A Variety of Social Aspects of Navajo People (Guest Post #18)

Leave a comment

This is the 18th 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.

The other day, I was asked by a Navajo if I knew any famous Navajo people. I tried to think, but couldn’t think of anyone. He mentioned someone who was a golfer. I did not think I had ever heard of the person. But anyway, it is interesting that he asked such a question which provoked me into thinking about the importance of role models. Simply put, role models help to shape the society and people. They provide inspirations for people and examples for them to follow. The earlier question was a direct link to the issues of role models. I wonder what other famous Navajo or American Indian people the locals know about and how they think of them.

"Culture Day" is good...but not the same as having role models

“Culture Day” is good…but not the same as having role models

Randy and I once saw hitchhikers on the highway. The weather was hot. It would not be a pleasant thing walking along the road. Also, their destination must be far away considering the remoteness of this area. I was wondering how they would manage to reach the destination. Another time, I was in Randy’s vehicle on a dirt road. Randy stopped near someone who was walking. Randy asked if he needed a ride. It sounded like the guy didn’t make it clear where he wanted to go. So, we left without picking him up.  As can be imagined, without a vehicle in this rural area, life can be hard.

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation...along the highway and along dirt roads

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation…along the highway and along dirt roads

From my observations at Lybrook Elementary/Middle School, I assume there are some families of Navajo mixed with other people, particularly Hispanics. According to Randy, some of the non-Navajo school teachers have a Navajo spouse. So there is ethnic diversity here to some extent. But obviously the mixed families are the minority. It is not surprising that there are mixed families as there is no restriction preventing Navajo marrying people of a different ethnic group. It would be interesting to know how the children of the mixed families think of themselves in terms of their identity.

Some students have mixed heritage...

Some students have mixed heritage…

Advertisements

Questions and Answers

Leave a comment

(Disclaimer: This post and all future posts are written personally by Jill Emmelhainz and do NOT necessarily represent the beliefs or positions of the overseeing board of Lybrook Community Ministries.)

There have been some big changes for our family and for Lybrook Community Ministries in the past few months. Here is a summary in Q&A format:

Q:        We hear rumors that your family is leaving?

A:        Yes, that is unfortunately true. As of Christmas, our family has moved back to Ohio to live with family while we figure out what is next for us.

Q:        Why did you leave?

A:        This is complicated to answer. The simple version is that there hasn’t been enough money for many months to cover the expenses for an “anglo” family to live in this remote location. Beyond that, for this or any other ministry to make a significant difference in local lives, we are convinced that a much larger program carried out in partnership with local Navajo leadership would be needed which would take significantly higher amounts of support. This did not seem feasible when basic support levels were not being met.

Q:        Are you just “abandoning” the Navajo?

A:        We hope not! We are trying to maintain contact with friends and Christian leaders via calls and texts. The Navajo-led church we attended made it clear that they were sending us back to Ohio as part of their Navajo family, to represent them and their needs to the outside world.

Q:        But don’t the Navajo need people there to help them?

A:        The Navajo in the Lybrook area certainly need help as many families are being ripped apart by alcohol, abuse, and suicide. However, during our time there, and in conversation with many Christian and secular leaders, we realized that outsiders often do more harm than actual good. Change in the community can only come when their own leaders step up to challenging the status quo, something that doesn’t bring change when done by “Anglos” who can be ignored as not really understanding what is going on.

Q:        What about the young people who attended that “Transition to Adulthood” retreat last spring? What’s happening with them?

A:        We are quite happy to share that (so far) all 12 of those students are still attending classes for 9th grade. (By this time in past years there have usually been a few students who have already dropped out of high school.) They are spread among three different high schools with some living at home and some in weekday boarding situations. They appear to be keeping in contact with each other and encouraging each other to continue on. They have asked for a follow-up retreat. We are hoping to gather them together for a day-long event when we travel back to New Mexico sometime in the spring.

Q:        What about the work you were doing at the local public school?

A:        We miss the contact with “our” kids. We miss the opportunities to encourage them, challenge them, and speak hope into their lives. However, the school district is facing financial crisis. Even if we had stayed in the area, there was not enough money to renew our contract through the end of the school year. (And that income was a significant part of covering living expenses that were not covered by donations.)

Q:        What’s happening at the school now?

A:        Both of us worked hard to transition our responsibilities to the other teachers. We believe that through example and conversations, we gave those teachers additional “tools” to better meet the challenges of teaching such at-risk children in ways the traditional teacher-training programs never equipped them for.

Q:        What’s happening with Lybrook Community Ministries now?

A:        The overseeing board is evaluating that question. They are looking for a long-term way to keep the mission open, perhaps with a retired couple as caretakers. If you want updates, you could contact Ken Frantz at frantz@haxtuntel.net As stated above, both we and this blog will continue to communicate, but will be independent from the mission.

Q:        What’s happening with this blog?

A:        We still have a few more guest posts. In addition, Jill plans to continue writing about our family’s experiences living and working in Navajoland. Beyond personal reflections, as we keep contact with our friends in the area, we will share new stories and new insights.

Q:        What’s happening with your family?

A:        We don’t have a clue! As mentioned at the beginning, we have moved back to Ohio to live with family until we figure that out. Jill and Anna are currently living in Germany for a few months, to help friends with their new baby and their active family. We continue to look for the “open door” that God has next for our family.

Q:        What can we do to help during this transition?

A:        Please keep reading this blog (and let me know what topics you would like to know more about!) Keep praying for the Navajo people in the Lybrook area. We know God has good things for them. And, we greatly appreciate continued prayers for our family during this time. Transitions are filled with uncertainty!

a little of this…a little of that…

Leave a comment

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.

 

 

Anna’s Crying (Guest Post #5)

Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Do

Leave a comment

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:

GODISNOWHERE

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.

Why?…Why?…Why?…

1 Comment

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…

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Leave a comment

Today I want to take time to ponder Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

If you haven’t read through the entire speech recently, Read It Here or Watch It Here

Living here in Navajoland, we realize how much these people need the same freedoms and respect that the African-Americans did in Martin Luther King’s time. They face many of the same struggles. Read my description of how this famous speech applies to our Navajo friends HERE

Take a few minutes to read an excellent updating of this speech as it applies to America today…written by one of my favorite author/bloggers: Read It Here

May you dream big dreams today. And may you take a few moments to ponder how you can reach out and help others finally experience their dreams of basic freedoms…

Older Entries