Questions and Answers

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(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!

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Congratulations, Graduate!

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I’ve mentioned Coby Salazar on this blog before. He is a self-taught musician who leads worship in English at the Navajo-led church we attend. He has a heart for God and a talent for music.

koby senior pic

In a world where high school graduation is the exception rather than the norm, we are quite proud of Coby for persevering and getting his high school diploma.

koby grad

For the summer, Coby has moved to Albuquerque and is living with his grandma and his auntie. He is currently looking for a job so he can save money for when he attends community college in the fall. His goal is to finish two years at that school with solid grades. Then he hopes to transfer to a bible college in Colorado to finish a bachelors degree in leading worship music.

Please keep this young man in your prayers as he walks toward the plans God has for him.

 

 

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:

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?…

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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…

Why Children Matter Most

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As we set a vision for where we should focus our efforts for ministry among Navajo in the Lybrook area, we come back over and over again to the importance of reaching out to young people. Far too often, even those in their twenties are already set in their ways, already living out the results of values and decisions set in place during middle school or earlier. It is increasingly clear that for God to transform this community, He must first transform the lives of the children here. We are privileged to walk this out in practical ways.

let the little children...As we get more involved in the local school, we see children in the youngest grades who get excited, who have bright smiles and sparkling eyes, who live life loudly and with openness. By the middle school years, far too many of the students have become guarded. They have seen too much tragedy and lived with too much abuse and dysfunction. Unless something or someONE intervenes, many of them will slide downwards into despair and hopelessness.

let the middle children...I recently discovered an excellent book by Dr. Wess Stafford, President & CEO of Compassion International: Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most. In this book, Dr. Stafford shares the heartbreaking story of abuse he received as a child, intertwining victories and tragedies of his life story with the stories of children around the world.recommended book

Dr. Stafford challenges every Christian to consider what the Bible has to say about children and to look around them to see how Satan is too often winning the war for the hearts of children. Throughout this book, Dr. Stafford lays out a clear and compelling argument for the responsibility of those who love God to speak up for the needs of children, locally and around the world.

In the first few chapters, Dr. Stafford includes the following statements:

“Jesus uttered a powerful and terrifying warning to protect little ones from the kind of stumbling and abuse that humanity can impose upon them if they are not treasured, nurtured, and respected enough. His disciples never got a more enraged tongue-lashing than when they tried to keep children away from the Master.”

“Who are these individuals who stretch across Asia and Africa, knowing nothing of Christ’s atoning work and needing to hear the message of salvation? If, in your mental image of that vast sea of humanity every other person is not a child, you don’t know what the harvest looks like!”

“Fully half of the world, and especially the developing world, are children and teenagers.”

“What portion of your church budget is dedicated to children’s ministry? If it is more than 15 percent, yours is an exceptional church. What portion of your denomination’s mission budget is spent on worldwide children’s ministry? Again, if it is more than 10 percent, that is very rare.”

“What makes all this so urgent is that missiological research indicates that almost two-thirds of the people who give their lives to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. In other words, line up any twenty Christians, and thirteen of them will have accepted Christ as their Savior while a child or youth. In fact, researchers tell us that if people have not accepted Christ by age twenty-one, the probability that they ever will is only 23 percent. Yet we spend a pittance on the more open and strategic part of the harvest.”

Reading this book was a confirmation to me that working with and for the children in this hurting community is a way of sharing God’s heart. I urge you to get a copy of this book to learn more about this imperative need in today’s broken world.

We appreciate the faithful support, encouragement, and prayers of those who partner with us from afar to touch the lives of children here in Navajoland.

A “Typical Week” of Life In Navajoland

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We have heard that a number of people can’t “see” what we do with our time as we live and work out here in Navajoland. It is difficult to explain exactly since we have few things that are scheduled tightly. We have discovered that one of the most important attributes needed here is *FLEXIBILITY* as community and Navajo family crises erupt and take extra time. The following calendar is an estimate of a “typical” week. The hours listed are how much time each of us spends on ministry and LCM organizational tasks. These numbers are sometimes averages, especially in the case of items such as property repairs which tend to be very time intensive when something breaks then use little or no time for weeks following.

