Navajo Mission Trip

I’ve been on mission this week.  33 of us from church went to New Mexico to help a local pastor in his work with the Navajo.  While most of the team led morning Bible study, a few of us did home maintenance.  The spiritual nature of our task was to “prepay” the use of the building and a witness to the community.

On Monday, we joined with a team from Georgia to put a roof on a community center.  There is nothing glamorous about spreading tar cement and nailing roll roofing in the hot July New Mexico sun.  (We went through a lot of water that day).    The three from Georgia had repaired the roof decking last week, and we joined them in finishing the job with cutting the ten rolls to size, cementing them down and nailing it in place.   By God’s grace, both teams were needed to finish, but neither knew of the other before we arrived.  They were leaving the next day, and we arrived just in time with the five additional workers  to complete the job.

On Tuesday & Wednesday, we painted a 2-story house.  There aren’t many 2-story houses in the area, and this one was at the top of a hill on the main road.  The hot sun had taken a toll on the siding, and it looked pretty rough.  The thirsty wood sucked in the paint, but the result was dramatic.  The owner (grandmother to the 10 kids and 3 other adults living there) was thrilled, and will tell the story of how the Baptists care for one another.  We bought access.

On Thursday, it was back to the community center.  Part of our team had begun to use it for Bible studies, and we painted the trim around the roof.  It made a great visual improvement, and helped cement the relationship between the local pastor and the members of that community.  Next week, the pastor will hold another Bible study there, and will begin to hold prayer meetings in the facility rent free. (The rent was paid by our labor.)

What was the spiritual nature of painting and roofing?  It bought access.  The Gospel will be preached in that community on the Reservation, on Navajo family lands, because of the efforts of 8 construction missionaries.

The focal point of the mission trip week was Thursday night.  It’s the community carnival.  Simple games and simple prizes, plus food and a drawing.  With a double dose of relationship-building.

The games were simple.  The most polished was a putting green with auto ball return.  Others included throwing a foam football into a 5-gallon bucket, bouncing a ping-pong ball into flower pots, and rolling 6-inch balls into upside-down frisbees.  Mine was tossing home canning lids (the ring part) onto water bottles.  (The kids – and some adults – kept coming back to my game after the others had been abandoned.  I didn’t think it would work that well – but they even ran off with the rings at the end of the night!)

For food, we ordered 250 cheeseburgers from McDonalds, and served them with chips and a cup of instant drink mix (like Kool-Aid).  For dessert, we brought in a local snow-cone vendor.  Parents came and ate. 

And then there were the drawings.  A $20 bill.  A $50 bill.  A $100 bill.  And the CD player we had been using for puppet shows.  For many of these families, another $20 is a big boost, and for the family that won the $100, it’s a significant boost to household income.  We’ve done these in Virginia (larger denominations) and the winners tend to be – by God’s good planning – people with specific needs, and their winning of the money gives us opportunity to meet them and share the Gospel.  (How much is a family worth?)

Just after the drawing, but before the evangelistic puppet show, the skies opened up and it rained!  I kept moderating my ring-toss game until I saw a young (3-year-old?) boy, lost, standing in the rain with one shoe off, crying.  I grabbed him and his shoe and headed for shelter.  After a few minutes, he was getting heavy to hold and since he was hugging me tight, I sat down.  The daddy in me took over and I started rocking back and forth on the table bench, and soon he was asleep.  He got a good 15 minute nap, 20 minutes in the arms of a male adult.  He woke up when the rain stopped and I reached for the van keys, and then went home with his older sister.  I don’t know if he will remember those 20 minutes, but I will, and I pray they build in him acceptance and trust of future mission workers, enough to hear and accept the Gospel.

Update on the Navajo Mission Trip:  While half our team led Backyard Bible Studies in three different neighborhoods, the rest of us split into two work teams to do home repair.

The neighborhood events are even more important here in New Mexico.  The city is spread out, with clusters of housing, usually according to “chapter” within one of the local tribes.  Often, someone of one chapter will not attend events in another chapter of the same tribe.  So we go to teach in their context.  It also spread our witness around the area. The teams did a craft, recreation, snack and Bible story.  Between 10 and 20 kids came to each. Several acknowledged they had accepted Jesus.

The home repairs were to show Christians helping other church members with tasks beyond their capability.  Team 1 went to one older couple’s house to build a ramp on the front of the house of her aged mother, and to repair the roof.  This is as much an act of honoring God’s servants.

Team 2 went to a mobile home of another member.  The kitchen flooring was chipped and worn, and had several soft spots where the floor sank when you walked on it.  I was on the team that removed the old flooring, cut out the rotted flooring and replaced it with new patches, and then installed new vinyl.  It was hard sweaty work, but was necessary for a quality job.  We were able to honor her request for a wood floor look with plank-patterned sheet vinyl, and were able to find and repair the leak where water was coming in to cause the damage.  When we were done, she blessed God for our efforts, and we were able to share the love of God and Christian care for one another with her kids (7 and 15).

And we had time to do repair and fix-up of the down town First Indian Baptist Church facilities.  A good week well spent.

The last day of the Navajo Tent Revival, and Stanley’s voice has still not recovered.  So he called a local preacher to help.  That man was not available, but his dad was.  What a message!

