The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:29-30
I just returned from a whirlwind tour of the Southwest with my parents! It was a perfect week and we had so much fun! It was a really good time to step away from everything here and really think about what I’ve observed and learned since I’ve been here. We spent literally hours driving through empty, wind-tossed land and as I watched the world go by, I processed.
Since I’ve arrived, I’ve spent a lot of time just watching. The Navajo in the church, the Navajo in the community, the Navajo leaders, the Anglo leaders…there are so many complex interactions with so many cultural differences.
I’ve instinctually learned some things, and I believe that God has opened my eyes to learn some things, but until I stepped back and looked from a distance I had a hard time putting those things into words.
The Navajo live simply. Most live for the moment and not the future. They are very used to being told what to do by white people, but there is some resentment toward being bossed around. They don’t argue though, they just do what white people tell them to do. This breeds a sense that they can’t do things as well as anglos, and also a dependency on the anglos to just take over and run the show (which, as far as I can see, we happily do).
How does this play out in the church setting? Here are a few examples:
When white people come, they are expected to teach. I didn’t understand why until one night when I had convinced one of the Navajo men to lead Bible study. He had a list of questions to ask us all and during one of the questions I saw an opportunity to share something at a fairly deep level- an answer that tied in some other parts of the Bible. I shared and all conversation died. Literally nobody answered another question. At the end, the Navajo who had led told me that I was so much smarter than them that I should just lead. Ouch.
This happened again when we had some missionary visitors to Bible study. I had to convince this same man to lead because he was so afraid that these white people would blow him out of the water with Biblical knowledge.
Navajo sometimes don’t attempt something on their own because white people have already done it for them and done it to such an extreme level that the Navajo feel like that is the standard and they can never meet it because of education, resources or budget.
We don’t have a children’s ministry here. I have spoken with several women in the church who claim it is SO much work and time and money that they can’t possibly help with it. At first I was just dumbfounded by these answers. I’ve come to see that their views on things like Sunday School and VBS and even Easter Services have been shaped by the white people who have served here before me and also the white missionaries at surrounding churches.
We anglos do things big. We can’t just teach a story about Jesus, we need to have crafts and snacks and songs and puppet shows that all tie into a theme. I keep telling people here that it is enough to tell kids about Jesus and color and eat graham crackers with water…but they are convinced that is not good enough and to be good enough would take too much time and money that they don’t have. So the kids play outside during church, and nobody teaches them. This same scenario played out this Sunday when the topic of Easter came up. Apparently the missionaries that previously served here made Easter and Christmas a big event for the whole town. They went all out with decorations and food to serve hundreds. Presents at Christmas and an Easter egg hunt at Easter. Everyone looked at me. “What are we going to do this year?” I smiled and said, “Whatever you want to do. I can bring a breakfast casserole if you want.” Much discussion was followed by a simplified plan for breakfast just for the church family and no egg hunt. I sensed disappointment though, and it made me sad. Breakfast should be more than enough. I also overheard that “So-and-so’s church is having a big meal and an egg hunt.” So-and-so is a white missionary couple….that will do things big.
A lot of white people want to be popular. We want to make a name for ourselves. I have talked to several present and past missionaries in the areas surrounding Rough Rock and I hear a lot about “What WE are doing here” or “How WE have pulled this church together and gotten these people back in line.” There’s a lot of name dropping. “Oh, we are with this organization and we know this or that person.”
They almost always ask me what our attendance is and talk about the people they have in their own congregation from Rough Rock. I even had a pastor come to one of our church meals and start inviting people from our congregation to his church.
Since I’ve worked in medicine my entire life, I understand the whole ladder of success. I had just never thought about how that played out in ministry jobs. I’m POSITIVE it does not always play out this way, and I’ve met some wonderful people during these months here who are simply serving God and trusting Him to work in people’s lives, but the damage done by the people who want to be “successful” in the world’s eyes is tremendous.
What I have learned is this:
1. Don’t lead the parade. Let God do that. File in at the back and cheer people on as they follow Him.
2. Be forgettable. Let God get the credit. Instead of expecting people to remember for years to come what you accomplished and praise you for it, assume that your role in this will be forgotten and that people will credit their changed lives to God, not you.
3. Be sensitive. Pay attention to where people are at with God before sharing everything you’ve ever learned about Him. Realize that the Holy Spirit does a much better job of teaching truth than you do.
I’ve written these as directions to myself, not necessarily to you. These are things God is pointing out to me, and I can tell you that I’ve failed miserably in all of these areas. I’m so thankful He has pointed them out to me so I can grow!
I have had some frustrations with some of the anglos working here, but I can’t possibly judge what God has done and is doing through these people. I only know that He turned those frustrations around to teach me some new things. Please pray for me as God continues to change me in these months with the Navajo.
Also, please pray for one of the families here. The Marianito family is my Navajo family- I just love each of them so much. Delbert and Lula are mom and dad and they have two little boys, Owen and Odell. Delbert had cancer last fall, he had to have a kidney removed. This crisis was instrumental in bringing him to Christ. Now, he has a “suspicious” shadow in his chest X-ray and he is going for a CT scan and a consultation with an oncologist this Friday in Flagstaff. Please pray that this isn’t cancer cropping up again. I know the whole family is nervous. Pray for peace.
Thank you SO much for making it possible for me to be here. God is at work in the Navajo Nation and it is such a privilege to be here experiencing it. Thank you for your prayers and for being such great cheerleaders. I hope you have a wonderful week!!!
I will leave you with a few photos of my time with my family this week.
(Thanks for coming to visit me mom and dad!!! It was so fun~ Love you!!)