Another School Shooting?

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This is something that has infuriated me over the years. When something tragic happens in a suburban school, people from around the country rally in support of the community. At the time of the Columbine shooting, young Cambodian friends of ours had not-too-long-earlier had to deal with shootings in their neighborhood which killed friends and family with no acknowledgement or support from the outside world.

Working with families and students in the Lybrook area of Navajoland was devastating at times. Far too often we saw first-hand the results of beatings, of abandonment, of neglect, of abuse. I’ve written occasionally on this blog about some of the bigger tragedies in the community. But where is the outpouring of support? Where is the free counseling? Where is the money and the prayers and the encouraging notes…for the adults choosing to work with these families and for the children themselves?

There was another school shooting this week. But it hardly merited comment. Perhaps that was because it might have been gang related. Perhaps it is because it happened in a school that has metal detectors at the doors. Perhaps it is because we can’t acknowledge the violence faced by thousands upon thousands of children every day in this country. Perhaps that is just too hard to think about when it makes us feel too helpless.

Discussing and debating laws and regulations won’t change lives.

Our family is no longer living and working in Navajoland. But a piece of our hearts is still there, suffering and celebrating with our friends. Concerned for the children we know who are trying to raise themselves and their siblings with no stable adults around them.

I wish I knew what WE could do about such callousness in our country. And I wish there was some way to set hearts on fire so that each and every one of us would rise up in outrage at these tragedies, insisting that things MUST change for the “least of these,” for children who are precious in the sight of our Saviour…

I read a few blogs written by families who are doing what they can to stand in the gap for needy children. One of these summarized that life well today:

And the truth of the matter is that the cracks aren’t very comfortable. They’re dark, and kind of squishy, and supremely lonely. We’ve been having trouble recruiting mentors, which has given me a bad attitude and made me feel a little despondent and frustrated. Like why in the world are we the only ones here? Where are all the other people who love Jesus?

But when I get in that place, when I get overwhelmed by the darkness, by the storm that so often surrounds us here, it usually means I have taken my eyes off of Jesus. Because here’s the thing about cracks: they let the light shine through. So even when they feel broken, and dark, and even a little scary, I am learning that standing in the gap for “the least of these” means we bear the great privilege and responsibility of being a fissure for Christ’s love to seep through.

I challenge each one of us to step outside our comfort zone. To reach out and help someone who is in a difficult situation. To speak up for the children. Discussing and debating laws and regulations won’t change lives. Making time to spend regularly with one or two of these children could make a huge difference. Jumping into the “trenches” with a family who is working with little ones in tragic situations, trying hard to understand what that life is really like, and encouraging those workers can make a difference.

The real question is: are we willing to wrestle with the uncomfortable? Are we willing to be stretched outside our “normal”? When will we react with as much shock and horror to the devastating lives of the poor as we do to tragedies among the well-to-do?

(If you are interested, you can read more from the above blogger HERE)

Victory over Death!

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One year ago, the Lybrook community was devastated by the tragedy of multiple deaths in two horrific accidents. Through family lines and marriages, these deaths directly affected most families in the area. (If you weren’t reading this blog back then, you can find the story HERE.)

It seems to be part of being human to wonder where God was when someone we love dies. Death often feels so wrong, such a horrible shortening of what “should” be a long life. Questions come flooding in, and it can be hard to walk in faith during such times.

Today, at the start of a new year, I want to share a different story of death with you. A story that still leaves questions, but one that unfolded with clear signs of God’s victory.rainbow photo from microsoft

A few months ago, one of our friends died of cancer. Rosie had been fighting this cancer since before we met her 2 ½ years ago. She was a loving, generous woman who was full of life and laughter. She was passionate about God and longed for others to have that same kind of relationship with God, rather than just following lifeless rules or religion.

Rosie doted on her family. Along with God, her family was the center of her world, something that came through in every conversation. And with her husband, children and grandchildren at the center of her heart, she was the one who held her family together through whatever storms they faced in life.

Then, she died.

As her husband Eddie told Randy a few weeks ago, God walked with the family through this dark time. They chose to work together in their grief and paint the casket. One side was given a rainbow. One side was filled with roses. Eddie was surprised when their artistic daughter chose to paint the top of the casket black with a simple white cross rather than painting some glorious scene or a more specific painting of her mother. roses by Microsoft

It rained the morning of the funeral, mirroring the grief of so many who loved Rosie. When they reached the cemetery, the rain stopped and a rainbow filled the sky. The casket was lowered into the ground, covered with roses, reminding everyone that Rosie herself was being buried. And then, as family and friends threw handfuls of dirt into the grave, a white cross appeared to glow in contrast to the darkness that was surrounding it. That simple painting by the artistic daughter was visible for a long time as more and more dirt covered the casket.

