Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. It’s great to have you with us! In today’s program, Tom concludes his two-part series with guest, pastor and missionary Tom Watson. Here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Well, we’re continuing our conversation with Tom Watson. He’s the president of Bended Knee International, which is a missionary ministry that reaches out primarily to native people groups, as I mentioned last week, both near and far. And by far I mean Siberia, and near would be the tribal peoples of the American Southwest.
Tom, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Tom W: Well, thank you, Tom. It’s good to be here again today.
Tom: You know, Tom, at the end of last week’s program, I mentioned anthropology. Now, I know, having friends who do missionary work among the Y?nomamö tribe in Venezuela, wherever it might be, some of the opposition comes from the anthropologists who are - their complaint is that the Christians, the missionaries, are spoiling the purity, the culture, the goodness of what these people have. Now, let’s just start with that: Is there a problem there? Do you find the natural culture of the tribal peoples so pure and wonderful that change is not good for them?
Tom W: Well, of course not. Now, I think you have to keep in mind these people, these tribal people, are - they worship the creation. That’s what’s traditional and what’s crucial for them, and we want to change that. I don’t know…you know, we talk about redeeming the culture, but I don’t really think about redeeming the culture, I just know a whole lot about redemption for any individual who puts their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tom W: “Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” So, you know, when that happens, when someone truly accepts Christ as their Savior who’s been a worshipper of the creation (that’s been their tradition), then they’re going to have a different view. And that’s going to cause them to separate from many, if not most, of their traditional cultural values - in fact, all of the religious ones. And I’m just convinced of this, and I think this is where the anthropologists are totally wrong: I’m convinced that these people have a greater appreciation of the creation and keep it in its rightful place only by knowing the Creator Himself.
You know, it’s interesting to me in both Siberia and on the reservation, I can go to a Christian home, and a Christian home will be fairly neat. As you approach the home, there won’t be a lot of trash around, a lot of junk - they’re just taking care of it. But I can go just down the road to a home of a creation-worshipper who’s not a Christian, and you can’t hardly get to the front door for the trash, the junk. You can drive through Siberia, you can drive through the Navajo reservation—beer cans, vodka bottles scattered everywhere. I mean, these are the people who supposedly worship the creation, but if they really get saved and know the Creator, they actually are going to have a greater appreciation of the creation than what they had without knowing the Lord.
That’s - I’ve got to say 50 years ago, and I remember right after I got saved, I had a bunch of trash in the car and there wasn’t any place to put it. I rolled down the window driving down the road, and I started to throw it out, and just like out of nowhere, the Holy Spirit convicted me: “You can’t do that! That’s not the right thing to do!” And that conviction’s been there for 50 years now.
But, you know, that’s just what happens. You have a greater appreciation of what God has made and what God has given you by knowing the One who gave it to you. And that’s what I find among native people, and I think the anthropologists are totally wrong on that.
Tom: You know, Tom, as I mentioned, I have a friend who did missionary work in Venezuela among the Y?nomamö tribe, and he brought, actually, a shaman who was converted - became a Christian, a solid Christian - and he brought him to this country. He’s still living among the Y?nomamö people, but now in a Christian context. And he would bring him to universities just to give our young people, anthropology students, some insights from an actual shaman (or a former shaman). And of course the professors would be there, and they would be getting into: “Well, you’ve compromised the purity of your belief system,” and so on.
And this young guy - his Christian name was Baptista - and he would just go after, through an interpreter, these anthropologists. He said, “What you’re saying here is that the condition that we lived in, not only were we lied to by these spirit entities…” That’s what drew him to find somebody that could - certainly the Holy Spirit was guiding and directing him - but he was led to this individual Christian missionary, the only white man who could speak his language, and it was amazing.
But as he’s talking to these anthropology professors with the young people listening, he says, “Oh, yeah, we really loved going around naked with the bugs, and all of these things. Look, you have improvement here! Don’t you think we want our temporal life to be somewhat improved?”
And, Tom, as you just described, that’s what happens when you come to recognizing the God of creation, the true God of creation. You not only change your life for the better - not that we get everything covered - but you not only have a new life in Christ, but it affects our temporal life, doesn’t it?
Tom W: Mm-hmm, very much. You bet. It has to!
Tom: Yeah. Tom, you know, we have - you sort of mentioned this before - we have some missionary organizations that believe that much of the culture of any indigenous people can be redeemed. In other words, it can be tweaked to conform to Christianity. So what do you think about that?
