With permit in hand, Montana Conference church region leaders and supporters dedicated the Living Hope Center building project on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation on April 28, 2018. When it is completed in the town of Poplar, Montana, United States, the center will be a gift from the Adventist Church to the local community.
After an abandoned hospital burned down in Poplar, the property was up for sale for back taxes at just US$6,000. The Montana Conference purchased it. Once a clear title was received, the building site was cleared and basement space excavated.
For the design of a new building, the School of Architecture at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, accepted the project as a mission.
Home of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes, Fort Peck Indian Reservation is a region plagued by chronic and critical challenges—unemployment, hunger, alcoholism, serious health issues, depression, and suicide.
New Missionaries Arrive
Gary and Marla Marsh were retired and living in Berrien Springs, Michigan, in 2012. “Our daughter-in-law invited us to continue our church plant and community outreach ministries on the reservation,” Gary explains.
An Adventist church had been planted on the reservation by Kris and Ed Simon in 1999. When they left, 40 members were attending worship each week, and about 65 children came to the weekly children’s program. Community health and friend-building programs were strong.
After praying for guidance, the Marshes moved to Montana and settled on the reservation in late 2012. “We were shy people when we arrived, but that vanished,” Marla says.
Marla took classes at the local community college for quilting and beading. Gary visited the jail to show the Native New Day video series. “They are very receptive,” he says. He goes to the jail weekly to attend to new residents.
The couple began holding “Diabetes Undone” classes almost immediately after their arrival, and the classes are ongoing. Cooking schools and Native health videos are well received. Gary also teaches the diabetes class at the community college.
Friends of the Marshes who visited from several Michigan churches offered cooking classes three times a year and prepared vegetarian meals each day. One year, guest cooks’ spicy three-bean vegetarian chili won second place in the local annual cook-off.
“It’s all about trust,” Marla says of connecting with the residents. “They are courteous and thoughtful but remain skeptical of white people. Will they leave? Will they come back?”
Church Plant Project
Concerning the church plant, time and again Gary and Marla Marsh hear the question, “Where is your church?” For now, the 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.” Ramirez quoted Matthew 24:14 as a reason: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (NKJV).
“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,” he said. “My prayer is that God will continue to provide the resources for us to see this Living Hope Center complete.”
An earlier version of this story was posted by the North Pacific Union Gleaner.