In looking back, Eddie realized that each painted side of the casket had been fulfilled that morning. Over the next few weeks, Eddie had encouraging dreams of Rosie. God was present that funeral day, and continues to bring comfort to the family.christian cross 1 by Microsoft

What a different story than the one from last year! Yes, Eddie and those who love Rosie miss her. Yes, they question why God took her home so soon. But there is a sense of celebration, even in the grief. Rosie’s love for others and her passion for God continue to challenge and encourage those who knew her.

Through Jesus, there truly is Victory Over Death!

Traditional Architecture and Change (Guest Post #17)

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This is #17 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE. Jianping provided many of the photos for these guest posts. However, the photos for this entry were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

From the LCM buildings to the houses along Highway 550, all are “modern” styles of buildings. It is not easy to see the more traditional style of building. In towns like Cuba and Farmington, there are some buildings with adobe characteristics. However, I suppose many of those buildings are new and public, and the adobe features are stressed in order to show local cultural heritage, while the adobe homes are no longer popular. The buildings around Farmington, such as some of the hotels and Farmington Public Library, preserve some features of adobe buildings such as the exterior terracotta color and the rounded rooms similar to hogans.

Farmington Library

Farmington Library

I had the opportunity to visit an adobe house. I was very impressed by the layout and coziness of it. It was a two-story building, if not three-stories. The circular living room has large windows that give good views of nature. It was an interesting contrast between its simple outside appearance and the modern living conditions inside.

However, this traditional type of building as a residential house, I suppose, is not common in this area. I guess it would be easier to obtain and use modern construction materials to build a new house nowadays. When did the adobe house lose its popularity? Was the change more the result of an economic or social factor? Recently, I read an article about social change. Basically, it suggests that the elite in the society play an important role in bringing about social changes. In other words, social change starts from the elite, and then spreads to ordinary people. I was thinking, was the replacement of adobe the result of the Navajo people who may be regarded as elites? And to extend the question, how was the architectural change related to other changes of the society?

a typical Navajo "family camp"

a typical Navajo “family camp”

[Note from Jill Emmelhainz: much of the modern style of housing was the result of planned housing built by the Navajo government a number of years ago in such communities as Nageezi and Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle. In addition, for local families with consistent income, modern mobile homes are a status symbol desired by many.]

Pine Hill Church (Guest Post)

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This is the Eighth in a series of Guest Posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read the introduction to these posts HERE.

(photo taken by Jianping Yang)

Having attended the Navajo-run Christian Church called Pine Hill several times, I noticed that the number of church goers fluctuates from a dozen to more than twenty. At the time when there were the most attendees, some of them were from outside New Mexico. One cannot conclude that the less frequently people go to Church, the less faithful they are. However, I suppose that if people go to Church regularly, they are probably devoted believers.

The church service is not different from that of any other church: music goes first, next the pastor preaches, and then donation and socialization follow. The difference is that the pastor occasionally uses Navajo language, although the primary language is English. The fact that Navajo language is used makes the church service unique and interesting. To me, the singing in Navajo at the beginning is attractive because belief is expressed in a different language. Someone even suggested I  learn to sing in Navajo, and I thought it would be interesting.

I talked to one family who frequently showed up. The husband told me that he was an artist before. He wasted a lot of money on alcohol. His sons would go to college later this year. When asked what motivated him to encourage his sons to go to college, he said he wouldn’t want his sons to repeat the mistakes he had made. I guess going to Church is a good lifestyle for him to follow.

At one time, food was provided. I asked a Navajo person what the typical Navajo food was. She said it would be the food with mutton. This reminded me of nomadic tribes that typically live on animal products. This characteristic of Navajo food apparently reflects the legacy of the Navajo nomadic tendencies.

Some studies argue that the church’s socialization function is more important than its spiritual one in contemporary American society. It is true that in addition to its spiritual function, Church is also an arena for people to maintain and expand social relations. It creates a space for people to communicate, socially and emotionally. However, I believe the extent the church functions spiritually or socially depends on the location and who the people are.

“Ethnic Heritage”

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I team teach reading two mornings per week at the local school. Mrs. M and I recently put together a variety of activities to celebrate the finish of a language arts unit on Immigration. We had two goals: help the students feel what it might have been like to be a new immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1800s, and learn about the ethnic heritage of the teachers and staff at the school.

For the first objective, Mrs. M and I spoke to the students only in Spanish–a language they do not understand. We marched them down the hall for a “medical exam.”

checking eyes and heart

When we returned to the classroom, each student had an interview (in Spanish) about their intentions.

“entrance interview”

When they managed to guess the correct answers, they eventually got some stamps in their “passports.

each student received a “passport”

…with “picture,” basic personal info, and eventual stamps for successful entry

As we went through this process, the students couldn’t decide whether to laugh and goof off, or whether to get angry that they couldn’t understand what we wanted them to do. Discussion helped clarify that this is often how new immigrants feel. Goal one: Successful!

