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Mission Memories

Red dirt, dust flying everywhere and heat that could fry an egg on the patio.  Two fifteen passenger vans, loaded up with people and supplies, made there way up the winding road that was so pitted with ruts and bumps that often we would fish tail and lose our balance, flying off the seats,  along with some of the supplies.  I signed on to be one of the driver's for those vans and I thought for sure, at the end of the week, that we were going to turn the vans in and be charged for new shocks.

The directions to the "ranch" where some of us would be staying and all of us would be working, were: follow the road, after going up a steep hill, watch for a tree on the right.  Right after the tree you will see the road split off in three directions, take the middle road, and so it began.  Our mission trip to Kayenta, Arizona. Navajo Nation.  For Jim and I, it was not our first trip to Navajo Nation.  We had brought a group there 10 years ago and now, we returned with another group from our church, First Church in Wenham.  They were in for a reality check and in some ways, so were we, even though Kayenta had already become a beloved land for us.  


This was to be our home for the next week. After many months of planning, phones calls to James and meetings at church every other week, gathering information and setting goals, we would be doing service projects for the people of Navajo Nation and upon arrival we didn't know how the projects would go or where we would be at the end of the week...but that's where faith comes in.  I knew from our last trip out that even with a well laid plan, Mission trips take on a life of their own...and this one was no different.  All we knew upon arrival was that it was hot and dusty and it took us a very long time to get here.  

James is a friend of ours...he and my son went to grad school together in Prescott Arizona.  The friendship has not only lasted, it has grown into a family friendship on both sides.  It has grown because we have taken the time to learn to trust each other with our word and our promises.  The Navajo people have not been treated very well and I remember the first time we went in there that James said to me..."your people have come, done some projects and then they leave and we never see them again...ten years ago, I made a promise to James that that would not happen with us.  Jim and I and the church have kept that promise for all these years.. The church sends packages full of hand knit items, coats, and gifts every Christmas to James to distribute to his people.  In June, our Mission board sends money for a Navajo student to receive a scholarship for college. On our end, I correspond with James all the time..because he is a friend and over time we have come into an easy relationship.  That is the history...and we honor it all year long.  It's funny about life, and going back, helped me to think more closely about our two cultures meeting up and finding a sustainable relationship. You never know what one kind word, what one person reaching out to another, not letting differences become barriers, where knowing and talking and being interested in each, will lead.  If my son and James Nez were not placed in the same place at the right time, and had they not walked a path together for however long they were at Prescott, we would not know the history of the Navajos and we would not be better off for their friendship.  Never be afraid to reach out, to anyone.  

So on this trip we all learned and our Native American friends trust us, to know that not all "Bilagaana" walk away.  So much good happened the week we were there but honestly, I can't put it all down in one for now, I would just like to share with you the one major project that we did. Next I would like to share the land, the beauty and the Spirit of these wonderful people.  They are deeply rooted to Mother Earth and see her working in their every day life. Their spirit and faith are far beyond what I see here.  It was a gift to be able to not only help them but to spend time with them and to learn from them...again.

The top photo...a tractor, that we rented for nine hours to help clear some land so that we could start a water project for Navajo Nation.  A test project, that if successful, would be presented to the Farm board for approval to open up at least 8 more ponds that have been dry for at least 4 years.  It was the biggest project and took lots of man/woman power to get the job done.  The tractor cleared the land, and widen a pond that was already there and created a substantial and durable dam, which was then re-enforced and lined with stone to preserve the it.  After the tractor did it's work, all the rocks and building of the dam was done strictly by hand, wheelbarrow, sweat and prayers. There was a stream bed that existed but would get over-run with the fast running water during the monsoon season. So by lining the stream with rocks and creating Trenchea's, the water would be slowed down and guided into the ponds, where it could get absorbed by the land instead of It took a crew of about 10 people, 3 days to line the dam, and lay the rocks.  It was hard and hot work in the high heat that Kayenta was experiencing while we were there...The good news and the miracle of it, was that within 4 hours, a monsoon rain came and the pond filled half-way, over a 1,000 gallons of water entered the pond for the first time in 4 years.  The dam held...The Farm board came and inspected our work and a proposal was written by James Nez and photo's that I took were submitted to the farm board to have those other wells re-opened.  Slowly the water gets absorbed back into the land to restore the aquifer, which is the underlying water source for the entire region, which had been shamelessly depleted by Peterson coal company.  This had caused draughts, wells dried up, huge sink holes formed where the water once was. The land could not longer be farmer or vegetable grown, which is the Navajo way. The coal company did this without regard to the Native American's that lived there and then walked away.  Now, with one tractor and a crew of 10, our Native American friends have hope again...James has already written to me and sent photo's every time it has rained and the dam is still holding...

