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!

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.)

Congratulations, Graduate!

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I’ve mentioned Coby Salazar on this blog before. He is a self-taught musician who leads worship in English at the Navajo-led church we attend. He has a heart for God and a talent for music.

koby senior pic

In a world where high school graduation is the exception rather than the norm, we are quite proud of Coby for persevering and getting his high school diploma.

koby grad

For the summer, Coby has moved to Albuquerque and is living with his grandma and his auntie. He is currently looking for a job so he can save money for when he attends community college in the fall. His goal is to finish two years at that school with solid grades. Then he hopes to transfer to a bible college in Colorado to finish a bachelors degree in leading worship music.

Please keep this young man in your prayers as he walks toward the plans God has for him.

 

 

8th Grade Graduates from Lybrook School

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Last Friday was the Promotion Ceremony for the 8th Grade students at Lybrook School. It was a bittersweet day for us—excited for the students who worked hard to reach this milestone at the same time as feeling sad to realize only 1-2 of these students will finish high school if they follow the typical pattern of students from this area.

graduation group

8th Grade Graduation for Lybrook Public School

Wesley Castillo, the pastor of the church we attend (Pine Hill Church) was the graduation speaker. Without knowing the focus of the Transition Retreat that the students attended a few weeks ago, he repeated some of the main points: Success is up to YOU, and the choices you make now will greatly affect what your life is like when you reach adulthood.

pastor wesley

Graduation Speaker — Wesley Castillo

The 8th Grade Teacher made special decorations in her room and ordered a fantastic cake for a reception for families after the Promotion Ceremonies.

decorations

Congratulations 8th Grade Class of 2012!

As they come to mind, please keep these students in your thoughts and prayers through the summer and into the fall as they transition to high school away from this community. We hope to keep regular contact with many of them; perhaps that continuity will help them stay in school…

audrey

Audrey

Audrey is planning to attend Bloomfield High School while living with her sister in town.

Bradley

Bradley

Bradley plans to attend a technical program at Cuba High School.

Brianna

Brianna

Brianna’s family will be moving to West Texas this summer, where her step dad works in the oil fields.

Brian & Isaac

Brian & Isaac

Brian’s family is moving to Cuba where he will attend Cuba High School in the fall.

Isaac is hoping to attend Bloomfield High School. We are hoping that this talented young man will get involved in cross country and in theater which might help him focus and have greater stability in his life.

celissia

Celissia

This has been a difficult year for Celissia with the tragic death of her mother in January. She will most likely attend Cuba High School.

Cherisse

Cherisse

Cherisse is determinedly leading the way with her peers to attend Bloomfield High School. She will be staying in Navajo dorms during the week…

Kevin

Kevin

Kevin is most likely following his friend Brian to Cuba High School in the fall.

Nicholle

Nicholle

Nicholle persevered in the application process and just received acceptance to Navajo Prep High School.

Paige

Paige

Paige is planning to work hard on academics at Cuba High School this fall. She also hopes to play sports at the school. She plans to apply to Navajo Prep to enter as a 10th grader in another year.

Peter

Peter

Peter is planning to attend Bloomfield High School. He should thrive with the academic challenges of that school, in addition to a wide variety of possible after school activities.

We will give occasional updates on how these students are doing throughout the coming year.

8th Grade Retreat: Transition to Adulthood

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Success is liking yourself, liking what you do,

and liking how you do it.

–Maya Angelou

We had the privilege of spending 3 ½ days with the 8thgrade class from the local school to help them gain the skills they need to succeed in high school. Finishing high school can be a challenge for many young people. For students in this area, it is an almost insurmountable challenge: only 15% will finish high school due to cultural stresses, peer pressure, and lack of perceived usefulness of a diploma.

guys

Fearless (giggly) Guys

girls

Brave (talkative) Girls

Each day of the retreat, we focused on a different part of the above quote. We used a variety of outdoors activities, art projects, large group discussions, and small group discovery projects to help students actively engage with each day’s focus.

Mr E teaching outdoors

Group Discussions…indoors and out

Day one helped students define who THEY are as individuals. There is a high priority on group settings in Navajo culture: time is spent with close friends and family and identity is found in relationship with those people. Little emphasis is put on the individual in any setting.

poster

Making “This is ME” posters

We did target shooting with no target identified and had the students run a race with no marked finish line. This helped them to understand it is hard to “win” if you don’t know what you are shooting for. They also experienced first hand that merely following what others were doing wasn’t an indicator of success.

target

Target Shooting…

target spears

…with pool-noodle “spears”

They decided on a personal definition of “success.” They identified their strengths and their personality types. They worked to figure out what gives meaning to their lives and what makes each one of them unique in their world. They learned about cultural differences, as we stressed that we were NOT asking them to give up their Navajo culture but were challenging them to become proficient in both Navajo and Anglo cultures. Finally, they began to identify a personal vision of what they want their lives to look like 10 years from now: housing, transportation, family, hobbies, etc.

comfy couches

…lots of writing about individual ideas in Student Portfolios

Day Two started with a timed obstacle course. First, the “resources” they needed were hidden and they had to go on a search to find the items they needed to complete each task: water guns, pool-noodle “spears,” a jump rope, a basketball, and more. When they re-ran the obstacle course with all resources right beside the task locations, they finished the race in less than half the time it took for the first attempt. This introduced the students to the daily theme of defining what they want in life, and identifying what resources they need to get there.

obstacle course run

Running to get to the next “task” in the Obstacle Course

obstacle course water guns

Water guns are useful for more than “tasks” in the Obstacle Course!