Then we moved on to looking at the ethnic heritage of each teacher, staff member, and administrator at this little school. I had surveyed the adults ahead of time, gathering the information into a chart and writing it on cards to be put on a bar graph.

putting together the bar graph

It was fascinating to follow the progress of this activity and discussion time. It quickly became clear that these students fundamentally have no idea of world geography. They were baffled by the differences in names: Italian, Italy; Irish, Ireland; Swedish, Sweden; much less being unable to find the countries on a map.

We also had a long discussion about “Indian” versus “Native American.” Most of the students were quite offended that white people had decided they should be called “Native Americans.” All of them were adamant that they are “Dine” or “Navajo” or at least should be called “Indian.” They also did not want to include other tribal groups in their own grouping of “Indian.”

I assumed they could understand many different tribes making up “Native Americans” and many different nationalities making up “Anglo.” However, what the students came back to over and over and over was that they are Navajo and everyone else is “belagaana–other–not us.”

Ethnic Heritage of School Staff, Administrators, and Teachers

Seems to me this was a successful closing activity with lots to be learned…by ME, if not by the students!

Anna’s Presence in Navajo Community (Guest Post)

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This is the Sixth in a series of Guest Posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts HERE.

My opinion is that difference makes progress. I want to exemplify this view by talking about Anna’s presence in this Navajo community, which I think is beneficial to both the community and herself. First of all, the fact that Anna is enrolled as a student at the local Elementary School helps create the atmosphere of diversity. Anna is one of the few people in the school who are not Navajo. She certainly stands out among others, but I am sure Anna and the other children can learn a lot from each other through participating in classroom activities, hanging out when going to church, etc.

The other students will learn that an outsider is both similar to and different from them. Since Anna is an outsider she certainly brings something different to the school, such as the way of speaking and acting. This will open the mind of the students and provoke their curiosity. The fact that Anna is one of them can help the students understand that there may not be strict boundaries among people of different backgrounds. In the future, when they move to different locations, their experience of having an Anglo school friend will be helpful for their adaptation.

I wonder what Anna’s exposure to Navajo culture at such a young age means for her future. She has learned some of the Navajo language. Her pronunciation sounds very natural to me. We all know that children acquire a language more easily than adults. If she keeps learning, she will likely become fluent. A second language will definitely improve her cognition. More importantly, her experience with Navajo people shapes her interests. As she told me, she was interested in linguistics. Also, being among Navajo people who are good at arts, she probably has developed some ability in arts. Her drawings are simple, yet definitely artistic. Or will Anna choose a social science major related to American Indians for her career?

Anna’s Crying (Guest Post #5)

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This is the fifth in a series of Guest Posts shared by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read the introduction to these posts HERE.

I always wonder how life in rural New Mexico affects the growth of Anna, this ten-year-old girl. To me, at her age, life should be all about being carefree and joyful. From an adult’s angle, I think Anna is as innocent and happy as other ten-year-olds. However, I noticed her cries occasionally.

(Anna crying when she can’t keep a stray puppy…)

Kids may not always be as self-disciplined as much as parents expect, and Anna is no exception. Sometimes when Jill scolded her for not following her schedule or fulfilling her duty, I could hear Anna weeping. Her weeping came and went quickly. At her age, crying might be the only way for self-protection. It might also be a means for negotiating with her parents.

One time, I heard someone knocking my door. It was Anna. She wanted me to go with her – cycling, exploring, or things like that. I said I was busy with something, and I could be free in half an hour. I returned to my laptop, almost forgetting my ‘promise’. About half an hour later, my door was knocked hard again. Anna said in a semi-trembling voice that it had already been half an hour. I told her that I hadn’t completed my task and so couldn’t join her, so maybe next time. A little later, when I had resumed what was left over, I heard that Anna cried very loud at a distance. But she probably would not know that I heard about that. I felt somewhat guilty for not keeping my promise and I didn’t remember children tend to take things seriously. She needed someone to communicate with in this rural area where it is not very often to see people around. I let her down.

Once there was a fair in a nearby town, which was supposed to be fun for kids. When we arrived there, only empty booths and a few people were seen. We had no choice but to go back. I knew Anna had looked forward to it since she looked so excited before going. When Randy explained on the way back that we could do nothing, Anna burst into tears and said, “I was just wanting to see…” I know in this rural area, there are not many amenities and events that people can enjoy conveniently. I could tell that it was indeed disappointing.

I like Anna’s straightforward way of emotional expression. Her cries remind me that childhood is innocent but can be lonely. I keep asking this question for myself, “what are the gains and losses of growing up?” Tonight, I will make a cup of coffee for myself and contemplate this question.

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