Chief Cornerstone & The Thirteenth Apostle

He was crossing King David Street, in Jerusalem, near the hip vicinity of Mamilla Mall. I noticed his distinctly Native American features and limber stride even before I saw the long hair dangling down his back, swinging behind him like a pendulum as he disappeared into a sweaty throng of pedestrians.

His head was high. There was a bounce in his step. No slumped shoulders and shuffling feet. No empty bottle. No shame. No defeat. No Johnny Cash singing honky tonk…

Jerusalem is a crazy place. It isn’t Disney Land, it isn’t Paris, but it really is like the naval of the world. Here you might find a Baptist church led by an Assemblies of God pastor meeting on Saturday instead of Sunday, and the world seems to shrink when you are here, surrounded by Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Druze, African refugees, foreign dignitaries, and tourists speaking every language under the sun…

Still, outside of the military, it’s unusual to see an American Indian so far from America.

He’s a long way from home! I marveled.

But so am I

Our taxi driver (like many people around the world) was keenly interested in American politics. (Israeli politics are almost too complicated for casual discussion.) “Hillary or Trump?” he asked with an appraising glance in the rear-view mirror. He sighed that he had been following the news for forty years and nothing had changed while my mind followed the Native American back seven thousand miles, across oceans, to the pure air of the New World and the pioneers who travailed for freedom and somehow wrested peace and prosperity from its wildness. My thoughts wandered to an alternate-history novel called The Yiddish Policemen’s Union–a 21st century mystery set in a fictional Jewish reservation in Alaska.

“Indian country” will always be home to me. No native blood pulses through my veins, but for most of my life I have been a fair-skinned minority on a poor reservation about the size of Kosovo. Outsiders find it strange that an indigenous tribe would lease pieces of their land to non-native people, stranger still that one sovereign nation can exist within the borders of another. It is strange sometimes, even to me.

When I was growing up, we used to get Christian tracts in our mailbox, proclaiming: “JESUS WASN’T WHITE.” I heard the pow wow drums on summer nights. A tribal officer gave me shooting lessons. My grandfather’s old friend, Benedict Nightwalker, used to come to church with an eagle feather in his hat and a dilapidated Bible that had “Chief Cornerstone” embossed on the cover (from Psalm 118:22, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone”)–and the cowboy and the Indian prayed together to the God of Israel… 

Our taxi driver punched his horn and nosed into a tangle of merging traffic. (It’s true that Israelis drive like devils. I’ve driven these streets myself, on an adrenalin high, in a rental, tailing friends through the chaos of Passover. And, yes, I got honked at a lot.)

My thoughts returned to my countryman and speculations about what he might possibly be doing here. Maybe he met an Israeli girl online. Or maybe he’s a Bible student. Maybe he’s here to see a resurrected nation and to see—not the faithfulness of that nation, per se—but the faithfulness of that nation’s God. 

I always tell people that it’s exciting to be here when you look back, but it’s more exciting when you look ahead.

I thought about the fabulous dimensions of the eternal city described in the Book of Revelation, with twelve foundations—one for each of the Lord’s twelve disciples. I thought about those twelve original disciples or apostles (“messengers”), one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. An unqualified dozen they were! And then I thought about Paul, the odd man out, the thirteenth and most unlikely and most renowned apostle, a student of the great rabbi Gamaliel, “a Hebrew of Hebrews … circumcised the eighth day … a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5), sent as an ambassador for Christ, not to his own beloved kin but to the uncircumcised Gentiles—sent like Jonah to idolators who couldn’t have cared less about his pedigree.

Which brings us back to the man who crossed King David Street.

Anthropologists say that Native Americans probably came from the region of Mongolia and, considering that there are more horses in Mongolia than humans, it’s no surprise. Only a tiny percentage of Native Americans follow Jesus today, but Mongolia was virtually untouched by the good news of salvation until 1990, when a group of Native American believers entered Mongolia as tourists and started baptizing people (read the article)…

Mongolia will never be the same again, thanks to those Native American believers, and the ancient Messianic prophecy rings true:

‘It is too small a thing that you should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'” Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy one of Israel, and He has chosen You.”–Isaiah 49:6-7 NKJV

Who says the number thirteen is unlucky?