Along the highways and inside the towns, signs are posted to encourage people in the Navajo Nation to stay home. “STAY HOME, PROTECT YOUR FAMILY”, many of them say. Aggressive measures and curfews have taken place among the Navajo people to protect themselves from the virus. Even so, COVID-19 hit the nation’s rural people particularly hard this year. In May, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York state for the highest infection rate per capita among any other U.S. state. They have seen almost ten thousand cases and over 500 deaths as a result. Much of the tribal elders and leadership have tragically passed away because of the virus.
So why was the Navajo Nation hit so hard?
A lack of infrastructure leaves many residents deficient in basic services that the majority of Americans take for granted. The reservation (also known as the “Rez”) is home to about 175,000 people and is situated on 17.5 million acres of land between Utah, Arizona and New Mexico—equaling nearly the size of West Virginia. Even at its great size, there are only 13 full service grocery stores. Forty-three percent of the population lives below the poverty line and less than half have access to running water and electricity. If they need to go anywhere to get supplies, they usually have to go to border towns. Goods such as toilet paper, diapers, hand sanitizer, and other essentials are still nearly impossible to find.
John Aldax, a Missions Door missionary and Short Term Teams leader in Nevada, has been serving the Navajo people for over twenty years. Now, in a time of crisis, scarcity, and higher need, John and a faithful, generous network are striving to fulfill the daily necessities that many of these people are missing in the midst of the pandemic. John has made it his mission to bridge the gap between brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Why would you do this?” they ask him.
John replies, “Jesus came all the way from Heaven to help us. We’re following His example.”
You Came Back?
John says it has taken years before even a small number of the Navajo could learn to trust him and the majority white American culture for help. As a people group, they have experienced trauma, broken promises, and had treaties dishonored by white Americans for many generations.
For several years, John would go to the Rez with a team to serve and work on construction projects every other month. They still wouldn’t talk to him. Eventually, John received a compliment in the form of a confused question: “You came back?” Even after so much consistency, the Navajo were still so surprised that John followed up on his promise of returning each time. They began to recognize his faithfulness.
“I told you I would come back, and now I’m here,” would be John’s response.
“But why are you doing this?” They’ve heard it all. They’ve heard the promises, they’ve seen the promises broken, and they expect there’s a catch. John tells us that going back, being faithful, serving, and all the while not demanding anything has made a huge impact in a nation that has been hurt by the white American culture for so many years.
“We’re just following Jesus’ example,” John tells them.
John’s team has stood out to the Navajo because of their long-term commitment and fulfilling each promise of coming back to serve with no strings attached.
On the Rez
This summer, members of a partnering church in California, Twin Lakes Church, came together to donate food, water, toilet paper, diapers and other supplies for John to take to the Rez.
“When I walked into the room, my jaw nearly hit the floor,” John said. It was far more than he could have anticipated. Essential items for donation were stacked to the ceiling. “I needed to clean out the bigger trailer!” He had told very few people about his mission to provide supplies on the Rez, but the supplies kept coming.
With items packed in every square inch possible of the 25-foot trailer, John set out on a Monday and drove for twelve hours to the first stop on the Rez—a church which would then continue the distribution of the items to those in need. He stopped at three other churches and finally returned home on the following Thursday.
This September, John is on the Rez to work on the home of Missions Door Affiliate Minister, Leonard Yazzie. They had been living in a log house that measured about 16 by 20 feet. In 2010, John and a team got to work to provide a more sustainable home for them. This month, they are installing a septic system and a waterline. The Navajo Christians always put a higher priority on the needs of the Church, so while a full bathroom may exist in the church building, their homes are still without an indoor bathroom.
Who You Are and What You Say
If you’re one who likes to see the immediate fruit of your ministry, this may not be the field for you. The Lord has incredible ways of working in an individual’s heart, but when serving on the Rez, you’re out of that loop. “You’ve got to be a little weird to keep doing this,” John says. “You have to be okay without seeing big results. Your job is to serve, and servants don’t always see the results.”
1 Peter 2 says: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits.” John’s ministry lives through this verse. “You should be living such good lives they have to make it up if they speak poorly of you,” John tells us. “Following Jesus’ example of loving one another is about an action, not warm fuzzies. Who you are and what you say are equally important.”
If you would like to be a blessing to the Navajo Nation and John’s outreach during this time of crisis, your gift to the Mission Trips Building Fund (account #02671B) will provide much needed resources for food, blankets, supplies and other necessities.