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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).


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

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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.


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



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



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.



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



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



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



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 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

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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

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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:


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.

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?

Touching Lives…

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For an extrovert like me (recharging via people contact) we have the best job in the world. In the 20 months since we arrived here in Navajoland, we have worked hard to build relationships with families and individuals in the Lybrook area. Part of relationship is walking through difficult times with others, such as the aftermath of tragic fatal accidents on January 1st. I wrote a little about that experience in the last post. This time I want to share some of the enjoyable relationship moments of this past week…

oldest brother

Jeremy wants to get more Bible training

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with a family from church, working with their three young adult sons. We talked, and pondered, and sorted through pros and cons of which Christian college they might attend and how to make that decision. We looked at websites and sorted through the process of applying. By the end of our time together, they have a clear list of further information they need to gather and next steps they need to take.

When we were in town on Wednesday evening, I made time to stop by the hospital to pray for Casper (critically injured in the above-mentioned accident). While there, I got to talk with his brother, both to encourage him and to challenge him to help his kids talk about these traumatic events. It felt like praying for Casper was a responsibility; talking with his brother was a privilege.

Miss Nellie

Our fiercely independent elderly friend...

I also stopped by a nursing home in town to visit an elderly friend who is recovering from a fall and resulting broken bones. She was SO excited to see Anna and I. We were just with her for a very short time as she was headed to dinner, but it was good to see her sparkling eyes and be reminded of her fierce determination to move back again to independent living in her beloved hogan. As we were leaving, we were able to spend time with her son, another friend of ours, and listen while he talked about chaos in the family and how de-stabilizing his mom’s injury and diagnosis of cancer has been. Another privilege—letting our friend “vent” about struggles and encouraging him to keep looking to God for wisdom, strength, and comfort.

messy artist

messy hands...great art!

This week also found me busy at the local school—subbing, tutoring, and volunteering. It is quite good for one’s ego to walk into the cafeteria and have cute little 1st graders squeal your name and run to give big hugs! We enjoyed time together at the end of the week when I had the privilege of doing an art history lesson and project with them. You should SEE the wonderful drawings they made of mesas at different times of day, in the style of Claude Monet’s paintings of haystacks.

With some students that I have been tutoring since fall, there were opportunities to challenge them. With other students, time together this past week furthered relationship building. I am NOT in the school to “proselytize”…but within relationships I am able to be very open about my own beliefs and about how God affects my daily life. For some students who are already Christians, I can be an encouragement. For others who live with instability and dysfunction, I hope I can eventually connect them to One who can bring stability and love into their troubled lives.

Finally, as I spend more time at the school, I have more opportunity to build relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff. We may not have “solved the world’s problems” yet, but we have had some interesting, encouraging and challenging discussions about the realities of life out here in Navajoland. What a privilege it is to be part of such lunch-table and hallway discussions!

It is hard, so very hard, to walk through dark times such as the recent tragedies here. But then the sun comes back out, metaphorically speaking, and we enjoy wonderful times of sharing happy times with our friends.

Right now? Life is good in Navajoland!

2011 … by the numbers!

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Here is a brief summary of life in the Lybrook area of Navajoland during 2011:



Family here at Lybrook Community Ministries





Homophobic Acts of Violence in the community (among families we know)






Tries for Jill to get a temporary EMT-Basic license transferred to New Mexico (plus multiple unsuccessful tries to get a tutoring license through the Public Education Department)




Plumbing repairs on the LCM property (including 5+ weeks of living with no running water–like many area Navajo families do!)





Major vehicle repairs—clay roads are hard on vehicles: slick as ice when wet, ruts hard as cement when dry…






Tragedies and funerals we have walked through with Navajo friends




Potlucks for special church events





Septic system failures on the LCM property (You know what it’s like to change a baby’s dirty diaper? This is worse…MUCH worse…)






Different teaching/tutoring opportunities filled by Randy or Jill (at the community college in town, the local K-8 school, and at Pine Hill Church


TEN (or more) times per day we have power fluctuations and/or internet disconnections…sigh…

ELEVEN Overnight visitors or groups (in addition to family visitors — including two work teams, an annual board meeting, and visits from supporters)

Peace on Earth

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worship the king

Worshipping the Prince of PEACE...