 

SUNDAY: (2 hours each)

Church (9-2 including travel time): includes individual deeper conversations and providing our share of food for potluck dinners 1-2 /month

Drop-in Visitors: 2-3 hours of conversation and possibly a shared meal with community individuals or couples; occurs 1-2 x/month

 

MONDAY: (Randy 7 hours; Jill 12 hours)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

4-5 hours of Technology Consulting work at school

1 hour relationship investment time (school)

Jill: Substitute Teaching (often one day/week, includes grades 1-8)

Tutoring students 2:30-6:00

2 hours Communications (blog posts, facebook updates, emails, newsletters)

 

TUESDAY: (9 hours each)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

4-5 hours of Technology Consulting work at school

1 hour relationship investment time (school)

1 hour mentoring young people

Jill: 1 hour relationship investment time (supporters)

2 Hours EITHER Emergency Medical time (meetings, training, phone calls, etc) OR mentoring young people and investing in community relationships

Trip to Town (6 hours including 2 ½ hours travel time): buy groceries, banking, errands, library, faster internet, etc.

 

WEDNESDAY: (Randy 9 hours; Jill 5 hours)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

Trip to Town (includes 2 ½ hours travel time): 3  hours LCM paperwork, 1 hour LCM errands, returning phone calls and emails, hospital visitation 1-2 times/month  (Jakob attends a large youth group in town from 6:30-8:00pm each week.)

Jill: 1 hour relationship investment time (supporters)

1 hour mentoring young people

Tutoring 2:30-5:30

 

THURSDAY: (Randy 9 hours; Jill 3 hours)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

Technology Consulting work at school 10am-5pm

Jill: 2 hours relationship investment time (community and school)

1 hour mentoring young people

**Jakob tutors chess from 2-3:30pm**

 

 

FRIDAY: (9 hours each)

4 hours developing, preparing for, and trying new programs in the community

Randy: 3 hours property maintenance and repair

2 hours relationship investment time (community)

Jill: 2 hours Communications (see Monday for details)

3 hours relationship investment time (supporters and community)

 

SATURDAY: (Randy 8 hours; Jill 6 hours)

3-4 hours of Strategizing and Discussion time related to Ministry issues

3-4 hours preparing for special activities (such as preaching, funerals, teaching Sunday School, preparing for Board Meetings, preparing for work teams, writing academic papers for publication, etc.)

Randy: 2 hours relationship investment time (supporters)

 

SUMMARY:

During this “typical week,” Randy spends 53 hours and Jill spends 46 hours on ministry and LCM organization activities. This is, of course, in addition to personal, family, and household responsibilities. For these hours, 39 of them are paid by the local school (covering our family expenses) and 60 hours are paid by LCM/supporters providing room, board and health insurance for our family.

We have found that living here as a family gives us significant opportunities to build relationships with local families. Anna’s attendance at the local school and also her participation in Sunday School at the Navajo church we attend, has led to a number of incidents and discussions about racism, integration, “building bridges” in relationships, etc. This has sometimes been a painful process, but has resulted in stronger relationships both for Anna and her peers and among the concerned adults. Jakob is involved in tutoring at the local school. He has the opportunity to build relationships and give some sense of stability to a number of struggling students.

In addition to the activities represented in this “typical week,” we have made 8 extended trips this past year (individually or as a family). During the time one of us is away, the other fills in as needed for ministry responsibilities. It is important for supporters to understand that (1) this ministry and concurrent need to develop a strong outside support base requires travel; and, (2) as Ohioans living in New Mexico personal issues require long-distance travel.

 

MINISTRY “by the numbers”:

Some have wondered how much impact we are having on the local community. Building relationships, mentoring young people and sharing God’s transforming love within the context of such relationships can be very difficult to measure.

Rather than looking at ministry here in terms of hours spent on various tasks (as seen in the above schedule), here is a brief breakdown of the number of people with whom we had significant interactions during this past week alone:

32 students

12 school staff members

12 church leaders and members

  9 local community members

We hope this gives you a better “picture” of how we spend our time and who we are impacting as we live and work here in Navajoland with Lybrook Community Ministries!

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!

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