GraceConnect eNews, No. 98, Week of May 4, 2015

Communication-Conversation-Conservation

The eNewsletter for the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches
Robert Soto has fought for the last nine years to have precious eagle feathers returned to his tribe.

A Heritage Returned

To the members of the Lipan Apache tribe, eagle feathers are a precious symbol of their heritage. They represent the heart of the Native American people in a similar way the American flag represents the heart and value system of citizens of the United States. And according to the United States law, eagle feathers can only be owned and possessed by federal acknowledge tribal members who submit the proper paperwork to the Department of Interior.

On March 11, 2006, undercover federal agents interrupted a pow-wow and confiscated 50 eagle feathers from Robert Soto, pastor of the Grace Brethren Church in McAllen, Texas, and member of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas -- a group only acknowledged by the State of Texas. Ever since, Soto, who faced severe fines and imprisonment for supposed illegal possession of the eagle feathers, has been involved in a nine-year legal battle to get back the tribe’s feathers.

Soto says, “When it comes to American Indians, it is the government who determines who can or cannot worship God as a Native, as they also determine who is or is not an American Indian. Now they come into our family gathering that we have been having since 1970, and threaten to arrest me… I had no other choice but to trust God. I looked up to heaven the next day and said, ‘God, I give it all to you.’ It was then that God started to work in my life. He sent a federal lawyer who just happened to be a Christian and also a youth pastor called me out of the blue and said, ‘I’m federal lawyer. I know nothing about feathers but I do know you are facing fifteen years in prison and a $250,000 fine and God has told me to help you out of this mess.’ And that he did.”

Soto continues, “After I was released from any criminal charges, God led me to two Native lawyers in Texas who had never tried an eagle feather case but were willing to try. They stuck with me for eight and a half years until we won the case and did what no other law firm had ever done: win. My faith in God is what has given me the strength to fight for the last nine years and win.”

On March 9, 2015, the feathers were finally returned under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The RFRA was passed in 1993 on the federal level and signed by then-President Bill Clinton. The law requires a compelling state interest test be imposed on all government laws and ordinances that might disrupt one’s exercise of religion.
    

Soto says he expected to never get his feathers back, but it was all in God’s timing. 

“What happened on March 9, 2015, was a landmark decision,” he said. “I have always had faith in my Lord and my Savior that everything was going to turn out all right, but deep inside I knew that the odds were against me….when I got the news that the feathers were going to be returned, I fell into total disbelief because the return of the feathers was all we needed to prove we had truly won the case.”

Soto is the first Native from a tribe not acknowledge by the Federal Government to ever have his feathers returned. He says he will keep fighting until he sees laws being changed and Native rights given. He will return to court on May 28 to help restore these rights. This week, Soto is in New York with his wife as guests of the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty at the Anniversary Canterbury Medal Dinner. Send him a note of encouragement to robtsoto@aol.com. --by Alisha Gomez, intern at GraceConnect.

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[Your Turn]

 
[Read:] 

Mike Yoder, lead pastor of Grace Polaris, a Grace Brethren congregation in Westerville, Ohio, talks about what it means to be filled with the Spirit in a recent blog post

"Here’s the practical reality," he writes. "God is looking for people who will submit to His presence and agree with His design. When we let Him have control, owning up to our attempts and paths to try and have it our way, He is honored. And His Spirit is given freedom to do His work." 
To read the entire post, click here.

[Watch and Pray:]

In the wake of the incredible violence that ISIS has been spreading throughout the Middle East, much directly against Christians (whom they call "the People of the Cross,") Michael Chang, a graphic artist and Christian in Los Angeles, created a video response to ISIS via his new media company,
 Mighty. Working with Arab Christians and Middle East refugees to get their feedback, Chang's response to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians this February by ISIS is a powerful reminder for Christians of all backgrounds. 

"What’s so powerful about the cross?" said Chang in an
 interview with the National Review, "God and man were separated because of sin. The cross brings these two back together. ...ISIS continues to murder people because they've never experienced a love like this."  

Watch the video 
below.
 

Events in the FGBC

June 15-July 27 – Operation Barnabas, Winona Lake, Ind. (CEN)
June 21-27, 2015  Great Canadian Adventure, Toronto, Ontario (GBC)
June 21-27, 2015 – Encounter Atlanta, Atlanta, Ga. (EWP)
June 23-July 7 City Life Tours East Coast & West Coast (CEN)
July 14-19, 2015 – Momentum Youth Conference, Marion, Ind. (CEN) 
July 23-26, 2015 – Flinch Conference (national conference), Newark, N.J. (FGBC) 

CEN – CE National
EWP – Encompass World Partners
FGBC – Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches
GBC – Grace Brethren Canada
WGUSA – Women of Grace USA

Send events for the calendar to lcgates@bmhbooks.com.
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GraceConnect eNews is produced by MariJean Sanders, editorial coordinator.

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