“Dream bigger!” said the Native American Association when Pastor Joe Boeringa first considered updating Vineland Native American Chapel, in Onamia, Minnesota. The North Central District and other Alliance leadership agreed and suggested they bulldoze the whole structure and start fresh. Now their ministry to the Native American people of Central Minnesota has a bigger vision and new life.
The Ojibwe tribe of Native Americans settled around Mille Lacs Lake more than 100 years before Minnesota became a state. In the early 1900s, a ministry was started primarily to the Native children, and a building was built on reservation property. In the early 70s, an Alliance pastor began holding Sunday services. Soon afterward, the C&MA National Office purchased property surrounded by reservation land and moved the building there. That original 1923 slab building still stands as Vineland Chapel, but the landscape around it has changed significantly.
In the early 1990s, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe built the casino which gave rise to many new and modern structures on the reservation — a clinic, a care center for their elderly, a new school. In comparison, the old chapel building is an eyesore with sections added over the years but never completed. It needs a heating system, parking spaces, and handicapped accessibility. It looks like no one really cares about the ministry. And it’s small: “One new family might be a very large group. We wouldn’t be able to seat everyone,” shared a new Native convert.
“The district felt something needed to be done,” explains Pastor Joe, “because they believe our work has a future, that God has a plan for these people. But updating our building with a congregation of 12 was going to be a challenge.” So the district took over the property in 2016, and ADF was approached for a loan.
The Mille Lacs Band now numbers more than 4,000 people, but many in their current leadership do not believe you can be Native American and Christian. They teach their children the traditions, language, and religion of their people. “Our core is mostly non-Native people who believe God wants them to minister to the people on this reservation,” Pastor Joe shares.
“There was a thriving church here years ago, but that generation has passed on. We hope that if we show the love of Jesus to them, perhaps we can build that relationship again. We would like to bring in a Native American evangelist and Native singing groups, but we don’t have the space. We want them to see that we’re here to stay and care enough to put up a brand new building.”
Pastor Joe’s excitement is contagious as he describes the new facility. “It will have office space, an entry area and cloak room, a kitchen, two handicapped bathrooms, a sanctuary with a platform and a fellowship hall for combined seating of up to 120 people, a good-sized kids ministry room, storage space, a partial basement, and in-floor heating!” It’s a big dream — but as Vineland Chapel is faithful with God’s vision, the Native people of the Mille Lacs Band will never be the same.