In many areas of the country the pandemic seems to be slowing as the numbers of those hospitalized have been decreasing. However, for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and Native Americans living on the Akwesasne Reserve, their population has recently been hit hard by the virus and hospitals are overwhelmed.
With the numbers of sick and hospitalized unexpectedly climbing over the last month, several ministries and organizations have come together to provide food for Native American individuals and families.
Mohawk Assembly of God is led by pastor April Bender, who has been serving the congregation in Hogansburg, New York, for five years. She and volunteers from Mohawk AG have joined with groups such as the New York Ministry Network (AG), Convoy of Hope, Native American Fellowship (AG), and USDA Farmers to Families Food Box to partner together with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to distribute several truckloads of food to Native Americans in need.
“We had our very first delivery of food back in October,” Bender says. “But now, as the need has really increased, we’ve had three consecutive weeks (beginning the week of April 11) of food distribution, with possibly another one in early May.”
The Akwesasne Reserve is located on the St. Lawrence River in northern New York, about 80 miles southwest of Montreal, Quebec, and 70 miles southeast of Ottawa, Ontario. A small portion of the reservation extends into Canada as well.
Bender says that each box of food weighs 30 to 40 pounds and contains items such as chicken, yogurt, milk, fresh fruit, and other perishable items. Each truck load contains approximately 1,100 boxes of food.
“One of our distribution locations is the old Bingo Palace on the reserve,” Bender says with a laugh. “And my father, the first church he pastored was in an old casino – just goes to show that God can use any place.”
Bender explains that in being the hand of Christ extended, it really doesn’t matter where they have the distributions, what matters is demonstrating the love of Christ.
“There is no ‘Jesus’ in this culture,” Bender says. “It takes a long time to establish trust. And being of the Christian faith, for this area, is not something this culture embraces. It is necessary to do life with them over a period of time, establish trust, and simply be Jesus to them in order for them to begin to ask questions and want to know more.”
Last week, the truck was late in arriving with the food. Bender says it was a blessing in disguise as it gave her opportunity to go down the rows of cars, greeting people, talking to their children and their dogs – establishing relationships.
And Bender has already seen God use the food distribution to draw people to Him.
“I was on my way to deliver some food to a family, and this certain woman was on my heart. I was praying for God to connect me with her,” Bender says. “As I pull up in the driveway, the woman who I was praying for was there, visiting!”
What was remarkable about the visit was that Bender became more of an observer for a while as the woman she had brought food for basically became a living infomercial for the church – sharing how much the church had meant to her, how the church had blessed her, and how now she (her friend) could watch the church services online.
“God just took all these things – the food distribution, the caring compassion, and the relationships — and connected all the dots,” Bender says. “This woman has since rededicated her life to Christ.”
As Bender reflects on what God is doing and the doors that are beginning to open, she also asks for prayer.
“My understanding is that Ontario is shut down until the end of May and the border between Ontario and Quebec is closed, with churches shut down . . . COVID is very, very serious and hospitals are overloaded. For whatever reason, the numbers are very high. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to intervene and through that, God be glorified and souls turn to Him.”