Statement from California-Nevada Committee on Native American Ministries on the sudden loss of Derrick Rainbow
March 18, 2021 | by Kevin Murphy
Our small, intrepid Conference Committee has lost a dear friend and leader in the passing this week of Derrick Rainbow, a member of the Quechan nation who grew up on their lands in Yuma, Arizona and who served as Chair of the Committee on Native American Ministries for many years before recently adding his contributions to the work of the Conference’s Core Team.
Derrick’s legacy ought to have a wide impact. We are confident and thankful that, in the movement of the Spirit, his gifts will continue among us. He exemplified many qualities often found to be ascendant among Native peoples. He was humble, but also forthright, when need be. He was implacably able to speak the truth, while always being respectful, living closely with the Spirit. He showed us what courage looks like in the early years when he was first asked to chair CONAM, as he took on the responsibility of leading a Disciplinary committee within the Annual Conference that was little known, without much preparation; he learned on the job and wasn’t afraid to overcome his natural shyness and initial inexperience in the effort to lift up the gifts of our historical, Native Ministries.
Many will recall his presence at the 2016 Annual Conference’s Act of Repentance, and the unassuming manner with which he brought forward his wisdom and leadership in that moment. As perhaps for other Natives on the Committee, he felt that day had been painfully too long in coming, and as also commonly believed, felt it of utmost importance to acknowledge that Reconciliation, which can follow Repentance, however challenging, is truly God’s Gift to humanity in Christ Jesus.
Derrick may not have been given the chance to complete a college degree if it were not for the opportunity to attend an Indian college. He spent his retirement years giving back in many ways, including as a leader in his local church, as well as with the Annual Conference.
It is appropriate, as we pause to acknowledge Derrick’s many contributions, that we also acknowledge that the history of Native American Ministry within the Methodist movement has yet to come into the full light, and to note, thankfully, the past practices of sending White Pastors to work for relatively short pastorates among Native peoples has shifted toward a more appropriate emphasis on resourcing the development of Native leadership.
At this sad time, and as we prepare to celebrate the Native American Ministries Sunday in April, we at CONAM want to re-dedicate ourselves to working to assure that Native spiritual leaders, even though they may often be located in too-little noticed corners of the Methodist universe, are given the educational and connectional opportunities Derrick worked to receive, so that they, too, can best help interpret the rich traditions of Native spirituality to the benefit of all Christian people, while being a servant-leader as only a Native American alive in the Spirit can.
Derrick’s quiet wisdom and humble spirit of service will be dearly missed by many across the Annual Conference. His departure from us, even at the age of 72, feels too sudden and too soon. Our prayers are with his wife Linda and his local church community, Grace UMC in Fresno. We pray we all may be blessed to carry on with his vision that the truths of Faith and Hope are for all people, brought together before God.
Nathan Sam-Whistler (chairperson)
Kevin Murphy is a member of Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM).