Walking in Their Shoes
Getting close to people by stooping to serve
By Rick Kajiura
Travel through the high desert of north-central Arizona in the southwestern United States, and you come to the town of Page. Head south from there, and you enter the land of the Navajo nation. This is the reservation of the largest Native American tribe in the United States. There is no Seventh-day Adventist church in Page—at least not yet. But one family has been hoping and praying for a church there.
“Native Americans originally occupied this land,” says Dan Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. “The rest of us are really immigrants. Yet our First Nations, or Aboriginal peoples, are among the most underserved populations in our ministry outreach in North America.”
The closest Seventh-day Adventist church is a two-hour drive away in Flagstaff. In Utah are the Monument Valley (two and a half hours to the east) and St. George (three hours north) churches. There’s nothing to the west of Page except the Grand Canyon.
A Homecoming of Sorts
Allen and Kelley Fowler came with their family to this area several years ago. For Kelley and the children it was a new adventure. For Allen, a Navajo, it was like coming home. In the years since he had left, Allen had met and married Kelley, started a family, and become a Seventh-day Adventist.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE: Allen and Kelley Fowler hope this community center will provide their friends with a venue to take classes in health, family, and spirituality.Allen’s family expected him to return the same as when he had left. When he came back as a Christian, they were shocked. After three years they’re getting used to it.
Because Allen is a Navajo, he brings a unique perspective and understanding to their ministry. “To understand Navajos, you have to walk in their shoes, take part in their grief, take part in their way of life,” says Allen. “Then they won’t say, ‘You never did this; you never experienced this.’ When you lived there, you grew up there, you can say, ‘I know you. I know what happened and how it happened. I had the same experiences you had, so there’s no excuse why you can’t change the way your life is.’ You can talk to them straight and they don’t have any excuse for not really responding. It really impacts them.”
A Ministry Is Born
When the Fowlers first moved to Page, they lived in a traditional Navajo hogan. Today they live in a house that’s still not finished because their ministry comes first. Not only did Allen and Kelley move to a new location—they also found a ministry to the Navajo people.
Kelley says, “The whole model of going to the door and asking, ‘Do you want to have Bible studies?’ doesn’t work out here, because they have to see that you care about them and that you really have their best interests in mind. Then they’ll trust you.”
As the Fowlers saw the needs around them, they decided to build a community center so that they could help their newfound friends and neighbors.
“The community center has been such a beautiful work in progress,” says Kelley. “To us it feels like it took a long time, but in the scheme of things it’s almost done, and it only took two and a half years to get it done with all the mission trips that came.
“Our goal for the community center is to have cooking classes at least once a week. We would love to have people come in and help us, to move here and help us on a regular basis; to have a cooking class every week and to make sure people would always know that it would be on Tuesday night. We would love to have a well. The well is in progress. Once the well is put in, it’s going to be even more of a draw, because people have to travel so far for their water.”
The community center is nearly finished thanks to the help of volunteers who have come on mission trips to help Allen and Kelley.
Jim Genn is one of these volunteers using his building talents to work among the Navajo. “Everyone has a talent,” he says. “If you turn your talent over to God, He’ll tell you what the talent is. It might be out here scooping sand, driving nails, or sending money—whatever.”
UNITED IN SERVICE: With their two children, Allen and Kelley Fowler hope to bring the message of Christ’s love to the Navajo nation.Some people, such as Francis Browning, found a mission field in their own backyard. “We went to Mexico a number of times, until it got so hard to get across the border. Now it’s getting unsafe to be down there, so we started looking for something closer to home. Here we don’t have to have a passport, we don’t have to get airline tickets for a long flight. There are mission fields all over if we just look for them.”
Something for Everyone
Why do people like Jim and Francis help with projects like this?
“These [projects] don’t belong to me,” says Jim. “They belong to the Lord.”
Even though it’s not quite finished, the community center is already making a difference in Allen and Kelley’s neighborhood. “Now that it’s almost done, we’ve really seen a huge increase in the awareness of the community that we’re here to help them,” says Kelley. “We just want to keep the mission trips coming. We need mission trips for pretty much anything you can imagine that a trip could do—medical missionaries, building, dentistry, you name it. They need our help.”
Some of those being helped are interested in learning more about what Allen and Kelley believe. They had so many requests that they’ve asked a Bible worker to come and help them.
The Bible worker, Carla Clare, reports, “I’ve been here only a few weeks, and I’ve realized that we have more than 200 names.”
Although most of their ministry is on the reservation where they live, Allen and Kelley are feeling God’s call to start a church in Page, the nearest town. For Allen it’s a homecoming in more than one sense.
“It feels comforting to be here and to work for God. God places you where you need to be, for the experience, and anything in life is to prepare you for work that you don’t know of but that God will show you in time. When I walk here, it brings me memories of my childhood. That’s why God let me go through that experience—so I’ll be able to be prepared for now.”
“To have a young couple move to Page, Arizona, and build a community center where there can be studies, worship, and so on is an exciting project,” says Dan Jackson. “To see our native work all throughout North America is a positive thing because it is a growing work. But we do have to support this very worthy project.”
Twenty-five percent of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help finance projects in the North American Division, including ministries to Native American and immigrant populations. Thank you for supporting Adventist Mission.
For more reports of Adventist Mission around the world, visit www.AdventistMission.org.
Rick Kajiura is a writer/producer for the Office of Adventist Mission.