Greetings from I-40 West in the high desert of north central Arizona!
Through the wonders of technology, I’m writing this as we travel west toward our work place for today. And don’t worry…I’m not driving while I type! Lisa is driving and providing me with an 8 window rolling office that has an amazing view.
We are heading to Dine’ Bikeyah (Navajo for “The People’s Land”) today, otherwise known as the Navajo Reservation to those who exist outside of it. As we push westward two large snow covered peaks reach into heaven directly in front of us. Outside of the peaks, the 360 degree view is a stark tapestry—tan and red earth and muted greens which look more like gray to most of the tourists and truckers who journey this way. There are very few trees—none taller than 15 feet—and even fewer buildings. There are a number of large rock formations that look like the rocks were piled in one place with a purpose now unknown to anyone except for God the Creator. The sky is a nearly cloudless expanse—wide open and deep blue and it goes on forever, conspiring with the desert landscape to make everything and everyone here seem small. Miles in the distance in all directions there are mesas and buttes in muted blue and gray tones that give me the feeling of being on an island, lonely and protected by the natural upon first reaction, but in close contact with God and protected only by He who never sleeps upon further reflection.
I’m so impressed by the 1,000 year old ruins just north of here that I used the same method in the site plan for our house that the builders of those ruins used. When the sun falls across our new house in exactly the same way that it fell across the houses of the ancient ones, I feel another connection to the people we serve.
And even though we’ve been on the road for about an hour and a half to get to the Navajo children we’ll be working with today I feel like I’m going “home” for a few hours, and I have a deep sense of peace that is beyond my understanding. The truth is that the people and land are so close to my heart that I’m rarely exactly 100% at ease when I’m away, and I’m never really 100% away from these people in my heart and soul.
I think of the cowboys we often see on horseback, the shepherds and dogs working and moving their sheep, and how ridiculous their sheep look with the peculiar Navajo way of “branding” the sheep—to spray paint a large purple, green or other brightly colored spot on the side of the sheep so that the sheep can be known from a distance in these stretches of endless open range. I’m thankful my Shepherd marked me.
I’m warmed by the sun and by the memories of being fed, cared for, taught and loved by my Navajo brothers and sisters. I think of the “First Laugh” party held for Navajo babies when they laugh for the first time. This tradition is to make the baby generous, and there must be something to it given all the extraordinarily generous people here. I think of the many times when I’ve butchered the language and how the people held back their laughter, and how they held back their laughter at the expression on my face when they butchered a cow right in front of me, a city boy.
We are moving on into the seemingly endless desert, a “wilderness” that must look strikingly similar to the one the Israelites occupied for 40 years after 400 years of captivity. My thoughts turn to all the bruised and broken kids we try to serve and love. The Israelite people longed for their captivity once they were free. I pray that God will free these people with the freedom that comes from Him, and that they’ll never look back.
The reality is this—God created an absolutely beautiful people. He gave them a rich and meaningful culture. The land where they’ve ended up, through some bad actions by others, still has a beauty of its own. He didn’t mean for life to be like it is for so many today. The desperation and hopelessness is always nearby. Even when it’s not obvious and attacking the people in a full frontal assault, it seems to be creeping up on those who have forgotten that the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy—to devour any hope they have. But I know there is hope. I know there is promise. I will not give up. I will not back down. I may fail, and how I demonstrate my love to this people may change, but I will not go away quietly.