Wilson Calvin told us his testimony.  I had met him over supper; there were 2 seats open, one with our group and the other with a table of Navajos.  (I didn’t come this far to talk with folks from my own church, so I got to know the preacher.)  I learned he is a church planter.  He hears from God to go to an area and begin preaching his brand of straight-talk Gospel, and when the congregation is started, he finds a man in the congregation capable and called to preach, and trains him so he can leave him as pastor to his neighbors.  Then Mr Calvin moves on.

It was not fancy preaching.  Pastor Calvin didn’t finish high school, never went to college or seminary, but he knows his Bible.  Says he reads through it a hundred times a year. And he only uses King James.  Just don’t ask him to stand still when he preaches.  Back and forth, down the aisle.  Shouting and pointing and making the Gospel plain for any to hear.

His message started with a comment about a dad.  When people brag on how well his son is doing, he gets a little closer to hear more.  He likes it when you compliment his son.  And God likes it when you compliment His son!

Pastor Calvin came to faith when a preacher, moving across the country to start a church somewhere else, broke down in his town, the very same weekend his son begged him to go to church.  That preacher broke down in front of a vacant building and was able to rent it to hold services, and Wilson Calvin was converted that day.

Calvin said we should be involved in a church.  He said you should find a good church, where the Bible is preached.  When you know a good thing is happening, you should (1) go there, (2) tell others about it and (3) enjoy it.

And when the invitation came, so did one of the church members, eager to get clean before God.  There were prayers and rejoicing.

I couldn’t live on a diet of camp meeting, but I rejoice that I was there.

It was a camp meeting, a tent revival, Navajo style.  Stanley and Mary put up a tent on their land, put a sign out by the road, and put meat on the grill.

Stanley is an older Navajo, a solid Christian.  His wife Mary helps with music at the First Indian Baptist in Gallup.  But their faith is so strong they were willing to give of themselves for the Gospel to be heard.  So he put up a tent and borrowed chairs from 3 churches – seats for 60 in the dirt-floor “tabernacle”.  And next to it, a tent with eating tables.  You know there was plenty: posole soup and chicken soup and fry bread.

Our purpose was to mix and mingle and build relationships.  I met a man who was 98 years old, a Navajo who had in his younger years traveled the country as a translator for an evangelist to the Navajos.  What a great time talking to him!  But soon, food was over and the service began.

It was a preaching service, but Stanley opened the floor for testimony.  Pastor Gary, our mission host, made sure I got up to sing, and I dragged Meredith and Bethany to sing with me.  And there were testimonies of faith.

Finally, Pastor Bobby Boyd got up to preach.  He is a Navajo preacher and brought some from his church (including the 98-year old man).    He preached because Stanley had come down with a cold, and was unable to preach that night.

Pastor Boyd uses an interesting advertising program to get his message out.  He puts baskets of sermon tapes and CDs at the local Christian bookstore and at truck stops, to be given away for free to whomever wants to hear.  And those who take them will be encouraged, and will call him to preach for their services.  His model of advertising is to give himself away and let God arrange his speaking calendar.

It was a great sermon, reminding us that we are by nature sinful, born into a disfunctional family, unable to meet the standards of our heavenly Father.  But that loving Father made a way for us to be saved.  Pastor Boyd then got to meddling – telling us we were justified and sanctified not for ourselves, but for service.  But the rewards he described, the wages of a faithful servant, is righteousness, right standing before God.

And he closed with a passage paraphrased from Ezekiel:  “If you leave here without Jesus, it’s not my fault, because I told you Truth tonite.”

Today, Liberty’s Navajo Mission Trip really began. We arrived in Gallup Saturday evening, did the Wal-Mart run for supplies we didn’t want to bring on the plane (like a couple of cases of bottled water). Then we settled into our sleeping quarters, the Super 8 Motel. Clean and inexpensive, with breakfast and an indoor pool area we could use for group meetings, but small for 2 adults and 2 teens. But sacrifice is the name of the game, huh?

Meredith & I began practicing our music for the morning service, and since Bethany also sings in the choir, I enlisted her to help. Mer’s choice was “It Is Well” and I had us sing a couple more.

When I got to the church building, I compared my list to what was in the Navajo song book and only sang songs that were in both. By God’s grace, it matched the sermon exactly, and I saw that the songs told a message that encouraged both Anglo and Indian participants. There were about 40 whites and 30 Navajos there – it packed the church building. And they sang us a couple of choruses in Navajo.

As we were getting ready for the service, a man came in who was visiting that day. He said he recognized me, but i couldn’t imagine from where. Turns out, he and I were in college together for a couple of years in the late 70s, in Oklahoma. His dad had died a year ago and his mom had been living with him in Texas. He was back with his mom to help pack out the house, and stopped into the church where his dad had been an interim pastor once. Unfortunately, he left before the service was over, and I didn’t get to talk with him as much as I’d like. (Truth is, I was more worried about leading music than talking at the beginning of the service, and missed my chance. My loss.)

This morning reinforced to me that those who teach prejudice in the Christian community are usually trying to sell something besides Jesus.  Though we spoke 2 languages, and come from multiple cultures, we all sang and prayed together with and for one another.  Thus begins a heart for missions.