Natives Serving Natives—An Answered Prayer

In July, Don Johnson (Makah) and his son, Chris, joined staff member Tim Norton, vicar at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Navajo, N.M., and several men from the Navajo Nation to take part in a hammer-and-nails project in Old Minto, Alaska. The team also was joined by other Lutheran Indian Ministries’ staff, Rev. David (Nuu-chah-nulth) and Rosemary Sternbeck, whose ministry is based in Fairbanks, and Clarence De Lude III (Native Hawaiian), missionary-at-large in O’ahu, Hawaii.

The servant event in Old Minto was a unique experience both for Lutheran Indian Ministries and the men who took part in it. For our ministry, this is the second time we have sent Native volunteers to serve other Natives. For the Navajo, it was a homecoming in a sense since history tells us that the Navajo people once migrated from the area many hundreds of years ago. Timothy Yazzie (Navajo) shares a light-hearted moment between them and the Alaska Natives:

WEB Timothy Yazzie building IMG_0157
WEB Timothy Yazzie building IMG_0157

“We joked about our migration [to the Four Corners area]. The Athabascans said, ‘Why’d you take off on us?’ So we told them, ‘We didn’t, you were just too slow.’”

Natives have a wonderful sense of humor, so the bond formed between the two groups was sincere and, undoubtedly, lasting. In fact, it is hoped now that the Athabascans will be able to take part in a servant event in Navajo, N.M.

One of the highlights of the trip was the chance for Timothy to meet a Navajo woman who had married into the Athabascan community 40-plus years ago. Timothy was able to speak to her in their language, which she had not heard for many years. She wept with joy as Timothy “gave her language back to her.”

When it came time for the group to honor the Athabascans with their personal gifts from home, Timothy shared one very special gift with his new Navajo friend—a Bible. In their language, he said to her, “I’m giving this Bible to you as a gift from God. This is part of you now. Keep it, read it. In it God will tell you how much He loves you and will be there for you no matter what.”

WEB Clarence building IMG_0155
WEB Clarence building IMG_0155

After the group came back from Old Minto after working hard on their projects and camping outdoors for the entire week, they had an opportunity to meet a longtime friend and supporter of Lutheran Indian Ministries. Over a meal, the group enjoyed Christian fellowship while celebrating this unique gathering of Native peoples.

At one point in the evening, our longtime friend could no longer hold back his tears. Literally, he wept as he looked around the table at all the Indian faces he calls his brothers in Christ. He said to them all, “This is a fulfillment of a 25-year-old dream. I have prayed all this time to see Natives serving Natives with the Gospel. This is the way Native ministry should be.”

Click here to download a PDF version of this article. The download also includes the article, Utah-Idaho LWML Group in Navajo, N.M., in which volunteers share their experiences.