…fizzle…

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I know I have talked before about the need for FLEXIBILITY out here in Navajoland. Time after time we make plans. Then we verify those plans with others. And we check again to make sure the planned event is still going to happen. And then the time comes…and…

…FIZZLE!

A few weeks ago I subbed a number of days for the 7th and 8thgrade class at the local school. Their teacher had worked hard with them on performing some of Poe’s stories as short plays. They had written parts, decorated a set, come up with special effects. They had practiced, then practiced some more.

the set for Poe's plays by the 7th & 8th graders at Lybrook School

The first date had to be cancelled—it had been planned for a day that was a teachers-only school day. The second date was cancelled by me—feeling that the students were no where near ready to perform. The third date looked like it would really happen. The dress rehearsals went okay—not stellar but workable. Then, less than 30 minutes from show-time, one of the lead actors was checked out of school early. The principal tried to talk Grandma out of doing this. She tried to convince Grandma that she could stay and celebrate her grandson’s acting talent. But no, the play was cancelled yet again. (Supposedly it will happen this coming Thursday afternoon—I’ll keep you posted!)

Another well-laid plan was recently cancelled as well. I have enjoyed two days this school year of doing art with the first-grade class. We read a book about a famous artist, study some of his paintings, then try a project of our own, in the style of that artist. The teacher and I were excited to plan another art day while we had a work-team visiting us recently. Two weeks in advance we set a time and day. A week in advance, I verified that the teacher had added the project to his lesson plans. On Monday and again on Tuesday I verified that the project was scheduled. And on the day itself?? …sigh… school was let out early for a pre-planned teacher work time that afternoon.

sometime soon the first-graders and I will make our own versions of Van Gogh's wild sunflowers...

I can hear you say—How Frustrating! Yes, that’s true. I felt terrible that the visiting college students wouldn’t have fun working with the cute little first graders. And then, I confess, I realized this would drive home the point we had made all week with that work-team:

Life out here in Navajoland requires FLEXIBILITY. It seems like NOTHING ever goes as planned!

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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…

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!

There’s Something “Wrong” With Him…

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group playWhen I chaperoned science fair winners from our local K-8th Public School to the district competition last month, we had a long waiting period. Most of our Navajo students stuck close together—piling together onto a bench to talk, or huddled together to play board games. My daughter went to the side of the room, choosing alone time to deal with her nervousness. None of the Navajo students commented on that. However, one of the young Navajo students also chose solitude. He played a board game…by himself. He looked through a book…by himself. Others tried to join him which he just ignored. They tried to include him in their conversation—ignored again.

Over the hours we were waiting, each of the other Navajo students came to me to express their concern about Noah. “There’s something WRONG with him…” “Why is he so unhappy?” (while he was laughing to himself as he played both sides of the solitary board game.) “You need to help Noah…”

As we get more and more involved at the local K-8th Public School, we see a problem looming large for our Navajo students. This particular piece of Navajo culture causes difficulties for anyone negotiating the Anglo world. As students progress to higher levels, this preference for being surrounded by a group will cause major problems in the educational arena.

Introvert—Extrovert; Navajo—Anglo … On the one hand, cultures hold different values and that’s okay. On the other hand, when people from one culture need to interact with those from another culture, especially when the positions of power and the rule-makers are from the second culture, problems often loom large. When values clash, all too often those in the minority culture feel that they are disrespected and that they are victims.

We struggle to understand the Navajo preference for doing everything in a group. They may be silent in that group, but we rarely see Navajo alone. When Granny needs to go to the clinic for a cough, the adults in the family call in sick to work, children get pulled out of school, and everyone piles into the car to accompany Granny. When someone takes a coffee break, others need to join them. The same holds true for walking to the bathroom—it can only be done with a group.

Students in our tutoring groups do an excellent job of finishing assignments when they work in a group (with one student doing most of the work, then giving the answers to the others). When asked to work individually, most of them fail miserably. We have tried challenging the copy-ers to step up to responsibilities and do their own work. We have tried challenging the answer-givers to keep their papers protected from prying eyes. Nothing seems to change the dynamic.

When we ask more questions, the students are baffled by our concern. They are adamant that it is the social responsibility of the stronger ones to help the weak ones. They generally dislike competition—working together is a highly held value. They get worried and stressed when they are expected to do things or go places alone.

