This past summer I had the privilege of being able to visit the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona. Not only did I create wonderful memories, I was able to try to venture out of my comfort zone by being away from my family for 10 days. Although it occurred months ago, I was never able to publicly document it until now. Someone once told me, “If you don’t document and share it, it didn’t happen.”
So you may wonder why was I in Arizona and what was I doing? It was a mission trip organized by Harvest International Missions to serve the Children and Youth of the Navajo Nation. The team consisted of several Korean churches from Southern California and a small group from San Jose. Although I attend a Vietnamese church, our pastor was previously at a Korean church and brought us along with him. We had 4 different groups of ministry which were Vacation Bible School (VBS) for kids, Youth for those in middle school and high school, a Praise team, and a Drama team that performed skits and dances. We ministered to different areas of the reservation and our teams usually didn’t see each other that often unless it was at the base camp. Our schedule was pretty packed everyday.
When preparing for Arizona Missions, I felt like I wanted to back out continuously more and more after every training. With everyone in our church besides Pastor Tony being first-years, it was a bit difficult to try to get an understanding of what will happen while in Arizona. The team, although very great and awesome for planning such a large mission, hadn’t given us a lot of specific information or instructions. Seemingly to be quite strict, it showed to have been quite a façade to help prepare us for the worst. While there, I was surprised with some of the leniency given to us that seemed so stern before. A tiring and military-like image had been changed into just a scene of great fellowship between each other and with many of the Navajo youths and children. There were games, laughter, and meaningful conversations all around for we were all there to serve the Lord with joy and with a common goal to expand God’s Kingdom. Although we had so much fun, our sights were set on being able to just pour out our love and share what the Lord has so graciously done for us. It was a really great encouragement seeing all of our leaders giving up their rights, using up all of their energy, and just showing this genuine love to people many of them haven’t met before. Within just 10 days, bonds were formed out of love. For many people, it did not stop when we all returned to our normal lives. Some continued contacting those they had formed a relationship with.
The heat was probably similar to high temperatures we faced in California and there was a large supply of water to drink. The leaders took extra care of everyone to make sure they were filled and finished their water bottles. With the use of septic tanks, showers were limited to one during the entire 10 days, which led to a giant supply of baby wipes. Although it was most definitely tiring and we had around 5-6 hours of sleep a night, there was still time to rest here and there and everyone napped anywhere they could.
At night, girls slept on the floor inside while the boys slept outside in tents. For me, everything was tolerable except the incredible amount of anxiety I developed from the swarming bugs. Big and small, they were everywhere. I probably have never experienced bugs that large before in my city life. It was an awakening. Bug spray became your best friend. Although it was hot, many of us were scared to sleep outside of our sleeping bags in fear of a bug crawling on us. I thought I felt something on my elbow once and crawled right back inside my sleeping bag. I think the boys were better off than us in their secure tents. But they did mention wolves or coyotes…
The reservation showed us a spectacular view of stars at night. When at a place with no light, stars filled up the sky and it was a sight I never saw before. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal because it’s something people constantly talk about while out in nature, but when I saw it, I found it to be amazing. I couldn’t really believe in the amount of stars I saw in different shapes and sizes. I feel as though none of those pictures on Google images could really display the wonder and awe. Pictures could not portray the amazing twinkle as the stars shone. Then I thought about the amazing fact that God created the heavens and the stars.
Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26
One of the sermons preached was about looking at God with childlike faith. As we grow older, we lose the wonder and amazement from his power. Sometimes we need time to think how great our God is.
Meals were served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and there was plenty to go around and seconds was always available. Everyone lined up girls first, youngest to oldest. Breakfast everyday was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It would’ve been horrible if there weren’t any apple slices to put in them. My whole world changed when I took my first bite. I suggest it to everyone to try apple slices in their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Similarly, lunch was usually some type of sandwich and a bag of chips, but they were delicious. It was dinner that was really amazing. For dinner we had something different everyday and a hefty serving. We had a team of parents cooking for us each day and I was able to try some new Korean food. One night we had Navajo tacos. Many veterans of the mission trip told me about them and how they really looked forward to the fry bread and of course, it was delicious. It was sweet and tasted especially delectable with honey. You can find a recipe here!
