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Leader Spotlight: Donna Pewo

Pastor Donna Pewo is a local pastor and General Board of Global Ministries missionary serving the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal, rural community of Clinton, Oklahoma through the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center. Pewo both shares the gospel and focuses on empowering children and youth by building bridges through community and education.  

Communications technology is the most important tool available in the rural community to support and accomplish the center’s mission, Pewo said. Phone-based technology, such as group texts and social media, helps her communicate with children, youth and their parents. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they are online “almost constantly” (2018). Group texts and Facebook help the community members support each other spiritually and academically throughout the week when they are not gathered in the same place. 

 “When I came [to Clinton], the dropout rate was pretty high. It was one of the challenges with this mission. Education has become a main focus for these kids,” said Pewo. The mission project assists K-12 children and youth, by focusing on their personal needs, cultivating a faith-based community and providing tutoring. 

The mission center is in partnership with Wesley Foundation of Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Students visit the mission center twice a month. The partnership provides an opportunity for the children and youth to “...be engaged with students from all walks of life that have come to embrace them not just for tutoring but to make a connection with them and let them know that there’s people who care about them and to better themselves,” said Pewo. 

Each summer mission teams visit the community center. For Pewo, it is important that visiting groups learn the culture and history of the people they are serving. The Washita Massacre Site is an hour and a half away from Clinton and marks where Chief Black Kettle, one of the Cheyenne leaders seeking peace treaties with colonists, was killed along with most of the village. Pewo takes mission teams to this site so that they may understand the challenges the children and youth of this community face. Pewo says, “It is a very reverent site for the people... it gives [mission teams] insight of the intergenerational trauma the people of the Clinton community have to deal with.” 

Taking the mission teams to cultural sites “is a wonderful tool to help envision how we can work together to build confidence, relationships and reconcile what has taken place in the past so we can move together for their present and their future,” she says. 

Pewo believes that creating a path to success for teens and lowering the high school dropout rate originates from their being empowered during their developmental years. Then, after graduating from high school, they are prepared to continue to speak up for good, understand their self-worth and know that everyone has gifts to offer. 

— Aileen Jimenez is manager of Hispanic/Latino leader communications at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.  Do you know someone we should feature? Contact Aileen at (615)742-5479 or at [email protected].