Hear from NAIITS Students

The influence of NAIITS is not simply local or regional. The impact of NAIITS is being felt globally as faculty, Elders, students and graduates integrate Indigenous ideologies, values and ontologies in their respective communities. Some of our graduates find themselves in academic institutions, influencing the next generation. Others find themselves in Indigenous organizations, utilizing their skills to empower those around them, while still others remain in their local communities, integrating their knowledge for the benefit of all. Transformation is occurring, as these testimonials make abundantly clear:

Naomi Warrawee Wolfe, MTS ‘22

Studying with NAIITS was an answer to a consistent prayer and a deep need for a community in which I could be culturally supported and intellectually challenged. As a trawloolway Christian woman, I have studied theology and history in Western institutions, and I have a vocation for both disciplines. I believe that the Australian Indigenous communities needs places where we can study in our own rights as Indigenous women and men as God made us without assimilating into mainstream non-Indigenous cultures and educational systems. I dreamt of a place where I could participate in theological education that was both culturally rigorous and academically rigorous. I was on the verge of giving up that dream when I discovered NAIITS. The ability to study within the North American program as we build our own program here in Australia was a prayer answered. I am incredibly grateful for the learning from Elders, community members and faculty across the world — which cannot be achieved in any other place! I am deeply appreciative of the active decolonization of theological education that is being attempted and achieved by NAIITS as we, as an international community, deliver high quality programs in North America and in Australia. This process of decolonization has given me the skills and encouragement to continue to decolonize my own teaching and research as an Aboriginal woman in my work at Australian Catholic University and within NAIITS College in Australia.

Melodie Turori, MA-INCD ‘23

My NAIITS education has helped me understand how to embrace my cultural identity and faith holistically, deeply impacting my personal health and my family and community relationships for good. I’ve transitioned from a more administrative community leader to a practicing community artist, developing art pieces and activations that support the healing and wellbeing of Pasifika people and our surrounding communities in Southern California. This summer, I was able to share some of my NAIITS research and related artwork with scholars and Māori youth on Rarotonga, the birthplace of my father. We are still in the early days of understanding the spiritual legacy of colonialism in the Pacific and reclaiming our Creator-given identities and practices. The work of the NAIITS Learning Community will continue to be a blessing to the present and future health of our communities.

Donnie Begay, MAIS ‘16

My name is Donnie Begay. I grew up on the Navajo Reservation and never believed I could go to college. But, after finishing my bachelor’s degree, I discovered how much I loved learning. I heard Richard Twiss speak once at a conference and knew I wanted to be like him. Richard could articulate being a Native person who followed the Jesus Way. Everything he said, I knew intrinsically, but could not explain as boldly and articulately as him. I discovered he was a part of NAIITS and knew right away I wanted to go back to school to be like Richard. Since then, I have learned more about history, theology and Indigenous perspectives that gives hope to Indigenous people instead of overzealous and deficit-based teachings of Jesus and the Bible.

Christina Quintanilla, MDiv ‘23

NAIITS gives students the honor of learning from a rich legacy of Indigenous scholars, theologians, and healers. Connecting with my ancestors' homelands, sitting at the feet of Indigenous women, and experiencing an indigenized expression of the Jesus-Way at NAIITS restored a part of me that only Creator knew needed to be restored. In contrast to my experiences in western seminaries, at NAIITS I was free to be unapologetically Indigenous and deeply rooted in the love of Jesus. On my first day of class, I knew that I had found a home—a community to envision healing for generations to come.

NAIITS provided me with an education that was not only academically rigorous, but theologically sound and culturally relevant. The Master of Divinity program curriculum and practicum equipped me to provide trauma- informed spaces of communal healing for churches and BIPOC communities. My calling to ministry will forever be impacted by my time at NAIITS!

Enoch Jeong, MA-INCD ‘20

My initial encounter with NAIITS/ Terry LeBlanc (aka Uncle Terry) was in 2016, six years into pioneering YWAM ministry in Oliver, BC, Canada. Uncle Terry came to the YWAM location I pioneered and did two weeks of Asset Based Community Development workshop/seminar. It all started from there. I was hooked on all the teachings and wisdom that came with the course. So, I joined one of NAIITS’s programs, the Master’s in Indigenous Community Development(MA-INCD.)    NAIITS gave me a different set of eyes to see the Bible through the lens of Indigenous perspectives and taught me better ways to create a healthier community of God. Currently, I live in Davao City, the Philippines, as a missionary. I teach at Evangelical Mission College(EMC) as a part-time instructor on ‘Intro to Mission.’ In the course, I do my best to integrate what I have gained from NAIITS and facilitate a decolonization approach to ‘Mission.’    It is challenging but very rewarding at the same time. NAIITS ruined my life for “GOOD!”

Crystal Porter, MTS ‘20

It is an amazing opportunity to sit and reflect on the transformative experience I was gifted at NAIITS. When I was first invited to a NAIITS symposium, I entered as a young and newly ordained pastor who was in the early stages of learning to walk with my own Indigenous community. As I participated in classes and expanded my theological understanding, I was gifted an opportunity to be a part of a sacred community — a community where I found people on a similar journey of reconnection and a safe place to ask questions and struggle through Christian history, faith and culture.

My formal education at NAIITS was instrumental as I stepped into a national role for reconciliation within my denomination. It provided me with a strong theological framework as I work with the church. And yet my greatest teachings are currently happening. They come from congregations as they learn about colonization. They come from Indigenous followers of Jesus who are overjoyed to know they can still follow Jesus and sit in ceremony. I’ve come to realize that the education from NAIITS is far reaching — every conversation, every sermon, every presentation has come to fruition because of NAIITS. I am amazed, I am humbled and I have immense gratitude and respect for my community.

Alana Parrish-Johnson, MTS ‘19

I am Haida and British-Canadian. My Haida heritage was never hidden from me, but we didn’t know what it meant culturally, spiritually, or personally until our family started embracing our roots in the last 10 years.

A big piece of my decolonizing and Indigenizing of self began with NAIITS. I grew up in a conservative Christian home. There wasn’t room for spiritualities outside of that. I figure now that if you can decolonize religion and religious structures, you can decolonize just about anything.

The learning I did while theologizing through an Indigenous lens has been essential to my work as an Indigenous educator. Since my master’s degree, I have taught Kindergarten through master’s students and demonstrated what decolonizing and Indigenizing these spaces looks like through story, song, drumming and talking circles. Because NAIITS gave me a space to learn how to decolonize theology, I am now able to demonstrate and facilitate what decolonization looks like in practice in the many schools, colleges, universities and conferences where I’ve received invitations to share my knowledge.