By Rev. Chris Enoch
The Presbyterian Church of Marion, PA
In June of 2018, 15 people, ages 8-78, from the Presbyterian Church of Marion (Marion Center, PA) ventured out of our various comfort zones to serve and minister at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Chinle, AZ. Chinle is located in the heart of Dinétah, better known as the Navajo Nation to us English speakers.
My wife, Susie, and I have a long-term relationship with the church and some of its members; we have been traveling to and serving at that church with various groups for 15 years. We spent the better part of a year fundraising for this trip; raising over $10,000 to make this ministry happen, as, as a group, we ourselves are far from affluent.
We are grateful for the Synod of the Trinity’s financial assistance through a $2,600 Mission Travel Grant. (More information on the grant is available here.) We are also grateful to the Presbytery of Kiskiminetas for allowing us to raise money at a couple of presbytery meetings, and for the monetary donations given for the trip by Gilgal and Rochester Mills Presbyterian Churches.
At Trinity Presbyterian Church, we served in various ways. I preached and led worship on Sunday June 17; on the evenings of June 18-20 we led an experience that we called “Story Time.” Focusing on the Trinity, I led times of musical worship and then taught adults while other team members taught the children that came to the event. We also provided dinners for all who attended. We wound up serving 17 children and 18 adults.
In our spare time (especially in the cool of the mornings), we did various work projects centered at the church. We removed some fencing and moved rocks as the church plans to create a new parking area in front of the sanctuary. We did grounds cleanup, rock removal and weed abatement. We repaired a broken door and a broken attic vent (which a team I led a decade ago had put in). We also did a number of other small projects (mounting a swamp cooler, removing water piping that was no longer connected to water, etc.); fairly much did what the supervising elder (Jasper Tso) asked us to do.
One evening, several of the ladies of the church led a cultural teaching time so we could learn more, first hand, of Navajo values and traditions. This was so rewarding.
Even though we went to serve, teach and lead, my largest hope of intermixing with people of a distinct and wonderful culture was well achieved. Our people, who knew nothing of Navajo culture except what I have been teaching them over the past year, made friends and had deep and rewarding heart-to-heart conversations. Maybe more importantly, they took the time to listen and understand the Navajo experience. Our three school-age children who traveled with us all made quick friendships with area children – some of them coming over to join us in the work/lunch/playtime we had each day.
I believe that my hope of my people coming to terms with, or at least gaining an understanding of the poor history of how, not just Americans but at times Christian Americans, have treated indigenous people was achieved. Not only did we learn much from our guests, but we carved time to hear a couple of presentations on Navajo history at the nearby Canyon De Chelly National Monument Visitors Center.
In our down time on the reservation, what I most often heard was comments about the deepness of the faith of so many of the adults that joined us in the evening programming. As I mentioned earlier, we had opportunities to really hold meaningful conversations with people in a land that struggles both socially and economically. This group of Christians has had to dig deep into Jesus and truly live by him. As people witnessed to me, I was gratefully reminded that we Anglo Christians do not own the gospel, which is something we should celebrate. The Holy Spirit is alive and active in all parts of the word and the church. Thank God, and may we always remember that fact.
All of our participants have come back believing they’ve had a most wonderful and deeply spiritual experience. What might the Holy Spirit drive us to do in the future?
- Figuring out a way to support Trinity in a financial way? Perhaps helping fund any special projects they may need to have done?
- Creating a “pen pal” relationship between our and their children?
- Starting planning a return trip in the not-too-distant future?
- Any other God-driven ways of keeping the communication and exchange open as we move forward?
Now that we are back home, we will be leading worship at our home church (Marion Center). On Aug. 5, Hóshdéiiʼ haa Deidísin (Gather for Worship), will give each team member an opportunity to share. We will likely sing a hymn in Navajo and the plan is to use fry bread for communion, with more activities being planned.