After two decades of living on the Navajo reservation, and raising our family there, we moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, four years ago to pioneer the Navigators Native Nations Network. When 2020 began, COVID-19 virus was still on the other side of the world. Little did we know that in just three months, life as we knew it would come to an abrupt halt.
In March 2020, when COVID-19 hit the United States, it spread rapidly across the Navajo and Hopi Nations in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The Navajo Nation makes up 2 percent of Arizona’s population, but 26 percent of the coronavirus cases in Arizona were among the Navajo Nation, which had the highest per-capita infection rate in the United States. Due to the lack of testing, the infection rate was probably higher.
Why so many cases? Family clan systems and cultural norms create communities of interdependence fueled by the unemployment rate (55.9 percent) and the proportion of the population living under the poverty level (45 percent). Multiple generations and even multiple families live in one household, so it is hard to isolate those who are sick. Consequently, COVID-19 spread among families. In addition, 40 percent of the population still lives without running water and electricity.
The elderly are vulnerable and marginalized. Most communities on the reservation have senior centers that provide hot meals on a daily basis, as well as comfort and support. Normally, elders are picked up at their homes and brought to the center to be cared for. Unfortunately, due to physical distancing guidelines, they are no longer going to the centers. One center serves 10 communities with over 90 elders within a 50-mile radius. The need is great!
This need provided an opportunity to help the elderly through engaging young emerging Native leaders. Through prayer, conviction, and much planning, we sprang into action. We established the COVID-19 Navajo and Hopi Elder Support Project. Our team identified faithful Native leaders who intimately knew the needs of their communities. Quickly Redemption Church, our home church in Flagstaff and Central Church of Phoenix partnered with us. Indian Bible College of Flagstaff provided the facility to base our operations. We established monetary donation sites and procured other resources.
Our objective was to provide the Navajo and Hopi elders in the most remote locations with food, water, cleaning supplies, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Deliveries were made every two weeks for a 16-week period. Together, we provided over 3,000 boxes of food, water, and other items to 11 remote communities for elders in need. This was made possible by ministry partners and over 100 faithful volunteers! Everyone had a deep sense of God’s Spirit, provision, and leading. The project also provided an amazing opportunity to empower, engage, and develop whole life discipleship among the emerging Native leaders who surrounded us. These leaders desperately wanted to help their communities and we were able to provide that opportunity.
A Hopi volunteer said, “I was so happy to see you all yesterday. I felt the love this organization has brought to our village. Thank you so much!”
Rebecca Begay, one of the Native leaders said, “It was amazing to pray for so many needs and to watch God meet those needs. My faith has grown, and I saw Jesus in what we were doing. We learned so much about how to lead in a crisis and it feels like there is nothing we can’t do.”
Pray for our next steps as we continue to engage with the Navajo and Hopi Nations, mentor and disciple emerging Native leaders, and deepen relationships.
Sign up for Native Nations Network ministry updates at tinyurl.com/MuttonStew.
What a wonderful testimony. Your work sounds so much like Jesus in character and deed!
God bless you for taking His Love to the natives at this time of needs. We’re praying for much fruits as you continue to labor with love.
GOD’S HAND IS EVERYWHERE AND GOD DON’T TAKE PLEASURE ON MEN’S SUFFERING HE ALWAYS RAISES ORDINARY PEOPLE LIKE YOU TO DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS NO ONE COULD IMAGINE THEY COULD DO! BE BLESSED BY WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND KEEP MOVING FORWARD THE WORLD NEEDS YOU STARTING BY YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD! I LOVE WHAT I READ AND WILL ALWAYS PRAY FOR YOU THAT IS WHAT I CAN DO FOR NOW!
Tom and Delphina. What a blessing you gave! Having grown up in “native country” (Rural Western OK) my heart very much remains with my native brothers and sisters. This story is Matt 25:31-46 come alive in the flesh for me. Thankful for you both and your investment in this oft forgotten and frequently struggling group of people. God’s richest blessings on you both as you labor on!
This is pretty awesome and also no surprise. Tom, Delphina, CJ, Maurie, Mikhail, Charissa and so many others who have ministered among the Navajo and Hopi people are some of my Navigator heroes. They have quietly and faithfully been advancing the Gospel by loving, living, serving and proclaiming Jesus in an environment where the occasional recognition by those off the Rez is far outweighed by the cost and difficulty of ministering on the Rez. So grateful for your friendship and example.
Thank you for making known such a tragic but beautiful account of Jesus walking in you and ministering through you among the people in your world. May HIs beauty continue to shine into these communities through you and result in many embracing Christ through your love.
After 9/11 I lost my job and my family, husband, son and daughter found ourselves working and living on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. We spent a year in Ganado and 3 years in Hopi. Unfortunate circumstances took us there but they were some of the most unforgettable, few, once in a lifetime years of our lives!! So blessed to see the hands and feet of Jesus still at work for such wonderful folks!!!
Hope, you lived right where I grew up! The community of Beshbitoh is on Highway 264, seven miles west of Steamboat store. I graduated high school from Ganado. We still go out there often to visit my parents. So thankful to the Lord for this opportunity to care for the elderly in our Indigenous communities. And thank you for your service to the Navajo and Hopi communities.
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