Jeff Yellow Owl
Church on the Rock (Wapato II Foursquare Church)
By: Amy Swanson
Jeff Yellow Owl didn’t always have a passion for God nor understand the powerful reconciling sacrifice of Jesus. He grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, under the shadow of his grandparents, both of whom were forcibly removed from their homes as young children and placed in government boarding schools in order to receive a Christian education.
“My grandmother never saw her parents again after the age of 5,” Jeff recalls. Growing up amidst a lot of violence and alcoholism, Jeff describes himself as having been an angry, bitter and violent young man with deeply lodged prejudice toward white people. He left his reservation when he was just 19 and moved to Seattle, where he lived for 12 years.
On Nov. 3, 1990, Jeff gave his life to Christ and was changed by the transforming love of God. He describes that, “for the first time, I saw a vision for my life—a purpose and reason for living that was beyond myself.” A passion was born in him for spreading the gospel of Jesus to his own people—the American Indian. According to Jeff, only 4 percent to 7 percent are born again believers.
Jeff went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in theology and ministry, and later earned a master’s degree in social work. He initially participated in a Foursquare church plant in Seattle called The Evergreen Church. He currently pastors in Wapato, Wash., and serves as the Native American National Foursquare Representative.
Jeff’s passion is to preach the gospel the best he can with the purest heart possible, not an angry one. But forgiving the past was “a process and didn’t happen all at once,” he says. “That kind of forgiveness has to be supernatural.”
He recalls one memorable July 4, when he attended a church celebration and the pastor spoke on the great sacrifice of the forefathers who established this country.
“I was so angry,” Jeff admits. “I felt like a cold knife was plunged through my heart. All I could think of was, what about my forefathers and the blood of my people that has been spilled on this land? I began cursing the pastor, even praying that harm would come to his body.”
But in the midst of Jeff’s cursing, the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart and reminded him of how Jesus had already taken the beating for all of our injustices. This was a defining moment for him. He surrendered his heart and prayed: “I want to be healed from my anger. I don’t want this feeling in my heart anymore.”
With a desire to reach the American Indian peoples with the gospel of reconciliation, Jeff moved in 2000 from Seattle to Wapato, Wash., a town of about 3,000 people, to plant his church on the Yakama Reservation, Church on the Rock—a congregation that has grown to nearly 70 people.
Since that time, God has expanded Jeff’s scope of influence to the Native American community and beyond the walls of his own church. Under the umbrella of counseling and with a reputation as a motivational speaker, Jeff is able to minister at powwow events and state conferences. He meets the people in their places of need—not putting them down, but lifting them up with the healing words of the Lord.
“Many Native Americans won’t come to church,” he explains, “because the church represents the white man’s religion. But I have the opportunity to go into their areas.”
Jeff has learned that there is no “cookie cutter” approach to preaching the gospel message. It’s necessary to take time and establish trust. He finds creative ways to participate in and penetrate the traditions of the tribes to whom he ministers, and instead of trying to formulate preconceived answers, he looks for the answers that come from within the people themselves—mining those truths the Holy Spirit has already deposited.
Among the American Indians, Jeff’s message of healing and forgiveness is a message that many want to hear.
“I am able to proclaim the truth that healed people have everything they need in Christ to be restored and help others,” says Jeff, “and that only the Lord—not the government or politics—can wipe away the injustice that was done.”
One open door for Jeff is at an annual conference held by the state of Washington and the tribes to promote healing within the American Indian family. He has been invited by the conference staff to moderate and even to pray for the attendees.
Jeff describes how the power of the Holy Spirit “sent His word and healed them” (Psalm 107:20, NKJV). At the conclusion to one seminar, he invited people to respond. Miraculously, 100 percent of the attendees stood up, with hands on their hearts, asking for help from Jesus to heal their pain.
At the first powwow where Jeff had an opportunity to preach, the Lord spoke to him with a vision for his people.
“I have always loved attending powwows,” he recalls, “and my favorite part is the grand entry.”
Similar to the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, the powwow grand entry is a pageant where performers enter prominently with ceremonial and traditional dancing, vivid color and regal pageantry. It’s an important tradition of cultural identity.
During this particular grand entry, Jeff recalls feeling a sense of pride and overwhelming love for his people when the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart: “I will have the grandest of all grand entries.”
“In my mind's eye,” describes Jeff, “I saw a big parade moving through the city, dancing and rejoicing, as the people entered into the city of Jerusalem.” This vision of a heavenly gathering inspires Jeff to believe for the healing and reconciliation of the American Indian.
Jeff Yellow Owl has discovered the truth of Proverbs 13:15, that “good understanding gains favor.”
“I just preach the word of God by faith,” he says. “I know that healing will result. The word of the Lord is what heals the wounds in people’s hearts and souls.”
By: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church, a Foursquare church in Santa Barbara, Calif.