A main focus of Day Two was setting a realistic budget for their personal lifestyle choices. Some students had modest wants, needing $20-25 per hour to meet their vision. Other students wanted to live in large cities, drive fancy cars, and spend time traveling for pleasure. They were shocked to find out they would need $50-60 per hour to pay for their chosen lifestyles! This project was followed by identifying what types of jobs might meet these financial goals, including a look at what level of schooling would be required to get those jobs. Rather than “preaching” at them, this discovery-based project helped students come to their own conclusions about what they really want out of life.

setting budgets

Setting Individual Budgets for their Ideal Lifestyles

Day Three helped students identify what they needed to do to live the life they envisioned. We introduced them to more jobs than they were originally aware of. We looked at how to make good decisions, how to avoid making excuses, and how to take responsibility for your own decisions and actions. We finished with some practical tips on how to quiet fears and overcome obstacles.

closing program

The closing program reminded students that, although they must make individual choices, they are not alone in facing challenges.

Finally, on Day Four the students wrote a resume, gathered information for job applications, and completed a mock-interview with Mr. Emmelhainz. After returning to the school, they made a presentation about the retreat to the 7thgraders. They also showed their portfolios to the school principal and other adults.

job interview

Mock Job Interview with Mr. E — can you hear the students’ knees knocking?!

reports

Reporting back to adults at school…

The week was not, of course, all work. There was free time to explore the rocks, play on the playground, and hang out listening to music.

rock play

Playing on the rock wall at the back of the Lybrook property

video games

Video gaming was popular

We also had a campfire one evening, complete with S’mores.

campfire

Campfire with s’mores…yum!

The following night, we had Game Night. Randy treated them to the junk food they had been craving all week. Students played poker, wii, and watched a movie. Staying in a “dorm” was a novel experience for most of the students, something we hadn’t thought about in advance, but good practice for those planning to stay in dorms for high school.

junk food

Junk Food “heaven” 🙂

poker night

Game Night included a competitive round of Poker

All-in-all this was an excellent experience for everyone involved. Hopefully the students are better prepared to make choices about their futures, not just follow the crowd into oblivion. It also helped us build closer relationships with many of the students which should make it easier to keep connection with them as they move out of this area for their high school years. We hope to be able to spend mentoring-time with many of them on a weekly basis as they transition to ninth grade.

 Go confidently in the direction of your dreams;

Live the life you have imagined!

–Thoreau

Cultural Disconnect

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The more time we spend at the local public K-8 school, the more we realize what a challenge these Navajo kids face when they reach adulthood. For so many, they have limited contact or knowledge of the world outside this remote corner of New Mexico.

Less than 20% of the students at this little school are “proficient” by state testing standards. There are zillions of reasons for this, not least a lack of stable, encouraging home environment. But there are cultural reasons as well. Let me give you an example from the younger grades:

youngs

lack of experience

One of the teachers was surprised that her young students incorrectly answered a question on the state test about boats. Just like planes are in the air and cars are on the roads, boats are in the water, right? Umm, no…her students had circled “roads” for where boats are found. Roads? Really??

So the teacher asked her students why so many of them circled that answer. With disdain, since the teacher should have known the obvious, her students pointed out to her that throughout the summer they see boats being towed by big pick-up trucks along the highway that cuts through this corner of Navajoland! Since most of them have never seen a lake and have rarely seen water flowing in the “washes” around here, I guess they can be forgiven for not knowing the proper location of boats!

Gradually, these students gain mainstream cultural knowledge, through books, curricula and television. Eventually, they will learn that boats indeed belong on the water. But a new problem comes up: they have little life experience to give them the discernment to properly sort out which stories they read are “true” and which are “fiction.”

middlers

lack of discernment

A few months ago, Randy was shocked when some of his math students started talking about the alien spaceport to be found in a mountain nearby. He started to laugh about the movie they must have seen…but the students were adamant it was true. They had seen (blurry) video of the spaceport on a cable-TV documentary, after all.

And why do only 15% (1 in 7) students from this school finish high school? Again, there are many reasons, including a lack of preparation and a lack of motivation. But there is also a lack of mentors and role models for these students from within their own families and their own culture. Unlike some areas of Navajoland, the majority of adults in this forgotten corner have never finished high school. Most of them hold no regular jobs, relying on outside aid and day labor to survive. It can be hard to convince middle school students that they should continue something that seems to have no relevance to their eventual adult lives!

olders

lack of role models

Like some other blog entries I have written, this is an area that has no clear-cut answers or solutions. We (and many other concerned individuals and groups) are wrestling with how to bridge the cultural and economic divide; sorting through possible solutions to this disconnect. All of us, including Navajo parents and grandparents, are concerned about the life-choices these students will eventually make. Unfortunately, there have been few success stories so far. All of us will keep searching for answers…

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