Mission in Navajoland
By Mary Ann DuTeil- Coordinator of the Navajoland ministry at Annunciation in Lewisville.
The summer of 2018 marked 35 years of partnership between Annunciation and our Dine’ (Navajo) brothers and sisters. Those 35 years have seen many changes. While we are saddened that Bishop Plummer is no longer with us, we are excited to see how the Episcopal Church in Navajoland has had a significant increase in the number of Navajo attending seminary, and assuming leadership in the church.
Our first effort in supporting the people of Navajoland took the form of a mission trip each summer. In the early years, the team from Annunciation conducted a mini summer school program, which eventually evolved into Vacation Bible School. Originally, the program was loaded into a van each day, and driven out to a shade house on the reservation. About 20 years ago, however, we moved the program to two local churches: St. Christopher’s in Bluff, Utah and St. John the Baptizer in Montezuma Creek, Utah. In 2018, we changed the program to better meet the needs of the people. Instead of asking members of our team to run VBS, we stepped back and played a supporting role, with the leadership of VBS shifting to our Navajo friends. Lillie Henderson, a lay leader, helped the children draw parallels between the Gospel message and the Dine’ culture and stories. We brought crafts and food, taught the Lord’s Prayer in Sign Language, and organized activities to expand on the Bible stories.
Our second form of support came into being as we saw the acute need for repairs to homes and church buildings, as there are few maintenance professionals available in the area. Since its inception, the construction team has been responsible for repairs of all kinds, including plumbing, building steps and a ramp into the church in Montezuma Creek, purchasing and installing 3 swamp coolers, repairing a roof that was peeled back during a storm, and so much more.
We have worked with a group of Navajo teens to create raised garden beds, and built and supplied two Little Free Libraries, one for each church. In 2018, the team repaired the swamp cooler in the rectory, painted rooms, repaired plumbing, shored up broken beams in the Common House, and installed a shut off valve into the rectory. The buildings are in such great need of repair that if we stayed a year, there would still be so much more to do, but we do what we can with what God has given us.
Our third form of support comes through the Angel Tree each Christmas. In the past, we have asked members of Annunciation to purchase and mail gifts for the children who had attended VBS during the summer. In 2015, at the request of their clergy, we sent a large number of unwrapped gifts from which the children could choose, when they attended the Christmas party at St. Christopher’s. In 2017, the way in which we supported them changed once again. We gave $1,000 to the two churches, which they divided evenly, for the leadership of each church to use as they saw fit. They used some of the money to make stockings, which were filled with items to benefit those living in a nearby nursing home.
Some of the money was used to allow the parents to purchase gifts for their children, which were distributed at their Christmas party. Some of the money was used to purchase gift cards, and some of the money was used to develop their own outreach. According to the Rev. Kay Rhode in St. Christopher’s, “Diane heard about a family whose children had only raggedy old clothes. She dug into the situation, and got the name and where they lived (up near Mexican Water). One of our members went shopping for new clothes, warm coats and shoes, and we got some gift cards for gas and groceries.”Once again, the Holy Spirit is leading us into a deeper partnership with the Dine’, building God’s kingdom in wonderful and unexpected ways.
35 years represents an amazing commitment. While our role has shifted, our relationship has grown into a true partnership with the amazing people of Navajoland. Thank you to the parishioners of Annunciation who have supported this mission over the years: for those who have been part of one of our mission teams, for those who have contributed financially, for those who have donated books and supplies, and of course, for those who have prayed in support of the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ. Ahéhee'!!! Thank you.
Email to Annunciation from the Rev. Kay Rohde, priest-in-charge- at St. Christopher's and St. John's in Navajoland.
“Happy New Year!
Thank you so much for the generous Christmas gift. Sending a check and letting the members of St. John the Baptizer and St. Christopher's decide how to use it worked very well. We had been exploring how we cannot just receive, but give, too and this method allowed flexibility and creativity in new ways of celebrating the coming of God among us.
St. John's decided that they would focus in two areas; the young people in their congregation - regular or mostly regular attendees who participate in Kids Sunday and church school. and the elders who are in the nursing home in Blanding. Sophina went up to the nursing home and got the names of all the people there who are from Bluff, Montezuma Creek, Aneth, and Red Mesa. There were about 14. They shopped for socks, a stuffed animal, soap, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste and toothbrushes, oranges and apples and other small items. She got big paper stockings and they filled them, and took them up to the nursing home, visiting each of the people. They were delighted and said that it was the first time in a long time anyone from the Episcopal church had been to see them. The real gift of Christmas is that St. John's is going to continue the relationship with the people, visit them regularly, taking Eucharist, and eventually offering a monthly worship service.
For the young people, Sophina and her daughter contacted the parents of all the young people and got a list of what each child really wanted, then whey went shopping and were able to find almost everything, getting a couple of extra for any extra kids that showed up. They bought gifts for about 20 kids. I think they had as much fun shopping as the kids did opening. All of the decisions about how to spend the money (about half of the total were made by the members. In the planning, the adults decided that they wanted to do a gift exchange themselves. So, we drew names and exchanged gifts - all of the adults participated. It was fun! (none of the check was used for adult gifts. It was a night of joy and love - including the kids doing a nativity for the Gospel.
Sophina took pictures at the nursing home, will have her send some to me and I will share with you. I will send some of the pageant and kids with presents via a separate email.
St. Christopher's chose to use some of their share of the gift to provide the meat for the Christmas dinner to which all members and neighbors were invited. We are also working to develop a sense of outreach in this community too. Diane heard about a family whose children had only raggedy old clothes. She dug into the situation and got the name and where they lived (up near Mexican Water) One of our members went shopping for new clothes, warm coats and shoes, and we got some gift cards for gas and groceries.
We got gift cards for the young people at St. Christopher’s. We got Walmart cards for those in elementary school and Amazon gift certificates for the older ones. 17 gift cards were given and were well received.
And the gift we received at St. Christopher's? A woman that I had not met before was there with 2 children - it was her birthday and we did a special Birthday blessing. After the service she asked how old one had to be to be baptized. When I told her any age, she said she wanted her children to be baptized, her mother would have really wanted it. She is an Atcitty from across the road and tomorrow her 6 children will be baptized. She said she hadn’t been to church for a long time and coming Christmas Eve she realized how much she missed it.”