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.]

Navajo Personalities (Guest Post 16)

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This is the 16th guest post written by Jianping (Corey). You can read the introduction to this author and to these posts HERE. Some posts have been illustrated with photos taken by the author. Photos in this post were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

It is difficult to generalize the personality of an ethnic group, especially considering the diversity within a society and the small sample of local people. However, it cannot be denied that there is something in common in terms of people’s personalities. By looking at people’s way of thinking and acting at the society level, we can understand both the similarities and differences of personality within a society.

Most Navajo people usually do not talk loud and looked like they preferred keeping to themselves. Some of the students I met did tend to keep silent or try to avoid me. My impression was that most of them were curious about me, but few of them asked questions or initiated a conversation. However, I met other people who seemed to be more outgoing. So, I have no idea how to place Navajo people’s personality along the continuum between introvert and extrovert.

Lybrook students: sometimes quite...

Lybrook students: sometimes quiet…

I did meet some students who tried to approach me. When I was at the school, one small child came to me and gave me a strawberry. He and a couple of other small kids showed curiosity about me. Another time, an eighth grader approached me and initiated a conversation with me, and we talked about his plan for the future. It turned out to be a quality conversation.

Church mealtime was also conversation time. Here I want to mention talks with two families. The first time, I sat randomly close to a family. The husband talked to me and asked me a lot of questions, such as how I liked New Mexico. He talked about his family and children, and his wife talked about education with me. The conversation was interactive and informative. The couple did not talk loud, but they were open-minded. The other time, I talked to a woman about Navajo food. Her parents were also there. Her father played jokes with me. The conversation with them ended up being quite lighthearted.

Lybrook students: sometimes full of fun!

Lybrook students: sometimes full of fun!

At school or church, I often met a woman who works at the school. She always said hello to me loudly, which made me feel that I was not so strange to the community. If I remember correctly, I talked to her first when I met her for the first time. Maybe it is just an issue of familiarity? Also, it seems to me that the younger people are easier to talk to.

So I think in every society, there are various types of personalities. Here many Navajo people look reserved, but there are many other people who actively engage in communication with me as well. I noticed that the older people’s English was not as fluent as young people. Maybe this is one reason why they seem quiet? The ways people communicate with each other may be complicated and situational. However, I consider the diversity of personality to be universal.

a little of this…a little of that…

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Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of small things that have “jumped out at me.” Unfortunately, most of them are too small and insignificant to write an entire blog post about. I have tried to put them out of mind…but they are persistent memories.

Then I realized I could bring them all together in one place…and, voila!, a full blog post:

I was chatting with a few of my tutoring students at the end of the school day and joked that the following week I was going to “turn into Mr. C.” I was referring to being a substitute teacher for the 1st grade class. But one student gasped and asked if I was going to do witchcraft. I’m still not sure if he was joking back…or if he is one of the many, many Navajo who believe in human shape-changers called skin-walkers.

Most of you don’t get updates from my art blog. Go check out a post HERE from a few weeks ago — with photos and explanations of the Van Gogh art project I did with the 1st graders while I was subbing in the class.

our lovely swirly mural a la Van Gogh

One morning I was running late and hadn’t finished up my cup of coffee, so I brought it to tutoring with me. Anthony* asked what it was, then asked if he could have a sip. (No, obviously not…) Katie* immediately asked him, “Do you want your hair to turn WHITE?!” As I asked her about that comment, she explained that is what her grandpa says every time she wants to taste his coffee, as he points to his own white hair.

With the Twilight series of movies and books still quite popular among the students, there were a bunch of vampires and werewolves for Halloween. Somehow, I have still managed to avoid this series, although I’m glad it keeps some of these students reading. When she is stressed or anxious, our daughter Anna has a pattern of chewing around her lips until the skin is raw and bleeding. Her mouth was quite a mess before we left for Ohio, but she wanted to go to school as usual on the Tuesday before we left so she could say goodbye to friends and teachers. I was quite uncertain how the students would react to her injuries, knowing how vicious teasing can sometimes be. I was baffled, but quite pleased, when most of the students thought it was really COOL. They wanted to know how Anna managed to make herself look so much like a vampire!