The second photo here is of my friend James Nez...he is so dedicated to his people.  It is a beautiful thing to witness and he was so helpful with this project.  It was his thought process that got the project going...he's just so smart...and an amazing host to us now here is what we did...

Building the slow down the water flow and lead it to the pond...brick by gathered brick.

Finding the rocks on the land and transporting by wheelbarrow...hard work in the heat.


Placing the rocks...always a two man job..and they had to be placed strategically.


That rock looks way to heavy should have asked for help....from one of the girls...see the red water bottle...they were everywhere...water, water, water, stay hydrated.  So hot.

Four hours after finishing the project the water came. One of many miracles that happened that week...and the pond filled half-way. It's still holding.



The Dam...has now been officially named Mission Dam...awesome.


Some of the group returning to the "ranch" after a long days work in the, I was back at the ranch getting dinner on the table with my friends Lita and Gary...our cooks for the week.  

This was three days of sweat and a lot of hard, heavy work.  The team of about ten consisted of both men, woman and members of our youth.  They did an awesome job. Now, hopefully, the Farm Board will take it to the Council and then the other eight ponds and dams can be fixed, with our work as a model.  It will change the scope of the land for the Navajos and real gardens could be planted again.  There is so much more to tell you about.  I think it took me so long to start because I actually didn't know where to start but now, I know that this will required at least one more blog post.  I want to you to experience it all, as if you were there and I don't want to leave out the many other jobs that got done and I need to share the people that we meet and got to please come back again...until then..I leave you with this quote that says it all for me...

"But the truth of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,

long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith."  

Galantians 5:22

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Reader Comments (9)

What a memorable trip, Cheryl.
Thank you so much for taking us along with you!

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Gordon

Anxiously awaiting the rest of these posts. Having been to Zuni, NM I know the terrain first hand, and the amazing work you did there. God gave a great return for your hard work with that refreshing rain. Mallory heard very similar stories of the white people coming painting a house or two and leaving never to return again when she was in Browning, MT for two summers with the Blackfeet tribe.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

They have such a dedicated, loving friend in you, Cheryl. You did some amazing work here and to think how much good will come of it over the years is a wonderful thing. And the dam, it's in the shape of a heart ❤️! I can't wait to hear and see more of your mission, my friend.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Dearest Cheryl,
You NEVER EVER cease to amaze me.
Your stamina, commitment, friendship, devotion and huge heart.
I read this slowly with tears . . .
You and Jim are remarkable.
Thanks for sharing such an incredible story and mission.
Love, A xox

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAntoinette

This is beyond amazing! You and Jim are the biggest "givers" of life...not to just your family, but to these precious people in need! I'm moved with this entire story, your pictures, and your you spent days in the kitchen, and people digging, and moving large such extreme temperatures. Now that is love!

July 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly

I saw your posts on FB about this trip, but you gave no specifics and I've been meaning to ask you what it was all about. I'm SO glad you did a blog post about it. I'm utterly amazed, Cheryl! I had no idea that's what your Mission trip was. Wow! And wow again! What a wonderful, worthy, accomplishment on your part. The Indians are such good and profound people! I'm just so impressed with the work you did here. There is no better way to give back.
I look forward to your next post about this amazing trip. And I loved the way your son met James and how it all unraveled, ending in doing so much good!

July 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTerri DuLong

That is one big hot trip for you and your friends to help these Native Americans. Good for you in going and making this happen for them. I am not familiar with this part of the state as it is a long ways from me and the terrain looks much different than where I am. I understand the hot though and can't imagine working in these conditions. Next time you go maybe plan for Nov. or Spring. :) So glad you had this experience and we could join along.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Hurst

What a noteworthy trek, Cheryl.
Much thanks to you such a great amount for bringing us alongside you!
That is one major hot excursion for you and your companions to help these Native Americans. Bravo in going and getting this going for them.

August 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTiger Den Resort

Thank you so much for all your kind means a lot to read them...I love our friends on the reservation and we will continue to work for them in whatever capacity comes our way...we get much more back then we give...

August 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl c.

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