Pine Hill Church (Guest Post)

Leave a comment

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

(photo taken by Jianping Yang)

Having attended the Navajo-run Christian Church called Pine Hill several times, I noticed that the number of church goers fluctuates from a dozen to more than twenty. At the time when there were the most attendees, some of them were from outside New Mexico. One cannot conclude that the less frequently people go to Church, the less faithful they are. However, I suppose that if people go to Church regularly, they are probably devoted believers.

The church service is not different from that of any other church: music goes first, next the pastor preaches, and then donation and socialization follow. The difference is that the pastor occasionally uses Navajo language, although the primary language is English. The fact that Navajo language is used makes the church service unique and interesting. To me, the singing in Navajo at the beginning is attractive because belief is expressed in a different language. Someone even suggested I  learn to sing in Navajo, and I thought it would be interesting.

I talked to one family who frequently showed up. The husband told me that he was an artist before. He wasted a lot of money on alcohol. His sons would go to college later this year. When asked what motivated him to encourage his sons to go to college, he said he wouldn’t want his sons to repeat the mistakes he had made. I guess going to Church is a good lifestyle for him to follow.

At one time, food was provided. I asked a Navajo person what the typical Navajo food was. She said it would be the food with mutton. This reminded me of nomadic tribes that typically live on animal products. This characteristic of Navajo food apparently reflects the legacy of the Navajo nomadic tendencies.

Some studies argue that the church’s socialization function is more important than its spiritual one in contemporary American society. It is true that in addition to its spiritual function, Church is also an arena for people to maintain and expand social relations. It creates a space for people to communicate, socially and emotionally. However, I believe the extent the church functions spiritually or socially depends on the location and who the people are.

Advertisements

“Ethnic Heritage”

Leave a comment

I team teach reading two mornings per week at the local school. Mrs. M and I recently put together a variety of activities to celebrate the finish of a language arts unit on Immigration. We had two goals: help the students feel what it might have been like to be a new immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1800s, and learn about the ethnic heritage of the teachers and staff at the school.

For the first objective, Mrs. M and I spoke to the students only in Spanish–a language they do not understand. We marched them down the hall for a “medical exam.”

checking eyes and heart

When we returned to the classroom, each student had an interview (in Spanish) about their intentions.

“entrance interview”

When they managed to guess the correct answers, they eventually got some stamps in their “passports.

each student received a “passport”

…with “picture,” basic personal info, and eventual stamps for successful entry

As we went through this process, the students couldn’t decide whether to laugh and goof off, or whether to get angry that they couldn’t understand what we wanted them to do. Discussion helped clarify that this is often how new immigrants feel. Goal one: Successful!

Then we moved on to looking at the ethnic heritage of each teacher, staff member, and administrator at this little school. I had surveyed the adults ahead of time, gathering the information into a chart and writing it on cards to be put on a bar graph.

putting together the bar graph

It was fascinating to follow the progress of this activity and discussion time. It quickly became clear that these students fundamentally have no idea of world geography. They were baffled by the differences in names: Italian, Italy; Irish, Ireland; Swedish, Sweden; much less being unable to find the countries on a map.

We also had a long discussion about “Indian” versus “Native American.” Most of the students were quite offended that white people had decided they should be called “Native Americans.” All of them were adamant that they are “Dine” or “Navajo” or at least should be called “Indian.” They also did not want to include other tribal groups in their own grouping of “Indian.”

I assumed they could understand many different tribes making up “Native Americans” and many different nationalities making up “Anglo.” However, what the students came back to over and over and over was that they are Navajo and everyone else is “belagaana–other–not us.”

Ethnic Heritage of School Staff, Administrators, and Teachers

Seems to me this was a successful closing activity with lots to be learned…by ME, if not by the students!

Visitors

Leave a comment

We live in a remote area. I’m sure I have told you before that we are 60 miles from a full size grocery store and from the library. We see other people at church and at the local school, but this area is no longer a strong, vibrant community. Most people who live in this area still live here because this is where their families have lived for generations. Their social relationships tend to be primarily family-based.

All of this means that we LOVE to have visitors! Some times it reminds me of pioneer-time stories of families being excited by visiting pastors and traveling peddlers. Visitors bring new stories and new topics for conversation. As we talk about life here in Navajoland, visitors help us gain new perspectives on things.

