Helping “victims”?

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A few days ago a woman knocked at our door. She needed to arrange for a cemetery plot for an uncle who had died. She already knew we charge a small fee but still wondered if they could get a discount. When I said no (especially since this mission has had no contact with this woman or any of her family in the past), she just nodded and commented that our price was the cheapest option anyway.cemetary plots

Next she wanted to use the ex-church building on this property for a funeral service. “I suppose you charge a fee for that also,” she grumbled. She was shocked when I told her that the building is not currently available for use. (The pews were falling apart which wasn’t safe, so they have been knocked apart completely. We will eventually figure out what other seating options might make more sense for a multi-purpose building.)

She got a bit angry with me, demanding to know what their family was supposed to do. I suggested the chapter houses (local Navajo government buildings). I suggested one of the 15 or so other churches in this area. She didn’t like any of those ideas. She stated loudly that she was shocked we were no longer available for funerals. She questioned if we had the “right” to deny her family the possibility of using this facility.

I placated her as best I could, internally seething that a stranger would be so demanding. I don’t believe our mission is to be sitting around here, waiting for the 3-4 times per year that someone might prefer to use this facility for some reason, rather than one of the many other options in the community…

Still grumpy at this woman’s entitlement mentality when I walked back inside, I just started laughing in recognition of the truth in this quote, which was in a new email from a friend:

In politics, few talents are as richly rewarded as the ability to convince parasites that they are victims. Welfare states on both sides of the Atlantic have discovered that largesse to losers does not reduce their hostility to society, but only increases it. Far from producing gratitude, generosity is seen as an admission of guilt, and the reparations as inadequate compensations for injustices — leading to worsening behavior by the recipients. – Thomas Sowell

We continue to wrestle with the question of how we can TRULY help the Navajo living in the Lybrook area. We continue to listen to some of our Navajo friends and community leaders who are becoming more and more outraged at the entitlement mentality of constituents who expect everyone else to do things for them. In the two years we have been here, we have learned that hand-outs are often toxic. And hand-ups are usually rejected, at least for now.

Truck Eating SAND Pit

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A few weeks ago, Randy got our big pickup truck stuck AGAIN. This time, he thought it was safe to drive the back roads. After all, it hadn’t rained for weeks and the dirt roads were rock-hard. The biggest risk was having the “washboard” road damage the truck’s suspension. (We won’t talk about the back aches all that jiggling causes for the passengers…)

Then I got a dreaded phone call. “I’m stuck,” he said. “I’ll start walking and meet you by the main road.” Sigh…I found the car keys and started driving. Along the way I was pondering what might have happened. The dirt road I was on was innocent looking. The back tires only slid a few times when I hit patches of loose sand…

After I found him and drove him home, Randy and Jakob drove back to the truck, armed with shovels, the come-along, a big jack, and some lumber. They worked for what seemed like hours: jack up the truck and drive off the jack to get forward momentum—fail. Make solid tracks and try to drive along the board “road”—fail. Shovel, shovel, and shovel some more—fail. (Sand won’t stay where it is shoveled—it just slides right back where it came from.) Come-along and tow straps too short—fail.

Eventually, I texted a Navajo friend for advice. After all, he and his folks have lived here all their lives. Surely THEY would know what to do. They were way back in the canyons gathering more wood for heat. They got basic directions to where Randy was stuck and headed that direction.

By the time they found each other, it had gotten dark. They tried some of the things Randy and Jakob had already unsuccessfully tried—with no better results. Eventually, they managed to get our big black truck out of the maws of the truck-eating-sand-pit. They attached the come-along and tow straps to the friends’ blazer and revved both vehicles, with 4 strapping young men pushing behind our truck, and driving along a firewood and torn-out-sagebrush “roadway.”

Whew! Another eventual victory against the dreaded vehicle traps of the back road network!

Lithograph by Pablo O'Higgens
"La Carreta"

And as a post-script: This past weekend I visited the Camino Real State Park in southern New Mexico on my way home from taking an EMT certification test in Las Cruces. Good thing no one else was in the theater with me as I watched the park’s DVD about the trials and travails of travel along the 1600 mile corridor between Mexico City and Santa Fe in the 1600s and 1700s. At one point it talked about how many “carretas” (heavy-duty wooden carts pulled by oxen) were broken by getting stuck in either clay mud holes or deep sand pits as they travelled. I laughed out loud. Apparently back roads in New Mexico have been breaking hearts, breaking backs, and breaking vehicles for 400 YEARS!!!

