The “elderlies”

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Monument Valley

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:1-4

It seems like each new week I am a little more in the “flow” of things at this church and in this community.  I am still confused by some of the differences, but the Navajo I’ve become friends with are incredibly gracious in trying to explain these.  I’m accepting that there are some things I will never understand.  For example, there is a hesitation to take the lead over others (in all areas- church, social, work…).  People will just sit and wait for someone to step up…and wait…and wait…. It seems it is disrespectful to just boss people around.  I asked why this is and I was told- well nobody likes to be told what to do!

In Indiana, I am the person in the room that jumps in and leads whenever there is a lack of leadership (maybe I’m bossy!!)  It is SO hard to just sit and wait with them until someone tentatively steps up!  God is teaching me so much about myself, and building into me a patience I’ve never had before.

Respect is a key element to the relationships here, and I like it SO much.  There is a real sense of concern about how one’s words and actions might affect another person.  Age is considered a gift.  The elders of the Navajo are thought to possess the highest level of knowledge and life experience, along with the best understandings of the Navajo traditions.

If I had a dime for every time someone middle-aged here complained about “kids these days” not respecting the elderly…well, I wouldn’t need financial support for this trip because I’d be rich!  I overheard a parent saying to a 10 or 11 year old the other day: “Just because she can’t figure out an Iphone doesn’t mean she doesn’t know anything!”  This was in reference to a grandparent.

This respect for the older members of a community is making me think a lot about our anglo churches and how rarely we sit down to listen to the elderly’s stories.  They are the ones who have lived a whole life with God, and they carry inside of them incredible wisdom and insight about Him and His word, but we (I!!) rarely have the time to sit and listen to their stories.

I have been volunteering at the Rough Rock Senior Center on Mondays.  It is a government program, not a church one, but I was invited to help by Pauline, who is a part of our church.

The Navajo have been establishing Senior Centers in various towns since the 1970’s.  Rough Rock is one of the newest.  It was established in 2004.  It is run by the Navajo Area Agency on Aging (NAAA).  Pauline explained that they are funded by both the US government and the Navajo government.  There are 3 employees at the center.  Pauline runs it, Melina is the cook, and Doris transports both people and meals.  Those are the official jobs- but they are all doing a million different things from the time the center opens to the time it closes 8 hours later.

Every day, they are able to provide a hot and well-balanced meal to about 70 elderlies.  About 40-50 of them are able to come in and eat, the other 20-30 meals are packaged up and Doris delivers them (along with a bit of conversation!).  It’s an incredible thing to watch.  My job? Usually to just set up tables and chairs, decorate them with tablecloths and centerpieces, unpack boxes of supplies, get drinks made and dishes set out (they can’t afford paper plates/ utensils, so they have to wash everything– by hand–in soapy bleach water.  Talk about dry hands!!)

This week was special.  They have a party (with a holiday theme) every month.  This week was the Valentine’s party.  I was asked to make 100 cupcakes with Melina and she asked if I could show her how to make icing from scratch and how to pipe it in swirls on the top.

I came a day early to make them and Pauline said Melina took the day off.  So I went ahead and made the cupcakes and realized they had forgotten to get the butter and powdered sugar needed for the frosting.  I drove 45 minutes to get ingredients for them and started wondering if I would end up doing all of them by myself after all…?  The next day Melina was there and as we were making frosting together, Pauline set a stack of cake pans next to me and said- we need 8 more cakes for the cakewalk.  EIGHT cakes?  Yes.  EIGHT.  In two hours.  Melina quickly learned how to pipe frosting and she and Doris finished the cupcakes while I frantically tried to make and decorate 8 cakes before they were needed.  All around me was a flurry of activity.  Roast beef, mashed potatoes, homemade rolls, a huge salad…. we finally finished and I looked up to see the room FULL of elderlies all dressed in beautiful turquoise jewelry and dresses.  We served plates up (paper this time, since it was a special occasion) and then there was dancing and music and a cake walk and laughter.  I loved it.  When I collapsed in a heap back at home I wondered how these women do this every day.  It is back-breaking work!

Pauline, Doris and Melina with our masterpieces!
Pauline, Doris and Melina with our masterpieces!

Melina and I are already talking about desserts for the St. Patrick’s day party!  Maybe we can make cakes ahead next time!!

The rest of the week flew by in a blur of Bible studies, long walks with women from the church, dinner out with friends (dinner “out” is a very rare thing!!) and preparing for a group from Colorado to come stay with us this week.  I was invited to join a family on their trip to Monument Valley this past Saturday.  There is nothing like a road trip with 5 kids, 4 adults and a dog to create fun new friendships! We laughed so hard and really enjoyed each other.  I’m so thankful for how God is weaving me into this community…slowly, but in really fun ways.

This coming week I will get a mini-vacation.  The team coming from Colorado is meeting with the church to address some of the conflict and disunity that’s happened.  I was asked to just take a few days away, so that I can remain an impartial member of the church and not get pulled one way or another in anyone’s eyes.  Before I left Ft. Wayne, I met a woman named Sherry who runs a ministry that simply encourages people who work alongside the Navajo.  She has little retreat cottages in Phoenix that are free for use to just get away for awhile.  I haven’t been here long enough to feel like I need to “get away”, but it is a free place to stay for a few days and I’m so excited to process my experience so far with someone who has spent 15 years working with the Navajo.

Please be praying this week that this team from Colorado will be helpful in rebuilding bridges between people here.  Also, continue to pray for the men here.  So many struggle with addictions, and they are SO SAD… I just want the hope of Christ for them so badly.

Thank you so much for all of your support and for cheering me on!  I hope this is a wonderful week for you.  Take a little time and listen to an “elderly” this week maybe?





Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? Job 12:12


6 thoughts on “The “elderlies”

    Noel said:
    February 18, 2014 at 6:22 am

    They are so blessed to have you Ruthie 🙂

      Ruthanne responded:
      February 23, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks Noel– I miss you!!! Casa Grande when I get back!!! I want to hear all about how school is going!!!

    Diane Van Loo said:
    February 18, 2014 at 9:20 am


    We look forward to your weekly posts sharing your  ups and downs along the way.  What a wonderful opportunity for you to make friends and learn more about such a proud culture. I am sure God is letting His light shine through you. We continue to lift you and the Navajo people in our prayers.  You are doing a wonderful job sharing your experiences.  We visited Rough Rock many years ago while on vacation and attended a Sunday morning church service.  It was wonderful. The pastor preached  in English and Navajo.  What an experience!  We look forward to your next post.

    Roy and Diane Van Loo Battle Creek Friends

      Ruthanne responded:
      February 23, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Thank you SO much for your encouragement Roy and Diane!!! I love that you have been here and attended church~ you probably can picture all the things you remember!! I’m so glad you are enjoying these posts~ thanks for commenting!!

    amberNicole said:
    February 20, 2014 at 10:57 am

    It’s awesome to hear how God is using you there! Been keeping you in my prayers! I’m actually doing a service project next month (March 8th) with the Senior Group at my church! We are getting our Wednesday Kids Ministry connected with them!

      Ruthanne responded:
      February 23, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      That’s awesome Amber- great idea!!! Thanks for the prayers too!! Miss you! I think of you whenever I make cupcakes!!! {hug}

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