Our concern is that when they finish middle school here in Navajoland where group-behavior is accepted, they will head to high school in the Anglo dominated world. Although group work is sometimes assigned in the Anglo world, most homework and tests are expected to be completed individually. Plagiarism is often punished with suspension. How can we effectively communicate this to children who are surrounded with the highly-held value of “group-think” and group behavior?

solitary noahWe are wrestling with how to respond to this clash of cultures. We are struggling to know how to best help the students we are working with.

I keep hearing an echo in my head…”There’s something wrong with him…you have to help him.”

And who defines how we should “help”??

Why?…Why?…Why?…

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My mind has been spinning with unanswerable questions for the past few days. I can CHOOSE to have faith, to believe that God really does have a plan, and that He is not surprised or startled by what happens here. But even when I choose to believe those things, it doesn’t stop the questions…

Many of you already know the story of the fatal accidents that occurred near here on January 1st. (You can read a blog post reacting to the tragedy HERE. You can read an official report HERE.) You have heard about the trauma which rippled outward throughout the community because of these tragedies. You have been reminded that trauma, and tragedy, and death are constant companions of many of our Navajo friends in this area. We found out this morning that our friend who has been in a coma since the accident died yesterday which has reopened all the questions in my mind.deadly accident

Last weekend, on our way home from a board meeting in Kansas, the roads were snow-covered and slick. A mile from home, we slid left of center and ended up in the ditch, facing the opposite direction from where we had been travelling. Randy walked home, got another vehicle, picked up Anna and our things, and took us home to bed. In the morning, we easily pulled our truck out of the ditch. Other than being a little shook up, all ended well: no damage to truck or ourselves, no on-coming traffic to crash into, semis enough miles behind us that they didn’t crash into us, no collisions with metal posts, trees or fences.harmless accident

The stories are similar—losing control of the vehicle, crossing left of center, ending up in a ditch. The outcomes so radically different—2 mangled cars, 4 people dead, 3 grieving children, and community trauma vs. no injuries or damage to vehicle.

WHY? What was the difference? We know that God loves those Navajo families as much as He loves us. We know that our safety was more than mere “luck.” We know that somehow God can and will bring good, even out of tragedy. But, WHY? Why were we protected when the other families were devastated?

I can be faithful by remembering and honoring what God has done for us; by openly expressing my grief for what the other families are going through; by choosing over and over to have faith in God being loving. I can also sing the following song with Amy Grant:  (listen/see music video HERE)

            Somewhere down the road there are answers to the questions…

It has comforted me through dark times in the past, is a comfort to me now, and will comfort me through future challenges, I’m sure. Some days I long for everything being put right when we finally get to heaven…

Music…er, LANGUAGE…Wars

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For the past decade or so, churches across the United States have been struggling with what has been termed “Music Wars.” The older generation and those who have grown up in traditional churches have a strong need to keep traditional music in their church services. Young people and new converts of many ages often choose not to attend churches whose music is not contemporary.

Here in Navajoland most churches appear to be settled into a 1950s style of “church” complete with hymn singing. However the “Music Wars” battle is raging in a few churches. The Navajo pastors who are concerned about reaching out to young people are adding worship bands including drums and electric guitars. One church we know of uses a native style drumming circle and native flutes. In most cases, local long-time Christians argue vehemently that these sorts of music are “devil music.”

There are a number of possible responses to these “Music Wars.” Josh Hunt, a leader in training churches for leadership and growth, has an excellent two part series about “Music Wars” and responses that are helpful versus typical responses that only seem to make the division worse. You can read it here: PART 1  and PART 2

navajo hymns

singing Navajo hymns

In this part of the world, we have an even larger conflict looming in the Navajo-led churches. The older members know little English. They have a strong need for services to be conducted in Navajo. “Music Wars” has an added component in these settings because the only worship songs in Navajo are hymns.

On the other hand, many of the local young people no longer speak Navajo. They have limited understanding of it because of time spent with their grandparents, but they don’t need to speak the language at school or at home. When both the music style and the primary language of the church services are “foreign” to them, young people frequently choose to not get involved in church.

Grandma and Granddaughter

Grandma and Granddaughter

The poor church attendance of Navajo youth mirrors what is happening in the larger US church world. Talking with young local friends about why they aren’t involved in church, we hear similar answers to those of their Anglo counterparts: it doesn’t have anything to do with me, I don’t like the music, I don’t understand what the pastor is talking about, I hated being dragged to church by my grandparents when I was little… Many researchers have shown that we are losing an entire generation. Some studies show that less than 4% of American teens are involved in church. If that statistic is true, we are in trouble!

