Decidedly Academic. Distinctively Christian.
It seems to almost always happen on mission trips; it’s a principle of opposites. It starts when sojourners begin preparing for the trip. They bring lots of hopeful ideas and visions of generously giving, helping and sacrificing. It’s a noble motivation, too–the notion of sharing skills and talents, sacrificing time, re-arranging priorities, or giving resources to support “the mission.” But then, something changes.
The change comes when we see crying needs and up-close human suffering. Our preconceptions cave in to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, shame and humility. It’s a healthy tension that starts in the pit of one’s stomach and then works its way up to the surface, generally taking the form of tears, silence and emotional conflict. That’s when you know something transformational is stirring. You’ll hear it in expressions like: I’ll never be the same again; or, I took away far more than I ever gave; I can’t believe this is happening and no one knows about it; and, I’m coming back and I’ll be bringing others!
That’s what happened to our seventh graders, parent volunteers and faculty/staff members who took the risk, crossed the threshold and ventured on to the Navajo reservation on Thursday, February 21,2013. With feet firmly planted on Navajo soil, they opened their hearts and extended their hands to help with whatever tasks needed to be done. Fred Messick, who with his sister, Gloria, arranged all logistics for this trip through Messick Ministries, commented: “I have never seen a group of young people so well organized and so eager to help.” He also said there is only one other group from California that comes to serve and minister to the Navajo people.
With a provision of tools, paint, and various supplies, our group divided up to begin painting projects on Friday morning; one team took on a house in dire straits, while another one worked at a church facility used extensively by Navajo young people. A third team put gardening tools to good use, tilling soil and preparing the red earth for a community garden that will feed anyone in need of produce. Nearby at a local radio station in Tuba City, the fourth team cleared-away thorny weeds that had accumulated around the structure and adjoining area.
As evening approached, Miss Burris led a caravan of students and parents to deliver food boxes, fresh fruit, baked items, beverages, and blankets to needy families, many of whom lived a short distance from town down rutted, washed-out dirt roads. With the assistance of Pastor Joe Thompson, a gentle Navajo minister and champion of the elderly and disabled, the team was welcomed into private homes, sparsely furnished and poorly heated. There, they prayed over the families and offered heartfelt messages of hope. At one stop, an elderly woman was so grateful for her fleece blanket, she immediately accepted the gift and wrapped herself in it. The temperature in her house was barely warmer than the chilling 38 degrees that hovered in the air just outside. One of the homes on the delivery route stood adjacent to a sand dune which was encroaching on the structure. Mr. Gaines, who has seen much poverty over the years, said that the degree of this family’s suffering was shocking. “The family had a severely handicapped son confined to a bed. They had nothing and were all gathered around a radio listening to a program. The extent of their need was difficult to see.”
Some students went to a new skate park and basketball courts in Tuba City to pass out gloves, basketballs, and nail polish to some of the local kids who were also there for recreation. Miss Rychen said our boys found tough competition playing basketball against some Navajo girl players. Other Foothill students quickly made friends with other young locals who were very skilled skateboarders. “They were gracious and patient with our kid’s lack of expertise,” Miss Rychen commented. Not only did they “hang out” with the Navajo youth at the skate park and basketball courts, but they also invited a few of them to the Youth Rally that night at the church, for a time of bonding with pizza and music.
Saturday morning, the team traveled north in their chartered bus for nearly two hours from Arizona to Utah to visit Monument Valley, well-known for its splendorous rock formations, sheer cliffs and stunning buttes. About noon, Navajo pastor, Kenneth Begishe and his wife, Mary, escorted our group to the home of a Christian Navajo family who prepared a traditional “Navajo Taco” lunch for 60 men, women, boys and girls. FCS Dads were recruited to help make fry bread, a staple in the Navajo diet. The time together culminated with several people sharing words of encouragement and gratitude. Miss Rychen quickly pulled our kids together to sing a couple of numbers for the host family.
Sunday morning began with an early start to do clean-up detail and packing for the 11 hour ride home. Before departure, however, everyone attended the early service to hear a message by Pastor Hal, an Assembly of God minister who has worked to build bridges with other Christian leaders in the community. In spite of our differences in doctrine and the practice of our faith, he said, “the ground is all level at the foot of the cross.” It was a beautiful service, too, with young Navajo people leading worship, and our kids sharing testimonies of faith, singing “Jesus, You Are Our Super Hero,” and ending their stay by distributing food items and blankets to many poor families that attended the church service that morning.
This was the first time in our school’s history for a Faith in Action team of students and adults to travel and work on the reservation. And what a commendable group of hard-working servants they turned out to be! Our prayer and hope is to see many more trips to Navajo Nation in the years ahead. Our Faith in Action program is truly a distinctive in the total educational experience of Foothill Christian School. To now have this opportunity to reach a people group with severe needs right here in our own country is a blessing worthy of celebration. We give thanks to God for making it all possible, and for the marvelous way the worked through their tears, silence and conflict to experience the ultimate joy that comes from loving and helping others.