FREEDOM FOR THE BROKEN
Raising up the lost for God’s glory
Cass Lake (Minnesota) Alliance Church was founded almost 90 years ago as an effort to reach Native Americans in Minnesota. Recently, they have been training young leaders to bring new life to Native American communities in nearby towns. Mark Little Elk, from the Rosebud Sioux tribe, has trained with the church for two years and is now partnering with a member of Center for Indian Ministries to revitalize a church in Ponemah, Minnesota.
This small town is home to the Ojibwe people who are extremely closed to the gospel. Though the residents tolerate the church’s presence, there is still strong community pressure put on anyone who attends a worship service. This community also suffers many of the same trials as other Native American communities across the United States. They are often disproportionately affected by drug abuse and suicide, with suicide rates three times higher than other ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Mark’s life was affected by these same struggles until He fell in love with Jesus. Alliance Life staff recently had a conversation with him about his journey to faith and ministry.
Alliance Life: Could you tell me what your life was like before you knew Jesus?
Mark Little Elk: My earliest memory is of standing at a coffin trying to wake up my older brother. One of my sisters also passed away when I was very young, so death was significant in my life. I did not understand it, but it also seemed to be everywhere. I even kept a shoebox of memorial cards of people I knew who passed away, and it was packed full.
I spent a lot of time remembering them, and I started to see a common denominator—drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide. I lived in fear, because it seemed inevitable that I would die this way. My parents were Christians, but they, too, struggled with alcoholism. Everybody else was drinking and doing drugs, but I was the outcast, often being bullied. I rejected Jesus because I wanted to fit in and the rest of the world didn’t seem to follow Him like my mom did. I grew up without an identity, and I found myself seeking to belong. I felt I had to drink and smoke more than everybody to stop being bullied and fit in.
Through it all, the only one who lightened my life was my little girl, Jasmine. My daughter was vibrant, and she was one of very few people who saw something in me that other people didn’t see. She had an eye to capture beauty and saw Jesus in everything. That’s who she was.
I did not want her to go through the things I did. When I drank and used, I stayed away from home. But I started drinking more and ended up spending more time away from her. When she suddenly hung herself at the age of 14, I went through one of the deepest valleys I’ve ever known. I found out afterward that she was being bullied at school. It just didn’t seem real. How could I have come to a place where my little girl couldn’t confide in me and say, “Daddy, I’m hurting?”
I was filled with guilt, shame, and regret. I started doing harder drugs. I didn’t care what happened to me. During that time, I went to jail for drug use. While I was incarcerated, my girlfriend, best friend, and mom all died as well. One day while I was in jail, I went to make a phone call, but nobody was answering. Then it dawned on me that everyone I loved was dead. I never felt so alone. I thought my life was going to be something greater, but my future did not look bright at all.
But then I remembered my daughter had tried to get me to church. For some reason, the only memories I had of my family, my girlfriend, and my daughter were of them talking to me about Jesus. That’s when I cried out, “Lord, if You’re real, I need help.” The Lord, so gracious and merciful, answered that call. He gave me strength. I realized I needed to change, and I would do anything it took.
Since then I’ve been on a mission to tell everybody about Jesus. He used all these things to disciple me, to show me how powerful He truly is. God used my beautiful little girl as His instrument to save a wretched sinner like me. He can take the most broken people, heal their hearts, and raise them up for His glory. I finally have an identity and freedom in Christ and a purpose that’s more rewarding than any drugs or drinks.
What made you decide to go into ministry?
I have this burning desire that I cannot shake. All the things I’ve loved do not measure up to this desire I have to preach God’s Word. I went down to my people a couple weeks ago and preached a message. And as the Holy Spirit was speaking through me, I watched as the words of God penetrated the hearts of these people whose eyes were dull from despair, sickness, sorrow, and suffering. And I saw a little spark in their eyes. I’ve seen the Word of God touch their hearts.
I went into ministry because I’m thankful for what the Lord has done. I’m thankful that He set me free by dying on that cross for me. I’m thankful that I don’t have the urge to smoke, drink, do drugs, or fight. I want to serve Him out of that thankfulness.
What’s your favorite part of ministering at the church in Ponemah?
A few times I went door to door in Ponemah. People were curious when I knocked on their doors: “Why would you come here?”
“Because I understand what you’re going through,” I said. “Because I come from a place like this. I have been alone, forgotten, overlooked. I understand the pain and the abuse. I know all the dark things that go on here. I understand what it feels like to be so hated, but I met someone who tells me I am loved and that I have a purpose—Jesus Christ,” I said. “Can I tell you about Him? Can I pray for you?” They all agreed. Having so many be willing to let me pray for them in the name of Jesus Christ was a huge thing.
The Lord gave me a desire to go where nobody wants to go—a place people gave up on. It’s considered one of the darkest places in the country. I feel led to go there because I know I have peace being there when others don’t. I will be there however long He wants me to be.