With permit in hand, the Living Hope Center building project on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation was dedicated April 28, 2018. Located in Poplar, Mont., the center represents Jesus’ love with a gift from the Adventist Church. When an abandoned hospital burned down, the property was up for sale for back taxes — $6,000. God spoke with a perfectly timed miracle.
Once a clear title was received, the building site was cleaned and basement space excavated. Andrews University School of Architecture accepted the project as a mission. The Living Hope Center was becoming a reality. Home of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes, the reservation is a battlefield of chronic and critical challenges — unemployment, hunger, alcoholism, serious health issues, depression and suicide. Recently, concerns about the future of this world is on their minds.
New Missionaries Arrive
Gary and Marla Marsh were retired and living a nice life in Berrien Springs, Mich. “Our daughter-in-law invited us to continue the church plant and community outreach ministries on the reservation,” Gary explains. A church was planted there by Kris and Ed Simon in 1999.
When they left, 40 members were attending worship each week and 67 kids came to the weekly children’s program. Community health and friend-building programs were going strong. After much prayer, the Marshes settled on the reservation in late 2012. “We were shy people when we arrived, but that vanished,” Marla says.
Marla took classes at the community college for quilting and beading. Gary went to the jail to show the Native New Day video series. “They are very receptive,” he says. He goes weekly to include new residents. Diabetes Undone classes began almost immediately and are ongoing. Cooking schools and Native health videos are well-received. Gary also teaches the diabetes class at the community college.
Friends from several Michigan churches offered cooking classes three times a year and prepared vegetarian meals each day. The biggest shock to those who attended was learning a vegetarian diet kept them full, while a meat diet left them hungry. Guest cooks’ spicy three-bean chili won second place in the annual cook-off.
“It’s all about trust,” Marla says about building confidence. “They are courteous and thoughtful but remain skeptical of white people. Will they leave? Will they come back?”
And about the church plant? Gary and Marla are hearing one question: “Where is your church?” For now, the only answer is: “We don’t have one yet.”
“That’s why this mission initiative is extremely important,” adds Elden Ramirez, Montana Conference president. “For me this is a very significant endeavor. In Matt. 24:19 we read: ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ In order for us to have an encounter face to face with our Savior, we need to do everything in our power to proclaim the good news of salvation to all nations, and that includes our Native community in Montana. My prayer is that God will continue to provide the resources for us to see this Living Hope Center complete.”