For my tutoring groups, I bought a pack of bright colored ink pens. Somehow it feels less like WORK when we are writing or doing exercises if we can write in hot pink, or purple, or neon green. I continue to stress that the students must follow their teacher’s rules about what to write with in the classroom. To me these pens are just a bit of colorful fun. To the students, however, the pens have become something to look forward to. When I said my goodbyes before Thanksgiving, I gave each reading student a pack of colored pens as a little going-away gift. By their reactions, you might have thought that I had given them GOLD!

Well, enough random tidbits for this week. I’ll try to add some photos and another more in-depth post for next Friday.

 

 

Mobility of Navajo People (Guest Post #15)

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This is #15 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE.

By mobility, I mean in either a geographic or social sense, as in many circumstances they were interrelated. From what I have communicated with Navajo people, I believe many of them have the chance to move beyond the place in which they are raised. I once asked a naive question about where Navajo people lived in the country. The answer was that Navajo people were everywhere.

At one party in a Navajo house, I met a guy who had the experience of living in New York state. His experience was quite interesting and unique. The reason why he went to New York was that he ran away from home when he was a teenager. I regret not to have asked why he ran away. He ended up going to high school there. He told me that he once drove from New York to the south with his friends. I do not know what kind of work he does now. His case, however, shows that there can be different reasons to leave their familiar places and people.

Another person used to have a job in Albuquerque. He had the training and the certificate for the job. He received high school education, but probably did not go to college. He had held that job for a long time. Only this year did he lose his job, probably because of the general economic downturn. I did not have a chance to ask how important that job was to him. Anyway, there are more opportunities in Albuquerque than in the Lybrook area.

I talked with a woman who was a teacher in a nearby town. She received both undergraduate and graduate education. Her case is not common in that most people do not have higher education. The school where she works is not far from her home. From what we communicated, I suppose she did not want to be away from her home. I have no idea how strong Navajo people attach to their home place in the wider culture. The people I have talked to, however, seem to show strong connection with their homes.

Another kind of mobility is related to marriage. According to Jill and from my communication with Navajo people, Navajo marriage is exogamous, by which I mean they accept a person from a different ethnic and cultural background. So when this happens, relocation might follow. However, this might lead to the change or loss of traditional culture.  [Note from Jill: in our experience, marriage by Navajo with “outsiders” almost always means the couple remains near family in Navajoland rather than the couple moving elsewhere.]

It is interesting to know people have some opportunities of moving in this relatively isolated land. I would like to raise this general question: what factors affect people’s decision-making when facing a choice of moving? Economic issues must be a factor, but I would like to stress the  social and cultural ones; although to have a more in-depth understanding would need further exploration.

Navajo Arts (Guest Post #14)

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This is #14 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and the author HERE.

First of all, the following description and reflection on the Navajo arts is not professional as I do not have formal education in either arts or Navajo society. However, I cannot help but  talk about the Navajo arts since it is an significant aspect of Navajo society.

The Navajo art forms that I have seen include drawing, weaving, Jewelry, figurines in traditional costume, etc., although there must be far more than these in reality. In Lybrook Elementry/Middle School, I found a lot of beautiful drawings by students. One of the drawing themes is eagles. Although the meaning of the eagle in Navajo culture needs exploration, obviously it is an important component in Navajo culture.  Randy said that the students did better in arts than in other subjects. Responding to his comment, I said that it might be because other subjects such as math were more foreign to them than art which had been part of life from generation to generation.

In the Lybrook Community Ministries office building, there are some items showing Navajo weaving. One is a delicately made figurine representing a woman using a loom. Jill said it was made by a Navajo friend. There is a chart illustrating the sources of different dying color for cloths. These sources are from natural plants. It can be imagined that it is a complicated and demanding task to create a beautiful textile product. Navajo weaving is reminiscent of Eurasian nomads. It would be interesting to compare weaving, in the areas such as color and technique, of Navajo and Eurasian societies. This might provide some insights on the link between Navajo and Asian people.

