African-American youth group ministers to Navajo Nation

August 25th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

MESQUITE Sixteen middle school and high school youth and eight adults from Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church wondered how they would be received at the Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona on a recent mission trip.

The July 30–Aug. 4 outreach was part of the church’s “Look Like Heaven” emphasis in July, said pastor Terry Turner.

“Initially we were a bit apprehensive, a predominantly African-American church going into a Native American situation,” said Caleb Turner, Mesquite Friendship’s equipping pastor, adding he believed the group was the first African-American team to work in the area.

Their concerns proved unfounded.

“The love of the community was absolutely amazing,” Turner said.

“We were so warmly received. They were so welcoming,” said Barbara Allen, who sponsors the youth group with her husband, Kenneth, also on the trip.

Work centered on the small communities of Many Farms and Chinle, Ariz. After doubling the congregation of Many Farms Baptist Church for Sunday morning worship, the volunteers split into three teams to do three days of special projects.

One team demolished a small house in Chinle. 

“We tore it down. It sounds like the opposite of what you should do on a mission trip,” Turner said, explaining that only three to five Walmarts serve a reservation the size of West Virginia, making supplies and equipment hard to get. 

The group salvaged two-by-fours, sheetrock and nails to be reused. The homeowners, whose primary residence was nearby, made the salvaged supplies available to the community.

Turner said some of the youth tutored the homeowners’ two young children during the demo project.

A second Mesquite group painted the interior of the home of a woman named Nellie, who attended Many Farms Baptist Church, where the team was housed.

“Miss Nellie didn’t have running water in her house,” Barbara Allen recalled. “In my house, water runs freely all the time. She was struggling with that.”

Allen called the experience both “heartwarming,” referring to the warm welcome the group received, and “heart-wrenching,” referring to the grinding poverty they saw.

“Our kids discovered you don’t have to go out of the country to see people who live in poverty,” Caleb Turner said. “Most of the youth probably worked harder than they’ve worked in a long time,” he added with a chuckle.

The kids learned “they take a lot of things for granted that other people long for,” added volunteer Fullisha Pickrom.

A third group visited the Navajoland nursing home near Chinle, celebrating birthdays of residents and playing games with them. Some, like 17-year-old Precious Smith, worked jigsaw puzzles with quieter residents, prompting tears of gratitude from one older Navajo gentleman.

In the evenings, Many Farms Baptist Church hosted area children for games and stories. Although promoted as a parents’ night out, many mothers brought their children and stayed. The Mesquite ladies invited the women to join them in Bible study. 

The local women were eager. One said she was rededicating her life to God. 

Turner said Mesquite Friendship plans to send teams to the Navajo Nation for four more years, expanding the outreach. 

“We are interested in finding young Native American men interested in teaching the Bible,” Turner said. “We want to offer classes (and) give them the tools they need to present the gospel themselves in their own communities.”

“They are a people who are hurting. Alcoholism, drug addiction, extreme poverty are rampant. We want to go out there and show Jesus. … We want to help people and establish relationships.

“It felt like the beginning of something great that God’s going to do through us.”