Stoking the Fire: the Presence of Christ in Navajo

Native American culture is filled with amazing stories about how things came to be. One such story explains how humans "discovered" fire. In the story, which I have heard attributed to the Navajo, the Karuk, and the Shoshone, coyote feels sorry for the poor humans who suffer through the bitter-cold winters. After hearing a woman crying for the children lost in the cold, he decides to steal some fire from the Fire Beings on Fire Mountain. With the help of the other animals, they steal a small piece of fire and throw it into wood. Coyote then teaches the humans how to rub two pieces of wood together to release the fire. From then on, humans are able warm their families in the winter.

I've always loved this story and its similarities to the Christian faith. We, too, were once dying in the cold, separated from the Light, but someone took pity on us and gave us life. 

Jesus' death and resurrection gives us eternal life, and how appropriate that the gift He left for us takes the form of a flame at Pentecost.

Currently, in our part of the Navajo Nation, we see young families without the hope of Christ. We see families torn apart by alcohol, drugs, and abuse. We see young families struggling to raise their children.

But, we also see a flicker of hope.

On Sunday, March 27th, Easter Sunday, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Navajo, New Mexico welcomed two new children into their family through baptism.

An Easter baptism

An Easter baptism

This brother and sister, ages ten and seven respectively, come from a difficult background, as do most of the families who attend our church. A reservation is not an easy place to live!

We have known this family since we started our time here in Navajo, and for the past three years, they have come to church sporadically, about once every two or three months. I had approached the subject of baptism for the two children (as well as marriage for the couple) but was met with disinterest and left it at that for the time being.

Then... a flicker of hope. The mother and the two children started showing up at church every Sunday. And then, they started bringing other family members along. And then, praise God, she approached me about baptism!

I sat down with her and the kids, discussed what baptism means, and set a date. In the weeks leading up to it, the seven-year-old could be heard on Sundays reminding people that her baptism was coming up.

"I can't wait for my baptism!" she would exclaim to anyone who would listen.

The baptism was wonderful, and the children were beaming from ear to ear the entire service - he, in his crisp, white collared shirt; she, in her beautiful Easter dress. This family, including the boyfriend, who now has a steady job and is working hard to stay sober, have a joy that emanates from them when they are at church, and that joy is contagious.

So contagious, in fact, that just last week another mother approached me about having her whole family baptized - herself, her husband, and their three children!

It is amazing to see the work that God is doing with the Navajo people in our little corner of the world, and how He is using you and me to grow His Kingdom one Native family at a time.

Unfortunately, this isn't our normal situation. Even within our own congregation, we are regularly confronted with the traditional beliefs of many of the local families - those that bristle at the thought of a resurrected body and believe they will (and are content to) become a disgruntled wandering spirit after death as they have been taught by the Navajo religion. They aren't into "following Jesus," but the fact that they come and sit in our Lutheran services on Sundays and partake in our church clean-up prompts me to believe that the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts.

With the slowly increasing numbers of young families drawn in by our youth programs and activities, we can only hope and pray that this flicker will grow into a flame, and that, in time, the light of Jesus will glow in every Navajo home. I am so excited to be stoking this fire with you!