Tom W: Well, I probably don’t think that’s going to happen, and I think if it is, then you’re trying to combine two things that won’t mix. But you know, I - again, in my work and my mission work, the culture is… You know, I have to tell you that people tell me you have to go in and eat what they eat, and drink what they drink, and do what they do, and all of this kinds of stuff. It’s never been our practice in missions to do that, and it’s never been a problem to not do that. You know, they told me when I went to Russia, “You better eat what they eat,” for example. Well, they found out that I wasn’t going to eat what they eat in a lot of cases, like raw fish and stuff like that, and we never had a problem with any of it. In fact, they were adjusting to us instead of us adjusting to them, and it wasn’t a problem in changing anything as far as they go.
So I’m not - you know, again, our sole focus has been on redeeming the soul, not the culture. We just haven’t in any way made an effort to change anything but their beliefs, just with the total intent of bringing them to faith in Christ…
Tom W: …nothing else, and then let God Himself change their life.
Tom: Yeah. See, because the Scriptures, the gospel, the Word of God, that’s what’s going to change, first and foremost, hearts and minds. You know, Tom, it reminds me of… You know, I know among some groups, some organizations, that there is a mentality to redeem the culture, as though that were the way to go about it.
And this missionary - American missionary who was down among the Y?nomamös - his children, they grew up among the Y?nomamö people who were converted to Christianity. And he sort of fell into - the son of the pastor sort of fell into that idea, and he was a musician. And when he came back to this country (it was more than a furlough; I think he came back to school), he wanted to take the music of the Y?nomamö people and put lyrics to it that were consistent with, you know, biblical truth. So he did that, and he went back. And this young - he was about 5’2”…not young - but this Y?nomamö shaman Baptista (former shaman), he just objected almost violently. He says, “You can’t do that! We use that music to worship the spirits! You can’t syncretize the two. You can’t amalgamate them.”
So it was an error done unwittingly, but certainly these people recognized what the problem was. But we don’t sometimes. We think this is all going to work. “There’s a way that seem right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” In other words, separation from truth. So that was a problem.
Now, what kind of success have you had, and how long does it take to train native converts to carry on the work of ministry in Siberia, for example?
Tom W: Yeah, well, the training, I think, shouldn’t go on forever. I mean, there’s basically two approaches to missions - like going to Siberia, you can do one of two things: one, you can go there full-time to evangelize and plant a church; or you can do it like we did: we went spring, summer, fall, but didn’t stay there. We weren’t living there, especially in the harshness of the winter.
There were four American missionaries came into Tuva in the 10 years that we were there, and they all came to plant churches, and none of them were successful. One of them left after one year because of the harsh weather. The other two couldn’t get back in; their visas wouldn’t be renewed because they were trying to be there full-time. We didn’t have any problem with that, and we were so blessed by the Lord, because - and I’m not saying we did everything right and they did what was wrong. That’s not the case at all, it’s just that we were so blessed by the Lord that when we got to Tuva in 2003, we found a good solid church in the capitol city of Kyzyl. But there was nothing out in the rest of Tuva. There wasn’t a church out there anywhere; there was nothing going on.
So we made our goal to go to every village in the Republic of Tuva within 10 years, and what we’d do - sometimes we’d have to drive four hours just one way to get to one village, but we’d go right to the school, we’d go into the school, we’d ask for the principal, tell the principal why we were there before I’d ever get everything out that I wanted to say. He or she would say, “We’ll gather the students.” They’d turn the students over to us, grades 8-11 (they only go through the 11th grade in Siberia), and we were able in 30-40 minutes to do a complete gospel presentation and give everyone a Russian Bible.
Now, the good thing about that was that these were all across Tuva, hundreds of school - only turned down one time during all those 10 years. But by putting the Bible and the gospel (we gave them a tract, also, on the gospel) in their hands, they took all that home, so now we spread it throughout the whole village, or the whole town, and as a result of that we were able to plant three churches: one in ’04, one in ’05, one in ’09.
And then from the church in Kyzyl, the capitol city, the Lord had already prepared men to shepherd these churches. They were there, they were ready to go! And that was just the Lord’s timing, the Lord’s blessing on that.
