While Pennsylvania might not seem very “east” to most people, it is when you live in the middle of the Navajo Nation, so it felt that way when Presbyterian churches from both sides of the country came together for a mission project in Chinle, AZ recently.
A mission team from Third Presbyterian Church in Uniontown, Pa. met folks from St. Andrews Presbyterian in Santa Barbara, Calif. to help renovate the Old Trader House on the campus of Trinity Presbyterian Church on the Navajo Reservation here.
Several other churches have helped fund the renovation effort, including Trinity Presbyterian Church in Palm Coast, Fla., and Glenkirk Presbyterian Church in Glendora, Calif.
The house will be utilized as rental property for visiting doctors, nurses or other personnel of the local hospital. Renting the house will enhance Trinity’s ability to sustain itself for future ministry among the Navajo people.
Located near the entrance to Canyon de Chelly, a site considered sacred by the Navajo people, Trinity Presbyterian Church was founded in 1921 by PC(USA) missionaries.
One of the Uniontown church volunteers ― Kristin Tweardy ― had just returned from six years in Africa (with Word Vision and World Bicycle Relief), and she explains the importance of doing mission work both locally and overseas: “Everybody knows it is all about relationships. You learn from the people you serve, and I am amazed here on the Navajo Nation that the people are willing to work with us in community in spite of what has been done to them in the past.”
The Rev. Deborah Haffner Hubbard, who serves as Trinity’s interim pastor, promotes this relationship- and mutuality-based mission paradigm. Deborah and her husband Lynn Hubbard who is an ordained ELCA pastor, have been serving the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission for the past four-and-a-half years in nearby Rock Point.
Hubbard says the early Christian missionaries and boarding school experiences left many Native Americans believing that they had to give up everything about their culture in order to be a Christian. Calling it “Mission-In-Reverse,” the Hubbards try to help the people understand that they can embrace their culture and be Christian, promoting healing and reconciliation by enhancing mission partnerships all over the country.
“This new mission paradigm is about recognizing that God has already revealed God’s self to the ancestors of the Navajo before Anglos ever showed up,” Hubbard says. “We need to walk with humility as Christ would in partnership with people who love the same God we do. The gospel calls us to do nothing less.”