A dream fulfilled

Sharon Selestewa followed God’s voice to claim her calling

August 9, 2011

Headshot of Sharon Selestewa

The Rev. Sharon Selestewa

Like many a biblical dreamer before her, the Rev. Sharon Selestewa heard God call her name while she slept. And not just once, but three times.

Raised by devout Christian grandparents of Native American heritage in Salt River, Ariz., Selestewa had at first distanced herself from their faith community and traditions. “Growing up, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the church,” she says. “I was in the world for quite a while.”

Her first dream changed all that.

“About twenty-five years ago I had a dream of a light next to my bed, and a voice was calling my name,” she recalls of the dream she had in 1986. “I looked up and I wasn’t scared. It was soothing and warm and comforting to be in the light.”

In her dream, the voice told Selestewa to go to Cook School.

“When I woke up, it really bothered me, because I didn’t know what Cook School was,” she says. “I thought the voice was telling me to go to cooking school.”

In a second dream several months later, the voice again told Selestewa to go to Cook School and begin her training. When she later researched it and found that it was a theological school in Tempe – one of seven racial ethnic schools and colleges related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – she grew even more concerned. “That’s not where I wanted to be,” she says.

Selestewa’s third dream the following year was just the same, only this time she saw herself walking out in the desert. “The voice told me to look for a table made of stone and there the people would be,” she recalls. “In my dream I was in the desert for a long time and I said, ‘Lord, I can’t find the table made of stone. I am lost and can’t find my way back to my children.  I will die out here alone.’ I was crying with my arms raised up.”

The voice told Selestewa, “Hush, be still. I am with you always. Open your eyes and see.” She opened her eyes and found herself standing behind a table made of stone, where there were hundreds of people standing in the desert.  In the dream, the voice told Selestewa, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will guide you with my eyes.”

Eager to discern the meaning of her dreams, Selestewa decided to seek out the wisdom of Narcisse Bighorn, a commissioned lay pastor in her grandparents’ congregation, Salt River Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale.

“It sounds like the Lord is calling you into ministry,” Bighorn told Selestewa. “Do you want to learn more about it? Have you ever heard of Cook Theological School?”

But Selestewa told Bighorn – and herself – that she didn’t want to go to school. Unmarried at the time, with children, and working as a secretary for Johnson-O’Malley – an educational organization designed to address the needs of Native American students – Selestewa told her boss about her dreams and the visit with Bighorn. “My boss said, ‘Pray about it. Mr. Bighorn knows what he’s talking about,’” recalls Selestewa. “After that, everything happened so fast.”

Immediately upon selling everything, Selestewa left behind two of her daughters, ages 18 and 19, and relocated with her youngest daughter to the Cook School campus in Tempe. Selestewa was again filled with doubts. “I hadn’t even opened a Bible since my grandparents were alive,” she says, “and even then I didn’t read it.”

Knowing that she would have to familiarize herself quickly with its contents, she flipped her Bible open to Psalm 32:8. “When I read it, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” she says. “I cried and cried. It was the same passage that I heard the voice speaking to me in my dream. It confirmed for me that the dreams were real and that I was called to ministry. From that point forward, I put my faith in the Lord.”

After graduating from the Cook School – now known as Cook Native American Ministries – and the Native American Ministry Program of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Selestewa received a call to serve the Vah-ki Presbyterian Church in Bapchule, Ariz., which is comprised of the Vah-ki and Stotonic churches, both of which are now growing and thriving. “I help people feel comfortable with their journey and their walk with Christ,” she says, “and am happy about that growth.”

A tentmaking minister, Selestewa also serves full-time as a curriculum development specialist for the Pima tribe.

“Because I love the people and I love what I do, it’s all very exciting,” she says. “I try to remind our church members of their baptism and their call. When people are just going through the motions, we need to be reminded of what it all means.”

  1. Sharon, just reading your testimony. I enjoy hearing your proclaim the Word and how you use your natural wit and humor in making the Word relevant. Glad I got to come upon your testimony! Mary Jane Miles

    by Mary Jane Miles

    December 8, 2014

  2. Sharon, just remembering how I enjoy listening to you proclaim His Word - and how you use your natural wit in making His Word come alive. Enjoy your abundant life in Him. Mary Jane Miles

    by Mary Jane Miles

    December 8, 2014

  3. I was in seminary with Sharon and grew to appreciate her so much. I remember working with her on some work for our Christian Ed. professor. It's great to hear how well she's doing.

    by Rev. Ruby Kleymsnn

    December 9, 2013

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. I've recently been feeling a call to ministry, and it scares me more than a little. Knowing that other people have been in this place and that God has worked through them is both comforting and inspirational.

    by Aimee

    October 27, 2011

  5. Beautiful story Sharon, remember you quite well and as a good friend in the Presbytery. You have a wonderful ministry...keep up the good work. A friend from Navajoland... :)

    by Martha Ashley

    August 22, 2011

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are an inspiration for others. I was your laison from comittee for preparation several years ago. Blessings to you. Miriam Schuler (Valley)

    by Miriam Schuler

    August 13, 2011

  7. Many thanks to Sharon. Sharon was one of many Native Americans who helped me to become a CLP, and to serve in the Native American church. Sharon was one of my many rule models who guide me and nurtured me through the many years at Cook. Blessings! Thanks for answering God's call.

    by Audrey Jefferson

    August 13, 2011

  8. I had the privilege of preaching at Sharon's ordination service. She brings a wealth of experience to the ministry and wonderful creativity. She was a great help to those of us who went to UDTS and being so far from our own people we all became family there. God's blessings on your ministry!

    by Rev. Irvin Porter

    August 13, 2011

  9. Congratulations to Sharon! She was a student during the 12 years I was at Cook as a communications teacher and acting dean. I remember Sharon not only as a dedicated, sincere student, but also as a friend.

    by Carol Allen (was Carol Brookes)

    August 12, 2011

  10. PTL! Ahehee'...thank you for the testimony that all natives share at a campmeeting, around the fire, singing hymns and quoting striptures as our grassroot parents and grandparents instilled in us in the early presbyterian movement. Keep up the good service for the Lord.

    by Eunice Kelly

    August 12, 2011