Native Village
Youth and Education news
January 2010 Volume 2

Mission in reverse
By Greg Peterson

Condensed by Native Village

Arizona: At the request of Navajo elders, the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission was founded in 1953. It sits in the heart of Rock Point, a Navajo community that has struggled with poverty and unemployment long before the nationwide recession.

NELM's current executive director is Lynn D. Hubbard, who left the shores of Lake Superior to come to the high desert.  His wife, Deborah, is a Presbyterian pastor. She serves with him and in the mission’s House of Prayer Lutheran Church. They are dedicated to serving the Navajo who depend on NELM for spiritual needs, basic health care, livestock assistance and education.

Hubbard, who deeply respects the Navajo heritage, is operating a “mission in reverse.”  The mission in reverse combines NELM’s goals with a humble approach that preserves Navajo culture.  “We need to practice healing and reconciliation, not judge people whose path to the divine life might be different from ours,” Hubbard said.

Sharing “the good news of Jesus Christ” with indigenous people “means recognizing that God is already present in the lives of the people you come to serve,” he said. “You arrive on sacred ground to do ministry with others, not do ministry for them ... building cultural bridges is what the Navajo Lutheran Mission is all about.”

Hubbard says the mission is thriving due to a "dedicated and loving donor base."

At one time, volunteer nurses in the mission clinic saw nearly 1,800 patients each year. They treated them for tuberculosis, diabetes and the common cold. After closing for 10 years, the clinic has now reopened thanks to many generous companies and partners, including the Northern Arizona University nursing program. 

In addition, volunteers from across the country arrive every  summer for a week of fellowship and hard work under the hot desert sun. They vaccinate livestock, insulate buildings and teach Navajo children to sew.

A mission gift shop and online market would help the area economy by ensuring Navajo artists get fair prices.  “A lot of Navajo settle for low prices and their art is resold at higher prices,”  said Tara Chee, a coordinator and Navajo language and culture instructor

NELM's K - 6 school has 63 students. They learn cultural arts like rug-weaving, basketmaking and pottery. Students also expand their cultural identity by learning astronomy and agriculture (the reservation has 46,000 acres of farmland and 12,000 acres of grazing.)

“Navajo believe the laws of the land are written in the sky and the stars. [They are] written in the sky for everyone to see,” Chee said.

Students also take Navajo language classes so they can better communicate with parents and grandparents. Kristy, age 8, said she’s “learning to talk in Navajo at school so my grandma will understand what I say to her.”

At home, some Navajo children are taught to be respectful and not talk too much.  But mission teachers tell students it’s acceptable to speak out loud in school.  And students don’t hesitate to talk about why they like their school.

“I like to sing songs in Navajo like ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and I like to draw in class,” said Malaika, 8.

Arcada, 10, likes learning “rug-weaving,basket-weaving and the Navajo language.” And, she added, “I like ... that you learn about God.”

Back to School: Children of the Navajo Lutheran Mission School:


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