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Kallie, 9, in red jacket, enjoying a light moment with her older sister, Katelyn, 11, standing, and several other students at Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School in Holbrook, Arizona. Their smiles caught the attention of neighbors in their hometown, Chinle. Courtesy of Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School

Smiles Amid Covid-19 Crisis Touch Tough Navajo Home

The two girls usually live at Holbrook Indian School, but now they walk to church to study online,

By Dale Wolcott

The Chinle Seventh-day Adventist Church isn’t exactly located in the best neighborhood in Chinle, a town of 4,500 people on the Navajo Reservation in the U.S. state of Arizona.

As the pastor, I live in a trailer beside the church building. Several well-respected neighbors, including a Navajo Nation police officer, live in nearby trailers. But one house is looked down on as the local “drug house.” Its unkempt yard and constant stream of random foot and vehicle traffic lend credibility to its reputation as a supplier of illegal liquor and more.

The church board has discussed how to best relate to those neighbors. We have prayed for them and even visited a time or two, praying with them and sharing literature and invitations to church events. The family’s children have occasionally attended Vacation Bible School and other children’s programs. But we have not seen any breakthroughs. The behavior of the adults has not visibly changed.

Then along came the Covid-19 pandemic.

The church was closed, and our public meetings moved onto the telephone. Although the church has access to the Internet, many families here don’t have Internet at home.

The other day, one of the church’s neighbors, Catherine, walked across the church yard with the biggest smile on her face. She wanted to apologize for missing our call-in midweek prayer meeting the previous evening. Catherine was baptized a few years ago and often volunteers at the church. Her two daughters, Katelyn, 11, and Kallie, 9, have been using the church’s Internet in the Sabbath School classroom to do their daily homework from Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School. The girls usually live in the dormitory at Holbrook, located about 90 minutes away by car, but were sent home to study because of Covid-19.

Catherine said she had missed prayer meeting because she had joined her husband, Katelyn, and Kallie in organizing their own evening worship by a creek. They had taken a Bible storybook to read and had sung songs about Jesus that the girls had learned at Holbrook.

“Oh, and we took the neighbor kids with us,” Catherine said.

“Which ones?” I wondered aloud.

“The ones right next door here,” she replied, gesturing toward the infamous “drug house.”

I was surprised. Why would Catherine and that family spend time together? They were not closely related, and I wasn’t aware of any previous interactions between them. In fact, Catherine and her husband had talked repeatedly about moving from their one-room log cabin to a nicer neighborhood, even though that is easier said than done on a reservation with a severe housing shortage and a clan-based land allotment system.

I asked Catherine how she had managed to invite the “drug house” children for evening worship.

Catherine smiled proudly.

“Their big sister noticed how happy our girls seem to be every day when they walk by their house on the way to the church to do their schoolwork,” she said. “She wanted to know why Katelyn and Kallie smile so much instead of looking mostly sad like her own little sisters. She also wanted to know why Katelyn and Kallie are always singing. So we decided to invite them to go with us. My husband wasn’t sure that it was a good idea, but I told him that maybe the Lord wants us to share Jesus with them. So that’s what we did.”

“How did it go?” I asked.

Catherine beamed, clearly savoring the memory.

“When we finished, they asked if we could do it again the next day,” she said. “My children have been touched by the Lord, and they can see it.”

Praise the Lord for Seventh-day Adventist education. Praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit is using two little girls to make a big difference in our neighborhood.

Thank you for your 2018 Thirteenth Sabbath Offering that helped kickstart plans on a new gym and health center called New Life Center at Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School. A Thirteenth Sabbath Offering in third quarter 2021 will help finish the second phase of the center, where the school will address high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and suicide among Native American children and youth.