliance church. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about what Chris had said while he was my student. I’m sure at that moment he wasn’t thinking that those hundred people he envisioned would be in a small Alliance church, in a different state, from a different tribe.

I’ve shared a little about one of nine pastors serving 10 Native Association churches in three geographical Alliance districts. Each has his own story of being called into Indian ministry. Please join me in continued prayer for our Native American Association pastors and their families.

—Zane Williams
President, Native American Association of the C&MA
Director, Mokahum Ministry Center

10 responses to Living on Faith

  1. Praise GOD for your testimony! It’s powerful & inspiring to know that GOD really is raising up young men & women who are pressing forward and carrying out the Great Comission for the people! The people need to hear your story… Keep going Strong brotha!

  2. So very proud to call you our pastor in our community, and blessed as being our very own as well as an addition to our family!
    Love Sheila and Gerald Martin
    (mom/dad/grandma and grandpa)

  3. Hi Chris and Janine, Think and pray for you often. Didn’t have your email. Hope this gets to you. Love the Alliance magazine story which I’m forwarding to friends of mine who planted a church in Bozeman,MT who know a wonderful young couple, last name “Kelly” who are currently ministering to youth on a reservation near Bozeman. First names slipped my mind. Also sending you a great article about church planting when Dennis gives me your email.

  4. I was thrilled to read your story in Alliance Life. As a young person just out of college I ministered with Anna Sontra at Havre and Rocky Boy. (1974-1975) I visited the Hayes church once and have often wondered if it was still open. I will support you and your family in prayer and would love to receive specific requests. Nancy Albertson, 1301 Perry St., Lonview, TX 75601, albertson1@juno.com

  5. Chris Ballard, My name is Bobbe Nixon. I am the mother of Zachariah Nixon. I am always interested when I hear of someone with a child bearing my children’s names. So I want you to know we are praying for your Zachariah. Would you be so kind as to contact me so I can obtain your mailing address. I would enjoy keeping in contact and praying for you and your whole family as you minister on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
    Ttfn
    Bobbe

  6. Just kidding! We are so proud of the both of you and can’t wait to see you again.
    Love,
    Mom and Dad

  7. We love you guys and miss you guys! We’ll be praying that you can get another vehicle to replace the Ford.

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