The history of the SBC includes thousands of missionaries, pastors, workers, and others who often get lost to history. My goal is to highlight a few of those people in order that we can be encouraged and inspired by their lives and sacrifice. This week we look to a pioneer in Native American Ministry. Half of native churches are in Oklahoma and they are asking us to pray for a spiritual awakening this week as they host their annual camp meeting online. Indian Falls Creek is one of the largest annual Native camps in America. Pray for them as they meet this week. Learn more at www.indianfallscreek.org
“The objective of this assembly in its annual meeting shall be to foster promote Christian training, inspiration, fellowship, evangelism, and missionary zeal among the Indians in their Baptist church life.”
Those simple words are in the founding documents of something incredible. A summer camp and assembly founded by, ran by, and ran for Native Americans. It might not seem like much, but to Victor Kaneubbe who wrote the words, it was a sign of the many ways God was working among Natives.
Born in 1921 in Okmulgee, OK he was the son of full-blood Choctaw Hampton Kaneubbe and one-quarter Choctaw Sue Kaneubbe. At the age of two, he moved with his family to the countryside near Hugo, OK where they lived on the farm and attended the Presbyterian Church. Victor attended the Goodland Indian Orphanage school when old enough but he failed the first year due to health issues. Twice that year he was on his death bed, once for diphtheria and then for pneumonia.
When he was 8 years old the family moved back to Okmulgee, then a town of about 15k and capital of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. They attended the Tabernacle Baptist Church, later Second Baptist, and at ten years old he joined the church. Victor graduated from high school in Okmulgee in 1940.
During the winter of 1936, Victor was seated in the rear of the auditorium while the pastor preached. Victor realized his lost condition and gave his life to Christ but did not make a public confession until the summer at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly. Upon return from camp, he was baptized in Second Baptist Church by Rev. AJ Wilson. The Sunday before his high school graduation he surrendered his life to ministry at the same church.
He attended Oklahoma Baptist University in order to prepare for ministry and soon began working in churches around the area. He first began at his home church in Okmulgee before later working at First Baptist Church Bowlegs, OK and Calvary Baptist in Shawnee. While at OBU he met Eileen Walker who was a music major. She began playing for him as he sang at churches and soon they developed a relationship. They were married in December 1944 at her home church in Baxter Springs, TX. After graduation from OBU in 1945 Kaneubbe was appointed by the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as the Director of the Indian Center in OKC and the newlyweds began their life of ministry together.
After a year and a half there they left to return to Shawnee to start the Indian Center there from scratch. This was the first of many ministries that Victor and Eileen would start. They had the gift of staring new churches and other ministries before handing them off to others to grow and nurture. In the early years of their ministry, they moved often, going to Miami, OK in 1950, Bethel Baptist in Tulsa in 1952, and then to the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, KS in 1955. From there they did ministry in Pawhuska, OK, and Kirkwood, MO before moving to be missionaries to the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi.
All the while this ministry was going on at these Kaneubbe continued his education and had other ministries on the side. He attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City. He edited the Oklahoma Indian Baptist newspaper and published his book “Indian Life on New Trails” in 1956. He regularly appeared on the “Indians for Indians” Radio show put on by Indian Club in Shawnee.
He helped found Indian Falls Creek in Davis, OK, and served as director and assistant several times. IFC began as a ministry of the Home Mission Board and grew from 333 attendees the first year to over three thousand in recent years. Still today IFC is an anticipated event for many churches and families and thousands have been saved since that first year.
While in Mississippi the family became embroiled in controversy when their daughter was denied at enrollment at the Indian School for being too white and the white school for being too Indian. Victor was Choctaw and his wife was white and they found themselves the target of racism on both sides. Victor launched a campaign against racism in Philadelphia, MS, and looked for support from the SBC. He urged those in his missionary network and others to write to Congress and it resulted in a deluge of letters to the BIA and others in Washington. Southern Baptists in the area were both angry and embarrassed to be in the spotlight for being in the wrong side in what became a national debate over Native American education. The Philadelphia Baptist community pressured the Home Mission Board to remove Kaneubbe. His supervisor offered him a transfer instead, but Victor refused at first in order to continue his fight. Eventually, he decided against court action and took the transfer. Kaneubbe dealt with the fall out graciously while never giving up his stance of equality for all.
After leaving Missippi the Kaneubbes transferred to New Mexico in 1960 to work among the Indians. Their work continued in that region for many years are Victor served as a pastor, youth leader, missionary, and church planter in Arizona and New Mexico. The work was often difficult and pioneering among people that didn’t necessarily want to be ministered to. But they continued to work and start new ministries until they retired.
In 1976 Kaneubbe became pastor at First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix. The church was supported by the Home Mission Board and had been so for many years. When he retired 10 years later the church was fully self-sufficient. Not only that but the church that began it’s life as a mission started supporting missions themselves. The circle of life continued as that church helped start other churches.
After 37 years Kaneubbe retired from the Home Mission Board but his ministry was not done. He was elected to the be first chairman of the National Native American Southern Baptist Fellowship. The fellowship worked to get 400 full-time Native pastors, 1,200 bi-vocational pastors, and 4,000 trained lay leaders. As a sign of his respect, he became the first American Indian elected to convention wide office in the SBC. He was chosen as second Vice President in 1987 and worked to bring awareness of Native issues to the convention.
In his retirement, he still continued mission work. He continued to start new ministries, served as a chaplain, and spoke at camps and retreats. He often dressed in Native regalia and told stories of his ministry to make campers aware of the need for Native ministry.
Victor Murat Kaneubbe passed away on October 8, 2004.