Pine Hill Church (Guest Post)

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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.

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Remember…

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A few Sundays ago I presented a scrapbook to our church family. It was a collection of photos taken at the recent camp meeting during which we had a dedication service for the revival tent which was donated to the church. On the first page of the scrapbook, I included some verses from Joshua and Deuteronomy where God asked the Israelites to gather stones and build a memorial to what God was doing in their lives. The memorials would be conversation starters to help them remember and remind each other of God’s faithfulness. In a similar way, I hope this scrapbook becomes a memorial for our church family to remember how God answered prayers in a miraculous way and provided more than they dreamed possible for holding revival services and spreading God’s good news across the reservation. (In case you missed these photos, you can find them in the albums at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pine-Hill-Church/191667180894259)

While Randy preached the sermon that day, I took the children into another room for an impromptu children’s worship time. I continued the theme of the scrapbook being a memorial. We read those verses again. We acted out each family moving a big stone to build a physical memorial. We agreed that wouldn’t be so practical today.

REMEMBER what God has done

I passed out an index card to each student, all “churched” kids, and asked them to write or draw some way that God has helped them recently. The kids just looked at me with blank expressions.

I was shocked at their lack of response. Maybe it was a cultural hesitation to speaking out loud in a group setting, I thought. So I encouraged them to just privately write or draw something. Still no response.

I tried to give examples. I tried to get them to brainstorm ideas. After all, in most Sunday School classes where I come from, students would be wiggling in their seats, flailing their hand in the air, eager to answer such an easy question.

Eventually, most of the students came up with SOMEthing to put on their index card. Many copied one or more of the examples I gave: strong muscles for sports, horses or a working truck, food to eat. Others branched out a little and talked of God’s protection or healing from car accidents or brains to be smart in school.

We taped the cards, like rocks, into a pile on a piece of poster board. We made this into our own “memorial” of what God is doing in our lives. We will put this up in their kids’ classroom back at their church. I pray they will REMEMBER this lesson. I pray they will look for other examples of how God cares for them.

And the scene comes back to mind over and over…blank looks when asked what God is doing. An overwhelming focus in the churches here on how wonderful it will be in heaven, rather than looking for God in daily living. This feels so sad to me…

So, I will keep talking about how God is walking with me in every day life. And I will keep asking those pesky questions. I’m looking forward to the day when even these kids wiggle in their seats and wave their hands, eager to answer such a simple question: “What is God doing in YOUR life today?”