Some visitors are just wanderers traveling through. They end up on our doorstep for a place to sleep and we share a meal with them to better enjoy their company.

read more of these visitors’ story at http://www.velocos.ch/letsgo/

Other visitors come for a specific purpose: to see first-hand what is happening here at Lybrook Community Ministries. We recently hosted a lovely couple who have been supporters of LCM for years. In addition to lots of talking time, they also showed their servant-hearts by helping with mundane repairs and organizational chores that we never seem to get around to doing. These type of visitors are often “unknowns” when they arrive, but frequently turn into friends with whom we hope to keep in contact.

Anna enjoyed spending time with Jay & Judith, our most recent visitors…

Finally, some visitors are beloved family or friends. We always appreciate the sacrifice these people make to travel here (high cost and long distance) and we treasure every moment they spend with us. It is a joy to share glimpses of what our lives here are like and to introduce them to the wonderful people and beautiful scenery of this corner of Navajoland.

taking cousins to the “top of the world”

It is quiet again, with just our little family here now. Sure wish YOU would call and tell us you are stopping by for a quick visit!

Graveside

Leave a comment

As you recall, the Lopez family has had a tragic year with two fatal accidents on January 1st (blog post about it HERE). A few weeks ago, the family faced yet another tragedy, also involving alcohol and vehicles. This time the deaths were of the mother-in-law and the young son of one of the remaining brothers in the family. In the photo below, you can see the corner of the open grave just beyond the decorated graves of the family members who died earlier in the year.

too many family members

Coming from a protected world, where death is prettied up and gravesites are carefully covered with astroturf, and a tent, and comfortable seating, the stark reality of death out here in Navajoland is striking. The grave is usually dug early in the morning on the same day as the funeral.

grave hole

We have a cemetery here on the Lybrook Community Ministries property; however, the family must arrange with someone else to provide the backhoe. Most families use the equipment from the local Navajo Chapter House (local government).

backhoe

With the recent deaths in the Lopez family, some of the men in the family are experienced backhoe operators. Can you imagine digging the grave for your brothers, inlaws, and nephews??

The dirt is left piled beside the grave. As mentioned in this earlier POST, at the end of the graveside service, family members and pall-bearers will work to fill the hole by throwing in handfuls and shovelfuls of dirt.

These plywood frames are part of the vault system, to help keep the dirt from crushing the casket.

When the graveside service is finished, the extra dirt will be carefully mounded up with silk flowers covering the mound. It might look bright and cheery…but the colorful flowers can’t disguise the heart ache…

gravesI know that death is a natural part of life. But my heart still questions why there is so much tragedy out here as one after another family member dies in such a short period of time.

Please keep this (and other) families in your prayers. They certainly need the HOPE and PEACE that only God can give in the midst of such trauma.

8th Grade Graduates from Lybrook School

1 Comment

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.

Police “Theater” … and the use of technology to avoid DWIs

1 Comment

Within a few weeks of the tragic accidents on January 1, 2012, the various police departments who have jurisdiction along Hwy 550 announced that they were starting a special program. Almost three months later, there are still police cars to be seen parked along the highway, passing out tickets to speeders, and “keeping us safe.”

I feel sorry for the folks from out of state who are passing thru this area and don’t know that they need to follow the posted speed limits. Quite honestly, most of us who live here just sigh when we see a police cruiser, slow down, and grumble about “police theater.” Giving tickets to those who are speeding does absolutely nothing to increase safety along this corridor. What is really needed is police presence after dark, when the drunk drivers start cruising up and down the highway. The fatal accidents are not caused by excessive speed: at 70 miles per hour (the posted speed limit) any accident could be fatal, and accidents caused by drunk drivers greatly increase that risk.

On the other hand, we recently learned that police checkpoints to assess for DWI violations are largely useless. Apparently a few weeks ago when such a checkpoint was set up, a friend of ours was waiting at a dirt road turnoff for his wife to meet him there after catching a ride with a friend from work. That friend explained that there was a long line of cars parked along the side of the dirt road. Drivers were all on their cell phones, texting back and forth with others further up and down the highway, warning each other of the police check point. Once the police packed up and left the area, all those drivers—unlicensed or drunk—got back on the highway and finished their drive home.

We hate the hassles of “police theater” which makes a big show of making the highway safe. But we also feel sorry for those same policemen who can’t seem to find a way to change the culture out here…and modern technology seems to favor the law-breaking drivers, at least for now!

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.

Older Entries Newer Entries