A Rolling Party…

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We recently learned more about why so many of our Navajo friends have repeat DUIs. It has somewhat baffled us as to why Navajo who live way back on dirt roads where police never drive would choose to get in a vehicle and go for a drive rather than just staying at home to drink in relative “safety.”

party locationOne of my woman friends told me the story of her now-sober husband’s wild partying days. He had a favorite sports car that was his pride and joy. Whenever he got his hands on money, he would jump in his car, head to the nearest carryout to get some beer, and get the party rolling.

Turns out the drinking is often a moving party—someone drives to a buddy’s home and pounds on the door until the buddy comes out and gets in the car. They wander merrily along, drinking and getting silly, as they drive from home to home, packing the car full of friends who are happy to add to the stash of beer and join in the partying.

Ahhh…no wonder there are so many DUIs…the drinking more often occurs in the setting of a vehicle than it does in an anglo-style-party-at-home. This pattern also makes it much more difficult for Navajo who wish to quit drinking. They can’t merely choose to stay away from the party when the party will eventually end up at their door with friends pounding insistently and demanding that all the usual participants need to come along for the ride.

As I have said before, officers from the various police departments are reluctant to get off the main highway and drive on the dirt roads. It might seem logical that the rolling drinking parties would just drive around on the network of back roads. However, to stock up on more alcohol, they usually need to get on the highway to get to a carryout that sells more beer. That, of course, involves drunk driving on the very roads patrolled by the police.

In addition, in the midst of drunken “good ideas,” someone often decides they should drive all the way to town to recruit some buddy who is visiting friends there. With no sober mind to raise objections, the moving party is soon headed at high speed down the highway toward town. And this is when the party often turns tragic—either ending in jail time, felony DUI, or even death.

One more piece in a perplexing puzzle…

What to Do

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We often get asked what we do all day long. The simple answer is that we are effectively “youth pastors” for the community, through relationships we build at the local public school. We are also becoming “pastors to the pastors” as the relationships we are building with local Navajo pastors leads to deeper and deeper conversations and mentoring opportunities.

There is a complex answer that is probably more accurate: we follow opportunities that come to us and put ourselves in places where we can build relationships with people of all ages in the local community. As we do this, we trust that God will show us which possibilities for further ministry we should pursue as we have time to do so. We try to keep the vision for ministry at Lybrook in the forefront as we make decisions about what to pursue. As we have shared before, our primary focus is to bring God’s transformational love to hurting, at-risk youth. Our secondary focus is to help the local pastors more effectively shepherd their own “flocks.”

Some days this seems like such a nebulous, impossible task. How can we figure out what God wants us to do? During difficult, tragic times, our emotions cause us to question if God is even here with us…

This morning, as I was sorting through all the miscellaneous bits of paper that accumulate over time in my purse, I came across a few notes I wrote down from a sermon we heard when visiting a church in Colorado a few months ago. The pastor reminded all of us to be careful to not confuse our own perceptions for God’s truth, as found in the Bible.

The pastor wrote this phrase on the board and asked us what we saw:


What do YOU see when you look at this? Do you see “God is Nowhere” or do you see “God is Now Here”? Wow! What different meanings these two statements carry…

There are some exciting possibilities opening in front of us right now; possibilities for significant impact on local Navajo young people through highschool alternatives and through a young-adult-focused worship gathering. We have no idea if either of these opportunities will actually become reality. We have no idea right now if these are things that God is doing, or if they are just more talked-about programs that will never happen.

As the pastor prayed as he finished preaching the above sermon:

Show us the things of significance…of value…so we can be part of THOSE things.

There are plenty of opportunities to stay BUSY out here. Will you pray with us that God will give us wisdom in how to use our time for what HE is doing?

As Francis Chan said:

Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.

Bus Adventures

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A Navajo friend of ours is living in Albuquerque, working hard to finish a degree in Early Childhood Education. Because she hasn’t been able to take care of her elderly mother, take a full load of classes, and work a job, “Sharon” had to quit her job. This meant she eventually quit making payments on her car and had to sell it.

bus oneSharon told me the story of her bus adventures. After giving up her car, she realized that the college is too far from their apartment for her to walk to class. For a few days she was in a panic. She might be able to get an occasional ride from a classmate, but that wouldn’t work every day.

Then she remembered seeing city busses occasionally driving down the major road a few blocks from where she lives. One day, she gathered her courage and some money and walked to a bus stop.

Sharon had never ridden the busses before. She had no idea where the routes ran. She knew there were bus stops on the college campus, but she didn’t know if those were on the same route as the busses running near her home.

