This column first appeared in the May issue of the Anglican Journal.
Richard Twiss, famous Lakota Christian and my friend, was one of the most engaging and compelling people I have ever met. When he tragically died of a heart attack at age 58 on February 9, 2013, he left a void that, in human terms, will be almost impossible to fill. He played a key role in the broader acceptance of the contextualization of the gospel into indigenous life. As a committed evangelical, he led many indigenous and non-indigenous Christians to understand that culture is a vital and necessary home for the “Word made flesh.”
I met him 28 years ago, when he was a short-haired pastor in a three-piece suit. Though we held prayer services at powwows together, he seemed suspicious of the capacity of someone like me to really know Jesus. I was suspicious about whether someone like him could be truly sensitive to indigenous culture. Well, he sure showed me. I hope I showed him.
His impact, along with his many friends and co-workers, will only become truly clear over time. Through this work, it is now quite common to see the drum and indigenous protocols used in indigenous Christian gatherings and communities. Beyond this, indigenous Christians are now seen as a possible rallying point for the Christian movement around the world.
Richard was charismatic and inspiring, but for many of us, the most impressive aspect of his life was the way the faith was embodied in his family and friendships. It was the congruence of this faith with his happy and warm way of life that inspired others to follow Jesus and to live for their people and culture with honour and dignity. Like many, this aspect of Twiss family life touched us personally. When my wife, Virginia, suddenly became ill a few years back, Richard’s wife, Katherine, was staying with us. Her calm, steady and loving presence helped us through an enormous crisis. It was a vivid experience of the strength of their great mutual ministry.
I hope you will look into this life. (See his ministry website at www.wiconi.com/.) There is much to learn from Richard. Most important, we should be reminded that the way we live is often the most important witness to what we say and believe. Richard was creative and smart, but I don’t think that would have meant so much if we hadn’t seen the reality of his life.
BISHOP MARK MACDONALD is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.