Jewelry is another form of art products. As a Navajo student said, the beads were bought somewhere, and weaved into things like necklaces by Navajo households. I had the opportunity to see many kinds of necklaces that were made with stones in different colors. I was more interested in the symbolic meanings of each “theme” than what kind of stones they were made from. Although all the products are obviously talismans, the Navajo people who showed me the jewelry were not sure of exact symbolic meanings. Farmington, the largest town nearby, has stores to sell these folk products, as a Navajo student told me.

Another art form worth mentioning is the figurines in traditional costumes. I found them in Farmington Public Library, but I assume there are similar works of arts in the Lybrook community area. They appear to be religious or ceremonious figures as each of them seems to be responsible for a certain kind of performance. These figurines show that a feather has a significant symbolic meaning in Navajo culture.

Navajo art is colorful and delicate. It is probably not coincidental that Santa Fe and Taos became a well-known art center. Here in Lybrook I know a Navajo person who was previously an artist who sold paintings in Santa Fe galleries. But not all people can make a living by making art. Hopefully Navajo traditional arts can be preserved, and at the same time Navajo people can benefit from the development of tourism.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau–A Sketch of the Natural Environment (Guest Post #13)

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This is #13 in a series of guest posts by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

Here I am attempting to describe the weather in May, June and July in northwestern New Mexico. My description is from a layman’s experience rather than a geologist’s professional study. Therefore it might be inaccurate. However, a description will paint a more vivid picture than numbers and thus complement the statistical data.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau
(photo taken by the author)

The climate is quite dry in this area, the elevation of which is above 6500 feet. According to my record, it rained a bit on June 4. During the night on June 26 and the day of June 27, it rained again, but not very heavily. There was a temperature increase from May to June, but it seems that the difference is more tangible at night than during the day. It is often windy, both during the day and at night. Most of the time, however, the wind is not obvious. Most of May and June were sunny days with blue sky. I believe that monsoon season started July 6, because it rained several times during the following week.

The typical scene is the sagebrush on plain areas and the mountains. Irrigated crop fields can occasionally be seen along the highway. The vast green agricultural land is a sharp contrast to the rest of the immediate area, where sagebrush thrives. The terrain is generally flat without sharp slopes. Small cacti are everywhere. Poplar trees can be seen sporadically. It is interesting to see that in Cuba, a town not very far away, the environment is much greener. I noticed that there was more rainfall around mountainous areas.

When we were on the road, I often wondered when the rock pieces fell and formed the current landscape. It was interesting to see the fallen rocks in a distance. However, if they are close to the road, it might make drivers or passengers feel threatened, as there are many huge rock pieces scattered near the road. I have no idea how fast the rock pieces can break and fall onto the road. I believe the probability of seeing it happen is low. It would be a better idea not to worry about it.

Few kinds of animals are seen here very often. It would be reasonable to assume that there are fewer animal species here than in greener areas. However, we can see eagles flying. I saw rabbit once or twice. Coyotes are also in this area. We can see horses and cattle roaming near the roads. It is rare to see accidents of unfortunate animals on the highway. I talked with Navajo people about animals here, and according to them there are more species than I have described. It is just not easy for a newcomer to see them.

End of Year Ceremony (Guest Post #12)

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This is #12 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

I estimated that about two hundred people attended the ceremony. I sat on the steps in the gym observing the people and events. The eighth graders, beautifully dressed, entered the gym in pairs, one boy and one girl holding arms. Once everyone was seated, the principal gave the opening speech. She announced the honors, gave the prizes and congratulated all the eighth grade graduates. I noticed her emotional moment during the ceremony. I heard from Jill that she has devoted herself to the education of Navajo children for decades. I think such a career is respectful and challenging since it requires not only expertise but also familiarity with Navajo culture.

(photo taken by guest author)

Prizes for students from the other grades were given. Prizes are important in the sense that they give encouragement to students. During the ceremony, the students performed dances and sang in a choir. For those who are not familiar with American Indian culture, this is a good opportunity to see how colorful the culture is, which is reflected in their costumes and the performance. The Pine Hill Church pastor was invited to give a speech.