Sharon spent the day riding busses, trying to figure out where they ran, working hard to guess when and where to get off to switch to another bus. Eventually she figured out what busses to take to get between home and college. Over the next few days, she learned by trial and error when each bus got to the bus stops she needed.

bus twoSharon explained this process to me in a very matter-of-fact way. She was rightfully proud of how much work she had done to solve her transportation problem.

I didn’t have the heart to ask her why she hadn’t gone on-line to figure out the bus routes. I didn’t mention that she could probably have picked up bus route brochures at her college. I simply congratulated her on her perseverance and her courage in taking a bus adventure!

Why Children Matter Most

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As we set a vision for where we should focus our efforts for ministry among Navajo in the Lybrook area, we come back over and over again to the importance of reaching out to young people. Far too often, even those in their twenties are already set in their ways, already living out the results of values and decisions set in place during middle school or earlier. It is increasingly clear that for God to transform this community, He must first transform the lives of the children here. We are privileged to walk this out in practical ways.

let the little children...As we get more involved in the local school, we see children in the youngest grades who get excited, who have bright smiles and sparkling eyes, who live life loudly and with openness. By the middle school years, far too many of the students have become guarded. They have seen too much tragedy and lived with too much abuse and dysfunction. Unless something or someONE intervenes, many of them will slide downwards into despair and hopelessness.

let the middle children...I recently discovered an excellent book by Dr. Wess Stafford, President & CEO of Compassion International: Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most. In this book, Dr. Stafford shares the heartbreaking story of abuse he received as a child, intertwining victories and tragedies of his life story with the stories of children around the world.recommended book

Dr. Stafford challenges every Christian to consider what the Bible has to say about children and to look around them to see how Satan is too often winning the war for the hearts of children. Throughout this book, Dr. Stafford lays out a clear and compelling argument for the responsibility of those who love God to speak up for the needs of children, locally and around the world.

In the first few chapters, Dr. Stafford includes the following statements:

“Jesus uttered a powerful and terrifying warning to protect little ones from the kind of stumbling and abuse that humanity can impose upon them if they are not treasured, nurtured, and respected enough. His disciples never got a more enraged tongue-lashing than when they tried to keep children away from the Master.”

“Who are these individuals who stretch across Asia and Africa, knowing nothing of Christ’s atoning work and needing to hear the message of salvation? If, in your mental image of that vast sea of humanity every other person is not a child, you don’t know what the harvest looks like!”

“Fully half of the world, and especially the developing world, are children and teenagers.”

“What portion of your church budget is dedicated to children’s ministry? If it is more than 15 percent, yours is an exceptional church. What portion of your denomination’s mission budget is spent on worldwide children’s ministry? Again, if it is more than 10 percent, that is very rare.”

“What makes all this so urgent is that missiological research indicates that almost two-thirds of the people who give their lives to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. In other words, line up any twenty Christians, and thirteen of them will have accepted Christ as their Savior while a child or youth. In fact, researchers tell us that if people have not accepted Christ by age twenty-one, the probability that they ever will is only 23 percent. Yet we spend a pittance on the more open and strategic part of the harvest.”

Reading this book was a confirmation to me that working with and for the children in this hurting community is a way of sharing God’s heart. I urge you to get a copy of this book to learn more about this imperative need in today’s broken world.

We appreciate the faithful support, encouragement, and prayers of those who partner with us from afar to touch the lives of children here in Navajoland.

Notes from the Lybrook Science Fair

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Judge RandyLybrook School held its annual Science Fair last week. Randy was one of the judges. (They asked me to be a judge again this year, but I helped a number of the students with their projects and didn’t feel it would be fair for me to judge the entries…) Randy and the other two judges took time to interview each participant, asking lots of questions and sharing a mini-science lesson for each project.

1st and 2nd places were chosen for each grade. These students took their projects to the district-wide science fair a few days ago. We are still waiting to hear results from this event. Hopefully at least a few of our students will be able to advance to regional competition.

It is difficult for teachers to find time to fit science projects into school days focused on math and reading curriculums. Unlike in suburban districts, these children do not have families who encourage, mentor, and help them complete research, experiments, and reports at home. I spent a number of days as a volunteer at the school, helping a few motivated students complete their projects. What a privilege to be part of the “A-ha! Moment” in science for these children!

One student was somewhat belligerent when asked if he had completed his project over the weekend. He had been excited with his home-grown idea to bury meat in his yard and see how long it took for coyotes to find the food. But nothing came of that idea. Reluctantly, “Barry” chose another project to complete in the few days remaining until the Science Fair. It was simple enough—needing just a small neck glass bottle, some paper to set fire to, and a peeled hard-boiled egg. He managed to complete that experiment, but again got upset when a teacher suggested he do the experiment a second time, to verify his results.