This is the season to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. The time of year to remember the news announced by the angels: “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward all people.” The time of year for God’s gifts of peace, and hope and love. And oh how those messages are needed here in this little corner of Navajoland…

The following stories are from just the past six weeks:

One friend’s cousin was killed in a horrific accident riding (drunk) with a drunk friend who lost his license a zillion driving-while-intoxicated convictions ago. In the other car, one adult was killed and two children are still in serious condition at the hospital. This was the fourth death of close family members this year for our friend. Where is the PEACE for her this season? Where is the JOY?

Our (Navajo) pastor’s family is also walking through the aftermath of tragedy. Their son and daughter-in-law went out for a drive while drunk, got in a verbal fight, and the daughter-in-law was killed when she jumped out of the moving car. Pastor and his wife are now taking care of their 3 year old granddaughter—just when their “nest” was almost empty with their youngest son a senior in high school. They are struggling to keep contact with their older son. They are questioning why this happened, and how this happened. They need HOPE this holiday season…

A fist fight broke out among a few of the girls at the local school a few weeks ago. They were getting even with one girl who had attacked the honor of their family. Black eyes, bloody noses, police involvement, and suspensions followed. But the attackers calmly looked up at the policeman and stated that he won’t be there all the time and some day, some how, they will finish what they started. Peace? Yes, it is dearly needed to settle long-standing family feuds around here.

We could look at these events and get discouraged. (And sometimes we DO…) But, at this time of year we are reminded that God has already sent his Prince of Peace to earth. He has already announced goodwill to all people. He has already given the gifts of peace and hope and love. Easter has already come, and Jesus has already announced “It is finished.”

So our job is to walk in these gifts and through our walking and our listening and our sharing from our own lives, to help our Navajo friends see and receive these gifts God has already given.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, join us in asking God to truly bring His PEACE to the lives of all hurting peoples, even those here in Navajoland…

If Home is Where the Heart Is…

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Our youngest two kids and I have spent the past three weeks traveling almost 5000 miles to spend time with family and friends. We noticed many things that felt “strange” as we traveled through Eastern states. Here are a few observations:

Driving through a number of big cities, we were all amazed at the stacked up ramps, bridges, and overpasses and all the crowded traffic on the freeways. It didn’t seem to matter what time of day or night we were on the roads, they were busy, busy, busy. On the other hand, other than a bad accident on the killer curve of I-71 in Cleveland, we saw no accidents until seeing numbers of them as we came through Albuquerque in mid-afternoon on our way home. (I also didn’t worry much about drunk drivers while away from home.) Maybe there’s a reason our auto insurance rates are so high here in NM after all…

big city traffic

Big City traffic can be intimidating...

I went to a few shopping malls and had to park a few million miles from the doors, then moved among hordes of shoppers loaded down with bags and bundles. Hmmm…I’m not sure if we even HAVE this many shoppers in New Mexico?

We have all the same stores and restaurants in Farmington NM (“town” to us) as found in any city across the United States. Ahhh…but no eastern states have my favorite burrito restaurant—Filiberto’s—that I go to whenever we head toward Albuquerque.

On the plus side, I very much enjoyed late night coffee and conversation with friends in Ohio. Not much is open late in Farmington, most of my friends live out here in the “boonies” near me, and even if I do stay “in town” late, I still face over an hour of driving to get home.

I also enjoyed “Indian Hot” (extra spicy) food from our favorite (asian) Indian restaurant in Cleveland. We can’t get anything like this back in New Mexico. (By the way, I discovered my “fry bread” really is Indian—it’s just that it is like “naan bread” rather than Navajo style!!)

I’m not sure if our pick-up truck grew to monstrous proportions while we were traveling or if all the other vehicles shrunk…but we certainly felt out of place in parking lots back east. We dwarfed the vehicles beside us and the parking spaces were too small to be comfortable pulling in. I gave a sigh of relief once we were back west of the Mississippi River and our mega-cab truck again fit right in with everything else on the road!