The eighth graders sat on the front platform. This was the day that they could feel proud of their graduation. However, I thought their proud feeling was probably mixed with nostalgia, as the ceremony marked the successful completion of middle school, and at the same time the beginning of something uncertain. I was thinking about the concept of rituals. We have different rituals during our life course. But what exactly is their function? Looking at it from a social perspective, rituals can strengthen communication, social cohesion, and grant authority. Psychologically, rituals certainly can create a moment for participants to reflect on themselves, and this will shape their personality. This graduation ceremony is undoubtedly an important event for the eighth graders.

(You can read a previous post about 8th Grade Graduation, including more photos, HERE.)

Transition-to-Adult Retreat: an Outsider’s View (Guest Post #11)

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This is guest post #11 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

It has been a lot of fun having the eighth graders around for a learning retreat (in mid may—read a blog entry about the retreat HERE). This is actually part of their education. As an outsider, I had the opportunity to observe the activities “at a distance” and communicate with some of them. In my view, this program is helpful for them considering the high dropout rate of Navajo high school students.

Activities were indoors and outdoors

The four day retreat was quite intense. The activities combined both education and entertainment and were held both indoors and outdoors. They involved a lot of creativity and reflection. When it came to the part about presenting their personality, they were asked to make a collage. Although the pictures and symbols were limited for them to choose from, the way the collage was made certainly showed some traits of personality. Much of the lectures were about people and society outside of students’ main experience. Randy and Jill mentioned the different ways of thinking of different people. The effects of such lectures would be to familiarize the students with the complexity of the real world on the one hand, and motivate them to pursue a different life on the other.

Outside, students participated in a competition by completing certain fun tasks in pairs, such as shooting hoops. It was more of a fun activity than a competition. Our two dogs participated as well. One of the nights was a campfire night. Besides the fire, the students were joking, watching videos on the phone, or just careless talking. It continued until late that night.

Job-related training was one of the most important components of this program. The students were advised on how to write a resume, how to balance personal interests and actual job, how to do an interview, etc. For others, it is still too early to receive such training, but for these students, it may be practical.

closing activity of retreat

Overall, this retreat program provided an excellent opportunity to prepare the students for their future, especially when they look for a job. It was aimed at motivating the students to think about their future and promote their confidence to solve problems. It emphasized concepts such as adaptation, aspiration and achievement. Hopefully, they will reflect on this program and find it helpful for their transition to the next chapter of their life.

(Note from Jill Emmelhainz–after a rocky start for a few students, currently all 12 young people are still attending highschool. This is a victory compared to past years when by now in the semester there have usually been 1 or 2 that have already either dropped out or been suspended! As we have met some of these kids in the community, they talk happily about the retreat and beg to have a reunion retreat. We are hoping to schedule one for spring break. Please keep praying for each one of these young people as they go against their current culture and (for some) against family pressures as they work to stay in school.)

Sports Day for Jemez Mountain Schools (Guest Post #10)

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This is guest post #10 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and the author HERE.

It was a sunny day of late May. The elementary and middle school students from the Jemez Mountain area came to the sports field for competition. I believe it was both a competition and for fun. The categories of competition included races, egg-holding races, relays, three-legged races, kicking a shoe into a barrel, etc.

The children seemed to enjoy the competitions very much. Sitting in the shade of the “stadium”, I enjoyed watching the activities without feeling warm. I couldn’t help but laugh at their performance. For example, in the three-legged race, the two partners who could not synchronize well sometimes fell onto the ground. In the sack race, some competitors could not move forward smoothly. During the egg-holding race, some kids couldn’t balance well and dropped the eggs. For the shoe kicking, some shoes ended up hitting the spot far away from the target barrel.

While students from Lybrook Elementary/Middle School were predominantly Navajo, the other schools had more white students. This sports day was a diversion for these students at the end of the school year. They could learn something about coordinating with others, balancing their senses, improving their physical strengths, etc. In addition, they had an opportunity to communicate with their peers from nearby areas. The activities could help develop their sense of achievement. And of course, the competitions were fun.

(Photos taken by the author)

 

 

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