Gradually, “Barry” shared the rest of the story: He had gotten into significant trouble when he tried to bury the meat for his first experiment. Then he came home and used more food for another experiment. His grandmother had apparently gotten quite upset with him for wasting good food. So, it really was NOT possible for him to repeat the experiment. What might grandma have done this time??

We don’t think about these difficulties when we as Anglos or employed Navajo suggest projects to the students. Sometimes what sounds like a good idea can backfire. Unfortunately, in situations like this, the student often becomes more discouraged and belligerent against academic things.

Bradley's SuccessOn the other hand, I worked extensively with Bradley on his project. He had an idea he wanted to try: comparing the performance of pull-back versus mechanical toy cars. We talked it out, made our plans, and wrote up an experiment. I found two cars and became Bradley’s assistant as he tested the cars over and over again. He eventually dictated the results and a report for his project. He put together a display board, and practiced what he might say during the project interview with the judges.

This was quite a stretch for Bradley, since he struggles with academic learning. Because it was HIS ideas and HIS experiment, he had confidence to talk about his project. He was rightfully proud of being sent on to the district-wide Science Fair. This was a huge accomplishment for a shy young man who often lacks self-confidence.

Two boys, two projects…different experiences, different outcomes.

May we better “see” what is happening for these students so we can help more of them gain confidence and become more curious about learning new things in the world around them!

Touching Lives…

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For an extrovert like me (recharging via people contact) we have the best job in the world. In the 20 months since we arrived here in Navajoland, we have worked hard to build relationships with families and individuals in the Lybrook area. Part of relationship is walking through difficult times with others, such as the aftermath of tragic fatal accidents on January 1st. I wrote a little about that experience in the last post. This time I want to share some of the enjoyable relationship moments of this past week…

oldest brother

Jeremy wants to get more Bible training

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with a family from church, working with their three young adult sons. We talked, and pondered, and sorted through pros and cons of which Christian college they might attend and how to make that decision. We looked at websites and sorted through the process of applying. By the end of our time together, they have a clear list of further information they need to gather and next steps they need to take.

When we were in town on Wednesday evening, I made time to stop by the hospital to pray for Casper (critically injured in the above-mentioned accident). While there, I got to talk with his brother, both to encourage him and to challenge him to help his kids talk about these traumatic events. It felt like praying for Casper was a responsibility; talking with his brother was a privilege.

Miss Nellie

Our fiercely independent elderly friend...

I also stopped by a nursing home in town to visit an elderly friend who is recovering from a fall and resulting broken bones. She was SO excited to see Anna and I. We were just with her for a very short time as she was headed to dinner, but it was good to see her sparkling eyes and be reminded of her fierce determination to move back again to independent living in her beloved hogan. As we were leaving, we were able to spend time with her son, another friend of ours, and listen while he talked about chaos in the family and how de-stabilizing his mom’s injury and diagnosis of cancer has been. Another privilege—letting our friend “vent” about struggles and encouraging him to keep looking to God for wisdom, strength, and comfort.

messy artist

messy hands...great art!

This week also found me busy at the local school—subbing, tutoring, and volunteering. It is quite good for one’s ego to walk into the cafeteria and have cute little 1st graders squeal your name and run to give big hugs! We enjoyed time together at the end of the week when I had the privilege of doing an art history lesson and project with them. You should SEE the wonderful drawings they made of mesas at different times of day, in the style of Claude Monet’s paintings of haystacks.

With some students that I have been tutoring since fall, there were opportunities to challenge them. With other students, time together this past week furthered relationship building. I am NOT in the school to “proselytize”…but within relationships I am able to be very open about my own beliefs and about how God affects my daily life. For some students who are already Christians, I can be an encouragement. For others who live with instability and dysfunction, I hope I can eventually connect them to One who can bring stability and love into their troubled lives.

Finally, as I spend more time at the school, I have more opportunity to build relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff. We may not have “solved the world’s problems” yet, but we have had some interesting, encouraging and challenging discussions about the realities of life out here in Navajoland. What a privilege it is to be part of such lunch-table and hallway discussions!

It is hard, so very hard, to walk through dark times such as the recent tragedies here. But then the sun comes back out, metaphorically speaking, and we enjoy wonderful times of sharing happy times with our friends.

Right now? Life is good in Navajoland!