The Navajo pastor of the church we attend is wrestling with this dilemma. He currently offers a bi-lingual service each Sunday which also includes both hymns and contemporary music. Unfortunately, many of the older members are becoming vocal about their dissatisfaction. They are pushing the pastor towards MORE Navajo language in the church, even as he feels pulled toward reaching out more strongly to community youth.

We have begun sharing with him some of the studies, commentary and experiences coming out of the “Music Wars” in today’s American church. It seems to us that there are strong correlations between “Music Wars” and the “Language Wars” this little church is experiencing.

contemporary songs

contemporary worship songs (in English)

It seems to us that the church must do whatever it takes to draw children and young people into vital relationship with God. (I will talk more about this in a later blog post…) To do that, changes may need to be made in the style of services offered by local churches…or new youth-focused services may need to be formed.

What’s going on in your home church? Are you experiencing “Music Wars”? Do you have any “words of wisdom” to share with our Navajo pastor as he sorts through the “Language Wars” around here?

Car-Eating Mud-hole Strikes Again

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car eating mud-holeThe dreaded car-eating mudholes in this area stranded two vehicles yesterday. In mid afternoon, Randy tried to drive the mission truck on a dirt road through a deep wash. The foot and a half of mud in the bottom of the gully almost swallowed the truck, but Randy valiantly managed to gun the engine and force the truck halfway up the opposite bank before it bogged down. Randy then walked out to the highway and caught a ride back home.

Later yesterday evening, after the muddy places on the back roads should have been frozen solid, Randy tried to rescue the truck from the mudhole. After fighting for awhile to rock the truck out of the hole dug by its spinning tires, he gave up and came home for some dinner.

After dinner, he drove out to try again. This time, he attempted to follow the tiny lines of roads on the GPS to drive beyond that wash and get to the truck from the other direction. His idea was to use our Rez Rocket to pull the truck over the edge of the bank and back onto solid ground/road. When that didn’t work, he tried one more time to back the truck into the wash and onto firm road on the entry side of the mudhole.

Victory! The truck was now freed from the clutches of the dreaded mudhole. However, Randy was worried that the ruts were so deep that the car might bottom out and get stuck that way. So he tried to follow the GPS squiggles one more time to get to paved roads in a round-about way.

escaping a mud-hole

a car-eating mudhole missed its "prey" earlier this year

He almost made it, but a sudden blind curve found the Rez Rocket swallowed up to the bottom of the car in yet one more vicious mud-hole. This time, he had no idea where he was or how far he was from “civilization.” Too many of the GPS “roads” disappeared when attempting to drive on them and he found himself following other paths that were not on his map.

When he called me to tell me his tale of woe, I was worried. It was getting late, getting colder, and he was LOST back in the maze of canyons and dirt roads built for oil exploration, with no homes or people for miles. (I was relieved that we are in remote, high desert New Mexico, not in northern Kazakhstan with our oldest daughter where the temperatures have been hovering at -50 F…but that’s another story!)

Randy started walking while I organized things on my end—make arrangements for Anna (since big brother Jakob is out of town this weekend), find warm gloves and hat, refill water bottles, email a few friends for moral support, scrape the ice off our big truck, and more. I finally drove down the highway to a trading post 6 miles away—the place Randy was headed for IF he could find it.

By the time I got there, Randy was almost to the meeting point. Whewww! Relief! My husband was no longer wandering alone in the dark and cold down unknown dirt roads—even though the dreaded mud-hole still held our Rez Rocket.

We stopped by to pick up the mission truck, dropped our big truck back home, and gathered tow straps, a logging chain, and the come-along. Time to do battle with that mud-hole…

When we finally got back to our Rez Rocket, it took awhile to figure out a strategy. I’m sure I heard the mud-hole chuckling evilly as Randy tried to find a place where he could reach something sturdy under the car—a challenge when the car was nose downward, deep in the swallowing mud. He finally gunned the mission truck to the far side of the mud, attached the come-along to the hatch-back latch loop on the Rez Rocket and the logging chain to the back of the truck. I put the truck in drive while he gunned the car in reverse…and with a little smoke and whining engines, the car finally popped out of the grip of the mud-hole.

Randy got both vehicles back across the dreaded mud-hole and onto solid dirt road again. (No, I’m not yet ready to directly confront those dreaded mud-holes…) We finally got home after midnight, tired but happy to have all 3 vehicles parked back in the driveway where they belong.

I’m sure, however, that those mud-holes are already plotting their revenge…

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