But we…you know, what we’ve done over the years, we go spring and fall for schools (there’s no school during the summer), and in summer we go back for leadership training and to help the churches. We’ve done that every year. Now, I didn’t do it last year, because I chose not to go last year because I’d gone 10 years in a row, and at my age I wanted to take a little break, so…
But we spent a lot of time with them. The area of discernment is in great need, and it was also among Native American pastors. They’re too open to things that come their way, so we had to spend a lot of time with that, and we have.
Right now, this year, I’m unable to get back into Russia. I cannot get the proper visa, and I don’t know if that’s going to be yearlong or it’s just right now. And if we can’t get back in this year, then we’ve already got plans to bring our Siberian pastors to Riga, Latvia. That’s where my interpreter lives anyway, and we will spend time with them, training them, encouraging them, and going through a lot of different things with them at that time.
Also, now, going to Russia I’m writing more now, and I just write simple…what we call simple biblical truth for Native Americans and for the Russians. That’s all translated into Russian, and goes directly to the Russian pastors and the schools and many other people over there.
So, you know, as far as us, we were just blessed. I mean, it’s just perfect timing for us. Things were in place, and it just all worked out. And the three churches over there, I have a lot of contact through the internet, through my interpreter, or through an English teacher who - she’s actually Tuvian, but she got her Masters degree at the University of Kansas. I can text her any time, so we have a lot of contact. We know what’s going on, and things are going well with the three churches, and I’d say we’ve just been blessed.
Tom: Tom, we know from the Scriptures that wherever the gospel - wherever we hope to bring the gospel, as we saw in the Book of Acts, there’s always opposition.
Tom W: Well, it’s interesting: on my first trip to Siberia…and I’ve only stayed in a hotel in Russia on two nights; been going for 10 years, but only stayed in a hotel two nights. On my first trip there in 2002, I turned on this little TV, and it had six black and white channels, and three of them were out of China (which we were right almost on the Chinese border in Eastern Siberia), the other three out of Russia. One of those channels was a well-known American televangelist promoting the health-and-wealth gospel.
Tom W: And I asked a pastor that same year - I said, “What is it that hinders the gospel?” in the building of a church in Siberia, and he was very quick to answer me: Number one, the Russian orthodox church, which baptizes 70 percent of all babies in Russia, so they think they’re already okay. And then secondly, he said the health-and-wealth gospel that comes from the West. He said, “The problem is that people hear that. They all have access to TV, and so when you witness to them and tell them they need Christ as their Savior, often,” he said, “they’ll say to us, ‘Well, we tried that. It didn’t work for us.’”
Well, what did they try? They came to Christ because they were told He was going to heal all their illnesses and make them rich - it didn’t happen. They didn’t come to Christ because they were convicted of their sin in need of a Savior, so that’s a great hindrance to them.
But you know, it’s hard, because these are poor people, both on the reservations and in Siberia, and so they’re so prone to fall for this, and…
Tom W: You know, it’s even been a struggle for us with our pastors in Siberia to keep them away from this. They’re just bombarded with the health-and-wealth gospel coming out of the West. I could name several well-known health-and-wealth people that are on television continually here in the United States, and they have all kinds of books in Russia in the Russian language propagating their…
Tom: Right. Well, Tom, we’ve seen it. It continues to be a plague in Africa, for example. But I mentioned this when we talked about doing this interview, that by God’s grace and His willing this, people don’t know that sometimes The Berean Call does mission work. Certainly Dave and I went to Russia as missionary work. The Lord willing, this fall I’m making plans to go to Mongolia. One of the reasons for that is just what you’re saying, Tom: that these prosperity teachers are there. They have books already in the Mongolian language. So that’s one of the reasons that the Lord had put it on my heart to go, to encourage people and to deal with apologetics, to deal with discernment of these things.
Tom W: Right.
Tom: But you also mentioned Buddhism. Is there - what numbers would follow the Buddhist religion in Siberia?
Tom W: Well, Mongolia, or right north of Mongolia where the Republic of Tuva is at, that’s a Buddhist stronghold. We started our ministry…a year ago we moved out of Tuva, because we have the churches there, but our evangelism, we moved it just the next district up, which is Khakassia, and there’s not a Buddhist there. It’s kind of interesting that you’ve got this one district that’s dominate Buddhism, and basically all across Siberia it’s shamanism. Shamanism is the dominant indigenous belief, and of course the Russian Orthodox church is scattered all over, too.
But the Buddhists, you know - for example, when we went into Tuva the first couple years, we met in their cultural centers, public places; and the third year we showed up we couldn’t do it, and the Buddhists had basically influenced the government there to shut us down on that, because they didn’t like what we were doing. So you have that happening.
