“So Bethany, where are you from?”
“I grew up on the Navajo Reservation.”
Usually the response I get to this is either one of amazement and curiosity or a blank stare and a polite “Oh, that’s nice,” because people have no idea what I’m talking about. Well I grew up on the Navajo Reservation, a very remote corner of the world in the great state of Arizona. I am half Navajo and half European descent. I was raised by my grandma, a non-native from Pennsylvania, teaching me the ways of the Bible. Also by my grandpa, a full Navajo, who still attends the native religious ceremonies, although it is more cultural than spiritual for him. The spiritual gauge is very unique out there, as well as my testimony and vantage point.
My journey started with my grandma reading the King James Bible to me every weekend. With the combination of living in a rural place and my grandma dissatisfied with all churches, I never attended church. I spent my childhood week after week, sitting at the kitchen table, incredibly bored. With a focus heavily on the Old Testament, I was uninterested, and couldn’t understand anything but legalism. I lived my life trying to appease God through doing what was “right” and trying to avoid what was “wrong”. Even during these years, it’s amazing how God was patiently waiting for me to eventually come back and know Him for who He actually is.
Through a failed relationship and a broken heart my freshmen year of college, it lead me to truly seek God, initially for healing. I was at an all time low and through Chi Alpha I was able to start a relationship with my Savior. No more sitting bored, or confused--I clung onto God with everything I had. Nothing has ever been the same since. Yes, he healed me, and He has become so much more. He has become my everything. I continue to grow in Him, in love and understanding of what I was never taught--the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.
As I’ve matured and gotten stronger in my faith, I have been able to return home and see my land through the lens of Jesus. My heart searched the reservation and its spiritual climate only to find brokenness. The Navajo Reservation has suffered a great deal from alcohol, drugs, and abuse. If I could sum it up in one word, it would be “hopelessness”. People live hard lives with no relief. Also, I see religion coming in. There are 3 major religions--Native religion, Mormonism, and Catholicism. There isn’t enough time to talk about how religion has jaded the native people, but I do want to share my grandpa’s experience.
My grandpa was sent to a Catholic boarding school, where he shares stories with a resentful tone. They forced him to cut his hair (long hair is traditional for Navajo men), and how they would make them wash out their mouths with soap if they heard the students speaking Navajo instead of English. The time we talked about God, something that stuck out was how he never thought it made sense that he had to talk to the priest who would then talk to God on his behalf. It was then that I was able to make a clear gospel presentation of the truth.
The Mormon Church has been very successful in appealing to the Navajo people. They claim in the Book of Mormon that the Native Americans were the first people Jesus preached to upon his arrival to the Americas after his resurrection - this false gospel has won over many. They also understand what is important to a Navajo person--land. They have created a gardening project across the Reservation to help cultivate self-sustainability.
The Reservation doesn’t need any more religion, it needs relationship. It needs real followers of Jesus to proclaim the truth. It needs those who will also respect that which is important to the people- land and family. We are not here to change culture, but to bring people into the Kingdom of God. It is not going to look like your church. What a beautiful image of Heaven if we are able to preserve the cultures and customs (without compromising any of God’s commandments) all over the world. My land is so beautiful and it breaks my heart that so few give Jesus credit for the natural beauty we live in. God made and loves the Navajo Nation--so I leave you with this, who will proclaim the hope and truth we have to this hopeless and lost people?