Circle of…Death?


There is something so hopeful about the Circle of Life. Babies are born, couples marry and start new families, eventually elders die, and the circle continues over and over and over. Keeping this picture in mind, death is just one part of community, one part of family, one part of life.

Within the idea of the Circle of Life, even unexpected, out-of-sequence deaths can be grieved and worked through. When our son died, it felt like the world had just ended. And yet, our other children still needed our guidance, our support, and our love. Life was continuing and we talked about these patterns with each other and with others within the community who were also affected by the death of our son.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to see this positive circle out here in Navajoland. There seems to be death after death after death, tragedy followed by tragedy, an endless cycle of trauma. It is hard to find hope when it seems like the circle leads over and over again to death, not to renewal and life. (As many of you know, we are currently walking through the aftermath of fatal accidents from January 1st – you can read more about it HERE)

For far too many hurting and angry people in this community, the “solution” to such trauma is to numb the pain with alcohol. This in turn contributes significantly to more dysfunction and death. And the circle spirals downward…

How can this be changed? How can the Circles turn back upward, toward hope and toward life?

First, we need to recognize that more education or yet one more program will make no noticeable difference. There have been hundreds of people out here in Navajoland for generations past, working hard to change the patterns. But the Circle of Death just seems to be spiraling downward faster and faster.

A few tendencies within Navajo culture make it difficult to change the current patterns: family members avoid confrontation whenever possible; hesitating to confront alcoholism for fear it might cause a break in relationship with their loved one. Their fear and avoidance too often enables the alcoholism to continue, leading eventually to shocking deaths (an ultimate break in relationship…). For the friends we know who have stopped drinking and personally won the battle against alcoholism, the trigger for change was most often family members who challenged them to stop and did everything possible to keep the drinking from re-occurring.

In addition, Navajo are taught from a very young age to “be strong,” “don’t show emotion,” and “be a survivor.” Sometimes these ideas can give strength to a person walking through difficulty. But far more often, this lack of allowing emotion causes people to “shut down” during traumatic times. A lack of sorting through emotions and a lack of grieving can cause heart-wounds to fester. When the pain becomes unbearable, with no other coping skills to deal with it, alcohol seems to be an acceptable way to numb that pain. And, again, the Circle of Death spirals, faster and faster as trauma is layered onto trauma, over and over again.

Walking through our own time of grieving, after the death of our son, we realized we would not survive if we remained passive. We had to choose to reach for hope. We had to choose to allow strong emotions to wash over us. We had to choose to move forward into the Circle of Life. That sounds so simple and easy, and yet it is quite difficult. For many dealing with traumatic loss, including my husband, it takes the concern and prayers of many friends to bring one back toward living again. It takes a powerful God to break through the darkness and show light. It takes a radical transformation of heart and mind; a glimpse of hope given by a God of joyfulness and love.

Some days the darkness here seems overwhelming. Some days we just want to run—back to a suburban or rural haven where there is no obvious Circle of Death. But we choose to stay…to walk through these tragedies with our friends: to listen when they need to talk, to allow them a safe place to express anger and sorrow, to cry with them and to pray with them, to help them reconnect with the Circle of Life and with a God who can give them true strength.

Some days we recognize our overwhelming need for support. We are grateful for friends who encourage us, who donate funds, who pray for us. With the help of team-members scattered across the world, we can stay. We can walk with our Navajo friends through joyful times and through tragedy. We can enter in to their Circle of Life!

2011 … by the numbers!

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Here is a brief summary of life in the Lybrook area of Navajoland during 2011:



Family here at Lybrook Community Ministries





Homophobic Acts of Violence in the community (among families we know)






Tries for Jill to get a temporary EMT-Basic license transferred to New Mexico (plus multiple unsuccessful tries to get a tutoring license through the Public Education Department)




Plumbing repairs on the LCM property (including 5+ weeks of living with no running water–like many area Navajo families do!)





Major vehicle repairs—clay roads are hard on vehicles: slick as ice when wet, ruts hard as cement when dry…






Tragedies and funerals we have walked through with Navajo friends




Potlucks for special church events





Septic system failures on the LCM property (You know what it’s like to change a baby’s dirty diaper? This is worse…MUCH worse…)






Different teaching/tutoring opportunities filled by Randy or Jill (at the community college in town, the local K-8 school, and at Pine Hill Church


TEN (or more) times per day we have power fluctuations and/or internet disconnections…sigh…

ELEVEN Overnight visitors or groups (in addition to family visitors — including two work teams, an annual board meeting, and visits from supporters)

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