Soaring to New Heights
by Daniel J. Wolfe & Jodi Unruh
As a part of New Hope Christian College’s mission to release the dreams of students, the College is always looking for ways to connect with potential students around the world. Through its connections with the Open Bible denomination, a unique opportunity opened up leading to the welcoming of a Native American student.
In 2011, the Lord was stirring the heart of Pastor Chuck Loftis, the Regional Supervisor of Open Bible’s Mountain Plains Region. This led to the creation of the First Nations Network (FFN), which was designed to make connections between Native Americans and peoples of other ethnicities.
Out of New Hope’s connection with Open Bible and Open Bible’s growing connection with Native Americans, Reverend Randy Ellendorf, transitional pastor of the Christian Life Fellowship on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, visited to the NHCC campus and returned with pamphlets for the College, one of which he handed to Bradley Roan Eagle. What Reverend Ellendorf did not know is that God was doing a powerful work in Bradley’s life at the time, and that shortly before being handed the pamphlet Bradley was experiencing a major life change.
Bradley’s story is unfortunately common for many Native Americans. He grew up in an abusive household where his mother and step-father were both addicted to alcohol and drugs. Bradley and his two sisters had to go door-to-door begging for food because there wasn’t any food at home. He witnessed violence and sexual abuse and also carried deep shame from being a bastard child. “I often felt like an outcast because I was a bastard child. My mom hid her pregnancy so I didn’t know who he (biological father) was. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt shame,” Bradley said. As part of hiding her pregnancy, Bradley’s mother wore a tight corset which prevented Bradley’s legs from developing properly. He had to wear leg braces in the first grade but refused after a short while because the other kids teased him so much. Miraculously, today, Bradley’s legs are perfectly strong and healthy.
When Bradley was six-years-old, Child Family Services intervened and took him and his siblings into foster care where he spent several years on and off in the system. When he was eight-years-old, his mother’s aunt whom he calls “Grandma,” adopted him and his brother. His two sisters went to live with another relative. This was the first major turning point in Bradley’s life, and a testimony of God’s goodness. He first started learning about Jesus from Pastor Steve and Carolyn Poetzl, who at the time were living in Des Moines, Iowa and working with a ministry camp for kids called the “Carpenter Shop.” Bradley says this was his first real look at what it was like to be a Christian family. “It planted a real seed—I wanted to be like that someday,” he said. Forming a special bond with the Poetzls, Bradley then went to stay with them at their home off and on for several years.
However, as it usually is with life, the hard times are not over after one turning point. Bradley eventually lost touch with the Poetzls, and without spiritual guidance and support, he turned to heavily drinking for comfort. He joined the Marine Corp. at the age of eighteen, but his battle with alcohol continued. During this time, he had two car accidents dangerous enough to have killed him, but he survived. After four years of battling his addiction while still in the Marine Corp Bradley returned to South Dakota to live on the reservation where he grew up.
In December of 2012, God moved powerfully again in Bradley’s life as he turned to God to help him stop drinking. “I realized God was the only way to get past this. I said, ‘Fine I give in.’ I knew I’d better do something or I am going to kill myself—those thoughts did cross my mind,” he said.
Bradley started reading the Bible, but he was still drinking. He then tried to stop drinking because he felt convicted, but he would eventually start drinking again. Then, after three different arrests —for which he was never convicted—God freed Bradley from his addiction to alcohol. “The more I was in the Word of God and playing the guitar and worshiping, the less those other things had control over me. Then [in May of 2013], after I got drunk I said ‘That’s it.’ That was the last time.” Bradley knew he needed to leave the area if he truly wanted to get a new lease on life.
That very morning, drinking coffee to help him with his hangover, Bradley looked at the New Hope pamphlet sitting on the coffee table. “I remember sitting in the living room and saying I need to do something different with my life. I looked at the table next to me, and on it was the pamphlet for New Hope. And I said, ‘Yeah right, I’m not going to a Bible college in Oregon.’ I don’t think I would ever make it in Bible College,” he said.
For a time, Bradley denied the idea of going to a small Bible College in Eugene, Oregon, but the thought of it kept returning to his mind. He now knows it was voice of God which was prodding him to apply. “Something told me to apply. I tried denying it. I kept trying to find a job or something else. A friend told me if you don’t do this now, you will never get out of here. So, I applied [June of 2013]. I got baptized. This was all the week before I had stopped drinking.”
What Bradley didn’t know is that Pastor Steve and Carolyn Poetzl, the ones who first shared Christ with him, were currently serving as the Student Life directors at the College. When Bradley’s application came across Carolyn’s desk, she called him immediately. Bradley hadn’t had contact with her or Steve for fourteen years, so he didn’t know who it was on the other end of the receiver. “The voice sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure. But then it dawned on me when she said Pastor Steve. I was shocked. Here I was applying for this college where I didn’t know anyone . Out of the blue, two people who wanted to adopt me are there,” he said.
Bradley was accepted to the College that July. The day he arrived for Orientation, however, his grandfather passed away. Bradley chose not to return to the funeral, because he feared that if he left he would not be able to muster up the strength to return. Even so, he struggled with a sense of belonging at the College. “I thought ‘What am I doing here?’” he said. “This is just a bunch of kids who don’t know anything about life who are going to try Christianize me. You guys go on mission trips to Cambodia for your glorified title. If you’re really serious, go live with them and make a change.”
Bradley’s heart began to change, however, when he started connecting with the staff and other students. He was amazed that people were genuinely concerned with his well-being—even those he had never met before. “After being here for three weeks after my grandpa died, people lifted me up in prayer, talked to me; they were there for me. Complete strangers had that willingness to reach out,” he said.
Despite the difficulties, God’s loving-kindness shown through the community at the College helped convince Bradley that he was exactly where God wanted him to be. “Often I think back on all the things I have gone through, what I have experienced, where I came from, and how God has impacted my life. There is nothing impossible to get over and come through. If I wasn’t here (NHCC), I probably wouldn’t be doing well. If I were back at home, and this happened, I would have been drinking again.
“But because I’m here, God is using this place to grow me. When I got here I was really vulnerable with reference to Christian living. It’s a safe haven, not being out in the world. I can be built up here and become stronger, so when I go out into the world all those things won’t tempt me,” he said.
Today, Bradley continues to pursue a Pastoral Degree, while also taking voice and guitar lessons to hone his skills as a ministering musician. He is full of love and passion for others, and he hopes to minister to other Native Americans who struggle to hear the gospel message because their ears are closed to anyone who is not truly Native American. “There are people I can reach because I am Native American that you can’t,” he said. “I know there are many stereotypes about Native Americans. Sad thing is, most of them are true. Native Americans are proud people. Native men or women will listen to another Native American because they have those familiar battle scars from the past when they were violated.”
Meanwhile, God continues to open more doors of ministry between Open Bible and the Native Americans. Dr. Don Bryan, long-time missionary and former President of NHCC, and his wife Ruth, were presented with a Star Quilt, one of the highest honors the Sioux people give to those whom they esteem.
The College itself has also hosted leaders from the FNN, including Pastor Chuck Loftis and Dr. Russell Stands-Over-Bull. In addition to this, the College has taken a missions trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation where Bradley is from.
“If God’s people unify for His purposes,” Dr. Bryan said, “the blessing of His favor will be evident in the relationships between First Nations peoples and other ethnic groups. We’ll enjoy qualities that had been deemed impossible during the 400+ years of ‘secular’ relationship.”
Photos by Ryan Bluebaugh and Open Bible’s The Message Magazine