I already moaned and complained about the gray skies out East in a previous blog entry. Yep, we definitely prefer New Mexico’s brilliant blue skies and mostly sunny days! In addition, with all the rain central Ohio has been having, we were bemused by the “squish” we felt with every step we took in seemingly thick, green grass. Ooo…ick!

Did I mention that Anna reached down to pat the soft grass every time she went for a walk? Even in the spring we don’t see this much green. Grass around here is practically non-existent and what we do have is coarse and sharp-edged. I could get used to running around barefoot again all summer if we just had some of this lovely soft thick grass out on our high plateau desert…

We also noticed over and over that the trees back East are actually TREES—tall and straight and reaching for the sky. They aren’t gnarled, twisted cedars or pinons masquerading as “trees.”

real trees

ahh...real trees that are TALL and straight!

And farm fields were amazing—furrows running straight to the horizon. No crop circles of irrigated land out East!

We enjoyed the worship bands at the churches we attended. There were words on big screens up front. Imagine! No fumbling between Navajo and English language hymn books, or singing along from memory to contemporary songs. Don’t worry, Koby, we missed your singing and look forward to worshipping with you again soon…

Finally, we definitely missed water, plain old drinking water that truly quenches your thirst. City tap water tastes nasty to us now. Bottled water has no flavor. We realized we have become spoiled with well water filtered through layers of limestone that consistently ranks as the softest, best tasting water in competition at the New Mexico State Fair. When we got home, we said hello to Randy, petted the family dog, and rushed to the faucet to dump the nasty water and refill our water bottles with lovely-tasting, thirst-quenching Lybrook water.

lybrook water

The Lybrook community hauls water from this faucet--we get the same wonderful water from our tap...

We enjoyed all the time we spent with family and friends, although we didn’t have time to see everyone we wanted to see. Looking over this list, however, we realize that if home is where the heart is…

Lybrook New Mexico has become HOME!

Career Day…Expanding Their Futures

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We are gradually learning that a huge roadblock to “success” out here is a profound lack of envisioning a future. There is a quiet strength in our Navajo friends who live mostly in the “now.” They often lack the striving, stressing, worrying-about-tomorrow that most of our Anglo friends (and we, ourselves) experience. At the same time, they often seem incapable of seeing possibilities and weighting options. And sometimes, I think, this lack of envisioning future paths contributes to high school drop out rates and eventual despair and purposelessness.

career day group photo

"Ya'at'eeh" -- Wecome to Career Day

Today I joined the local 7th and 8th grade class on a field-trip to a Career Day held at the high school most of them will eventually attend (45 miles from here). At first the students were baffled about why we were dragging them to this activity. They hung together in little groups and wandered aimlessly—other than trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone at the tables or getting sucked in to possible conversations. Eventually, with the prodding of their teacher and myself, most of them started engaging with the various presenters and recruiters.

career day_firefighter

Learning about new Junior Firefighter program at Cuba Highschool

Career Day_firefighter

Playing with the firefighter's tools...

They learned that they can sign up for the military during their senior year IF they keep their grades up and stay in school. They learned what it takes to become an agent with the FBI. They learned about outdoor careers with the Fish & Game Department and with the Forestry Service. They learned about indoor careers such as dentistry and working with mentally handicapped individuals.

One boy who is an excellent artist and enjoys drawing as an escape from a difficult family situation, was quite excited to find out you can actually study ART in college! Another was interested to learn that he could participate in rodeo in highschool and that if he is good enough he could go to college on a scholarship to be on the rodeo team. A few of the girls discovered that deciphering blueprints is kind of fun, and the need to be detail oriented in the construction trades is a good fit with their personalities.

Career Day_girls

Learning about dentistry...

It is possible that some of our students will eventually follow-through on interests started by this Career Day. Likely, however, the most significant thing about this outing was that it expanded their options. It widened their horizons, and exposed them to many possible futures they had never considered before.

Now if we can only help them stay in school long enough to pursue those possibilities!

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