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Navajo Mission Trip: Troy & Mike’s Wonderful Adventure

We returned from Navajoland exhausted, but certain we had been productive.

We went out three days before the other thirteen members of the group to finish the kitchen we needed to do Vacation Bible School. When the floor of the kitchen was checked with a four foot level, it was a full bubble off plumb- plus an eighth inch gap between the middle of the level and the floor. Three packages of shims later, stove, refrigerator and cabinets were usable, if not exactly straight.

Sunday, we did two masses (the vicar of the mission was off with her family) singing hymns in Navajo and English at the same time.

Monday we rose before dawn to participate in a cross cultural blessing of St. Mark’s, Coalmine, where we had finished the renovation. A haatali (literally singer, a medicine man) did an abbreviated version of the The Blessing Way ceremony (the full version takes three days and nights) then we did a procession with incense and holy water around the building. It was truly an honor to take part in even a shortened version of a Navajo ceremony, but that was nothing compared to what happened later that day.

Grandmother Alice, who is a traditional Navajo, but also walks the Jesus Road, (Episcopal variety; we are one of the few denominations that doesn’t utterly condemn Navajo customs) invited us to take place in the kinaalda (coming of age ceremony) exactly as the Navajo have done it for hundreds of years. That ceremony, and our privilege in taking part, deserves its own Eagle Notes article.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we rose for mass at 6 AM, then headed for St. Mark’s for VBS. Some of us then take our vans out across the eastern part of the reservation to pick up kids. We start with a half an hour of singing and dancing, then do a snack, a Godly Play (like Catechesis of the Good Shepherd; wooden figures and props are used to tell a Bible story) crafts, then lunch. We dismiss the kids, and more than a few adults, with a snack to take home. Most of these folks eat a steady diet of fry bread (think donuts without the sugar) and pinto beans, so everything we give them to eat, like fish sticks, or carrots, is an exotic change and a great help with nutrition.

Thursday night we hosted a community dinner (hot dogs!) beginning with a mass.

Our intercultural experiences included a visit to the Hubbel trading post which is the oldest trading post still in operation, Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church, which beautifully incorporates many Navajo symbols with Christianity, and a three hour tour of Canyon de Chelly, the “navel” of Navajo culture, where we saw ancient cliff dwellings and rock art, Hopi ruins, and traditional Navajo homesteads.

The major accomplishment of the trip was showing affection to people who are starved for it. We had almost a dozen young adults, previous mission kids, who stopped by for hugs and to say hello. “Stopping by” is too casual; one young man hitch hiked 37 miles with no other purpose than to see us. One of our favorite “elderlies” (what the Navajo call their old people) was reconciled with her church, and the vicar of Good Shepherd Mission, who is exhausted, received a much needed break.

Thanks to all who contributed. Please prayerfully consider making the journey with us next year.

--Mike Spring