A faithful warrior goes to his reward
H. Thomas ‘Sonny’ Claus passes away at the age of 83 after a life dedicated to his people
Last updated 5/25/2013 at 10:28am
PHOENIX, AZ (ANS)—A mighty warrior to his Native American people, H. Thomas “Sonny” Claus, 83, passed into the presence of the Lord surrounded by his family, on Friday, March 8, 2013, at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
He was described by his close friend, Dr. Dale Kietzman, who helped him found his ministry, CHIEF (Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship), as “a truly great man whose leadership among Native American believers will be sorely missed.”
Also known to his many friends as Tom Claus, he was born December 26, 1929, in Niagara Falls, New York, to Huron James and Theresa Caretha Thomas Claus. He was an enrolled member of the Mohawk of the Six Nations on the Grand River, Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada. He was from the Turtle Clan. He was also from the Tuscarora Indian Nation.
According to a story posted on the CHIEF website (http://chief.org), when sharing his personal testimony he would always state, “I’m proud to be an Indian by race, but I am more proud to be a Christian by grace.” One of his favorite verses was II Timothy 1:12 (TLB), “It is He who saved us and chose us for His holy work, not because we deserved it but because that was His plan long before the world began—to show His love and kindness to us through Christ.”
He always praised God for his rich heritage of being a fourth generation Christian. His great grandfather, Adam Elliot Thomas, whose Mohawk name was “Split the Sky,” was one of the first Christians in his family. He was followed by his son Freeman Thomas. Then Freeman’s daughter, Theresa, and her husband, Huron Claus and two daughters, Dorothy and Shirley, became Christians through a missionary radio ministry in Buffalo, New York. Later, “Sonny,” the youngest of the family, accepted Christ into his heart when he was 14 years old.
At the early age of three, his mother trained him and his two sisters to sing, by memory, many gospel songs and choruses. They started singing in churches, Bible conferences and youth rallies all over the east coast. They were known as the Claus Indian Family. The Lord blessed their ministry as doors began to open to places where they never dreamed of going. In a few short years, they were singing in rallies with Jack Wyrtzen in Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York City; Percy Crawford in Convention Hall in Philadelphia; Torrey Johnson in Orchestra Hall in Chicago; and finally as staff musicians with Youth For Christ International with the Reverend Billy Graham.
Dr. Kietzman told me, “I remember Tom saying that he was probably the only evangelist around who could say that Billy Graham carried his suitcase for him, referring back to his teenage years of traveling together in Youth For Christ rallies. Tom also credits Torrey Johnson as tutoring him in theological studies.”
“Sonny” would look back and see how God had led his family to work with some of the greatest Bible teachers and evangelists in a generation and time of tremendous spiritual harvest. These included: Dr. Harry Ironside, Dr. Oswald J. Smith, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Dr. John Rice, Dr. Andrew Telford, Dr. Harold Ockenga, Dr. Bob Pierce of World Vision, Dr. Cameron Townsend of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Dr. Robert Evans of Greater Europe Mission, Dr. Bob Cook, Dr. Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, Walter Smyth, George Beverly Shea and other members of the Billy Graham Team, and many other godly leaders and people who made a great impact on his life.
In January of 1945, “Sonny” made a life changing commitment to preach the Gospel of Christ to his own people when he saw the great spiritual need of the Seminole Indians in the Everglades of Florida. He didn’t know how he would answer God’s call, because he had stuttered and stammered all his life, except when he sang. But when he surrendered his life to preach, God took away the stuttering. Six months later, at an Indian camp on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in northern New York, Chuck Pamp, a Potawatomi Indian evangelist asked Tom to preach in a Sunday afternoon service. From that moment on, he faithfully began to preach the Word wherever he was called.
Over the 70 years of his ministry, he committed himself to God to preach the Gospel to his own people: he faithfully fulfilled his calling.
In March 1975, he founded Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship, or CHIEF. He felt led of the Lord to bring together 100 Christian American Indian and Eskimo leaders to discuss the spiritual, physical and social needs of Native American people and develop a plan of action to minister to their needs. In 1987, the Chief Shepherd Discipleship Center was established on an eight acre campus in Phoenix, Arizona. To date, Native pastors and individuals representing over 300 tribes have completed the discipleship training and teaching that has been provided through this ministry.
In 1948, “Sonny” met a beautiful Kiowa Indian girl, Alfreda Tsoodle, from the Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church during a church softball game when he was the pitcher and she was the catcher. They were married in 1954. They had three children: Huron Thomas, Cynthia Ann and Sharolyn Ruth. Along with his preaching ministry, he continued a singing ministry with his young family. God used them to take the Gospel to more than 300 tribes throughout the United States and Canada.
He had a love of the mountains and outdoors and took every opportunity to enjoy hunting, camping and fishing with his family. His family and friends all shared the joy and laughter that his great sense of humor brought. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. His life was one truly lived to the fulfillment and completion of God’s will and purposed call.
Survivors include his loving wife of 59 years, Alfreda Claus, Phoenix, AZ; one son, Huron Thomas and his wife, Lois Claus; his daughters: Cynthia Ann Claus and Sharolyn Ruth Claus, all of Phoenix, Arizona; four grandchildren: Sonny and wife, Pearl Claus; Melissa and husband, Daniel Stone; Adam and Spencer Piron; and five great-grandchildren; and one sister, Dorothy Hill, Oneida, NY. He is preceded in death by his parents and sister, Shirley Antone.
In a tribute to his dear friend, Dr. Kietzman, who is also the founder of Latin American Indian Ministries (www.laim.org), said, “I first met Tom when he was in his teens, and traveling with his mother and older sister as the Claus Family Singers, often appearing with Billy Graham in Youth for Christ rallies in the Midwest, where Billy also got his start as an evangelist.
“Tom headed CHIEF for many years until deteriorating health required him to step aside. His son, Huron Claus, has taken his place.”
Funeral services to celebrate his life were held on Friday, March 15, 2013, at Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church, Mountain View, OK, with Dr. Julian Gunn and Reverend Eddie Lindsey officiating. A memorial service was also held March 23, 2013, at Grace Bible Church, Sun City, Arizona.
© 2013 Assist News Service.
Dan Wooding, a prolific author and journalist, is the founder of ASSIST Ministries and the Assist News Service.