Making New Friends at the Mennonite Church-USA Convention: Lakota and Choctaw Women

Vina and Arlene, new friends

Yesterday, Independence Day, I felt an inward nudge to visit the Native Mennonite American Ministries booth here at the Mennonite gathering in Phoenix. I wanted to know more about Mennonites who are also Native Americans.

Writing my memoir Blush has brought more awareness about the long history of this great land. Six generations of my family lived on the same Home Place near Lititz, Pennsylvania. But these six generations were a drop in the bucket compared to hundreds of years of Native American life on the same land.

I would love my story, in some small way, to open up some of those ancient stories.

Yesterday I listened to two of my sisters in the faith. One, Vina, comes from the famous place of Black Elk and the Ghost Dance — Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The other, Arlene, comes from a section of the also famous Philadelphia, Mississippi, now named Choctaw. Arlene is Mennonite and Choctaw.

Arlene and I discovered that we have a mutual acquaintance, Leroy Clemens, a civil rights activist in Philadelphia, MS. We looked at each other and said, “Small world.”

I learned that Vina sometimes sings on the radio in Pine Ridge. She sings Lakota hymns and people appreciate hearing praises to God sung in the language of their own people. She’s also a registered nurse and a leader within her community. She was signing her name to a quilt as we spoke.

I asked if she would be willing to sing for the readers of this blog. I made it clear that she could say “no,” since she had no music and the hall was buzzing with other voices. But she said “yes!” Here is my new friend Vina singing “I Know the Lord Will Make a Way.”

I asked what the greatest challenges are for the Native Mennonite Ministries. Not surprisingly, Vina said, “Finances.” So I bought something from the lovely display of handcrafted beadwork, a bracelet intended for my grandson Owen. I also signed up to be on the mailing list.

I loved getting to know these two women a little bit and hope you enjoy sharing a little of the music, stories, and beadwork of the First People in this land we call America.

What New Beginning today? Stuart and I are going to plan a trip to Sedona. More Native culture and beauty ahead!


Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on July 5, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    It was touching to hear a gospel song so familiar to me being sung in another language by your new friend. Thank you for this gift.

    Both of us seem to be hooked on audio visuals with our blogs lately–ha! As you probably know, my latest blog features a yodeling segment recalling Daddy and his musical Saturday nights.

    • shirleyhs on July 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      I agree, Marian. I found this singing very moving.

      You remind me that I failed to comment on your delightful blog post. The iPhone is not a good way to keep up with blogs!

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