You also have it happening from the Russian Orthodox church in other areas where they will influence the government to bring hardship or problems to the evangelical church. So that’s kind of a common thing all across Siberia. Buddhist in one area, but the Russian Orthodox church everywhere.
Tom: Well, as we said, we hope to bring the gospel. There’s going to be opposition. Jesus said, “If they hated me, they’re going to hate you.” But nevertheless, we persevere, because we’re talking about eternal life here. We’re not talking about just a change in lifestyle or any kind of temporal aspect that has some value, you know. Our lives certainly get better in a temporal sense, but that’s not the story here. The story is eternal life through Christ.
Now, Tom, in addition to praying for you and for your ministry, what would be your most pressing needs in order to carry on the mission work that God’s called you to?
Tom W: Well, certainly prayer is the important thing here. I’m turning 74 this year, so I’m getting up there; faced a few health issues in the last few months…going to Russia is just a hard trip. You know, it takes 23 hours of travel just to get to central Siberia, so that alone wears you out. But…so anyway, prayer for that.
Also, you know, we have opposition in Russia. I’ve got arrested once, and hauled off to jail, and interrogated, and fined, and fingerprinted and the works, so you have that. So just our protection, not only in the long travel over there and back, but also while we’re there. I find the Russian people as a whole are very friendly, but sometimes there’s people that really are opposed to what you’re doing, and basically they stir up the government against you.
Tom: Right. Well…
Tom W: Once we came out of a school, and the Russian militia and immigration authorities were there, you know, and just hauled us off to jail.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Tom, it’s starting to sound like Paul in the Book of Acts!
Tom W: Yeah…
Tom: But that’s the reality…
Tom W: …and the FSB, better known as the KGB, were called in because we were foreigners. And this FSB agent said, when he looked at me, he said to my interpreter, “I know him.” I didn’t know him, but this guy told us everywhere we’d been; he even told us where we had lunch that day. And I’ve had missionaries in Russia, American missionaries, they wouldn’t even tell me what they were doing, because they all were here under the radar. But I don’t think anybody’s under the radar in Russia. I think somebody knows what you’re doing if you’re there as an American. This guy knew everything we were doing.
But, you know, sometimes it works the other way. You know, we were going to a school, and they told us we couldn’t get in - 250 students who I wanted to talk to. And on the way we stopped at a smaller village, and we had opposition from the militia, and they called in the district head man. He came in and he stood there and observed the whole meeting, and he was a big Russian guy in full uniform. And when the meeting was over, he walks straight toward me and I thought, “Boy, I’m in serious trouble.”
And the first words that came out of his mouth were, “I like what you’re doing.” And he said, “Where are you going from here?”
And I said, “Well, I’m going up to (…).” There wasn’t even a road up there; we had to go by boat, two-day trip. And I said, “I was told I couldn’t get in a school, but I want to go try.”
And he said, “You’ll get in, because I’m going with you.” He got in the boat, this militia guy, and took us right up and got us in. So, you know, it can work both ways, but prayer for safety and protection in travel.
You know, it takes money to do this, but we have never - in 12 years, the Lord has graciously met our financial needs. And I’m just amazed, and I praise Him for it, because we’ve never solicited money from individuals, churches, or organizations, but yet the Lord has provided. So…
Tom: You know, Tom, that’s been our heart here at The Berean Call. We believe where God guides, He provides. And certainly He raises up people, He uses people, and so on. But we sort of take the George Muller approach, that we bring our prayers and petitions before God, and He moves on the hearts of people. That’s the way we want to do it.
Nevertheless, I so appreciate our time together here, and we’d encourage people…again, I’ve been talking to Tom Watson. He’s the president of Bended Knee International.
Tom, could you give us your website?
Tom W: Yeah, it’s www.bendedknee.org.
Tom: Okay. And so I would encourage you people, some of us can’t go on mission trips, but we can certainly support the work of the Lord among not only indigenous people, but those who don’t know Christ and need to know Christ for their eternal destiny.
So, Tom, again, thanks for being with us. It’s been a pleasure, and we will continue here at The Berean Call - continue…as you know, we have been praying for you guys over the years, and will continue to do that. So thanks for being with us, Tom.
Tom W: Well, thank you, Tom. I appreciate it.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Bend, OR, 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org.
I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could join us, and we hope you can tune in again next time. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.