By Darrell Todd Maurina
For members of the youth group at Kingswood United Methodist Church, running a vacation Bible school program this summer on a Navajo reservation was like nothing they’d seen.
In July, nine members of the church’s youth group traveled to Pinedale, a spread-out Navajo community in northwest New Mexico, about 30 miles from Gallup. The community has a United Methodist mission church and a small congregation that welcomes visitors from other churches to help with the congregation’s outreach efforts.
“We wanted to take them as far away from what they know as we could, and we were able to do that without leaving the state,” said Kingswood youth pastor Josh McCallister.
“How can we convince people that in our very own state there are people who live with dirt floors and outhouses?” McCallister said. “Our hope is that not only our youth but our entire community will really see that God is interested in the poor.”
“I have one image in my mind I will keep from this, and that is the look of joy on (youth group members’) faces when they brought a Navajo child who said he wanted to accept Jesus,” said Rev. Brad Reeves, senior pastor of Kingswood United Methodist. “We had six Navajo young people who met Jesus, and many, many Navajo young people said they had never heard the gospel before.”
Reeves said the program centered on basic doctrines of Christianity, includingcreation, sin and the fall of mankind, the crucifixion of Christ and his atonement for sin, and Christian spiritual growth. Those concepts were difficult for many of the Navajo to understand, Reeves said.
“They don’t have a very large concept of sin, for instance,” Reeves said. “Very few of the children said they had done something bad in their lives. That is certainly different. Most of us know some bad things we had done even if we don’t label it sin, but they didn’t even have the concept.”
Jessie Roark, the former president of the church’s youth group who will soon be attending college, said she’d never been to a Native American reservation before but definitely enjoyed the experience of attending a Navajo United Methodist church.
“Their services are quite a bit different; they really didn’t have an order to what they did,” Roark said. “We’ll sing a song and greet each other and then sing another song and have the sermon. They came in, sang for a while, talked, and whenever you got there you would go to the altar and pray.”
Roark said she found it interesting to listen to a sermon given in both the English and Navajo languages. The speaker would give a sentence in one language and then repeat it in the other, she said.
“I wanted to go and try to help the kids grow closer to God and grow closer ourselves, too,” Roark said. “Before we went up there we had meetings to prepare us spiritually.”
Group member Melissa Anderson said she thought Clovis was a small town after moving last year from Fort Worth, Texas, but realized after going to the Navajo reservation that some parts of the United States are much more rural than Clovis.
“This was a real culture shock,” Anderson said. “Definitely the culture was completely different, how they acted as if time didn’t matter. They would hold church for two or three hours if they wanted to. It’s their way of living.”