Mentioned before, I was a part of the VBS team and we worked with the Navajo children. To gather more kids, we actually went door to door to promote our program around the neighborhoods. We had two VBS a day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. The parents would send their children to the front of the neighborhood where someone from our team would go pick them up and bring them to us. We had crafts, games, candy, and songs. Despite our weariness, we were able to erase all tiredness and become uplifting spirits to the children who most definitely deserve our focus. Alcoholism in Native American reservations are a huge problem. Many of these kids came from poverty stricken and abusive homes. Most of their life they probably had any interaction with people outside of the reservation. It was painful to see that there were some children there that you were able to see the scars on their body. We’re there to shower them with love and memories to show that there is someone who cares for them. Even though we were only there 10 days a year, we tried to make sure that they knew there is a God who loves them all year long.
I found myself surprised by the incredible amount of energy I acquired during the trip. Our VBS was unorganized with the fact that each child didn’t have crews or leaders assigned to them. You watched out for all of them but there were usually a few kids that stuck particularly to you and you had connections with them. It was most definitely difficult to try to get some of the kids to open up but it was also extremely rewarding when you see them having fun. The first child I met was Kaden. She was extremely shy and when we started she began to tear up and said she wanted to go home. At that moment I wasn’t exactly sure what to do and I was scared because what if she doesn’t want to come back again? I thought bringing her to the bathroom would help cool her down. To my surprise, taking her to the bathroom was somewhat of a miracle. After cooling down there she happily SKIPPED towards the chapel where we had songs and participated. Luckily our first activity was crafts, one of the things she liked to do and enjoyed. From then on, she opened up and showed us her beautiful personality.
Another account was a little girl named Relisha. She came with her cousins and did not want to leave them at all. She was timid and unresponsive. She always had a frown on her face and I had honestly felt as though she really didn’t like my presence around her. Unlike Kaden, we ended up having games first. Once again, a breakthrough occurred as she let herself go wild. Next thing I know, she’s running around me, pulling my hand, and giving me hugs. She ended up being an adorable energetic bundle of joy. Seeing them evolve into being open and comfortable with us was really one of the most motivating things out there.
Getting Kaden and Relisha to open up allowed them to also interact with other leaders. Therefore they didn’t stick with me for long. However, on the first day I met a girl named Ariel. In the beginning I wasn’t her leader but the next day she came up to me telling me that she remembered my name from a small interaction before. After talking to her a bit she ended up staying with me for the entire trip. She was already a part of a local church but grew up without a father. I met her at one of her church’s events again away from the VBS and she had brought along a friend, Aliyah. The next day, Aliyah came to the VBS. The last day there was a VBS in the park and Ariel once again decided to bring another friend Tatum. My spirits were uplifted as I spent more time with them and saw them have fun.
One thing we had to make sure was that we had a focus on God. Even with all the fun, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all we had done without his power. My pastor had given a sermon about love philanthropy. Philanthropists are usually wealthy people with a large income generously donating to charity. Similarly, a love philanthropists generously shares large amounts of their love to others. For them to do that, they need a large income of love. To keep us from running out of the love we were sharing, we had to receive love and power from God.
It felt as though everyone there was so passionate about the Lord as we all came together to fulfill his purpose. The Praise team performed great music and really set a wonderful and encouraging mood to remind us why we were here. In the earliest of mornings and the latest of nights their songs never failed to move you. The Youth team really had no rest. Unlike the VBS team, they brought back some of their Youth to the base camp. Everyday there were some Navajo teenagers spending time and making memories with us. They joined us for service and even spent a night once. The stories I heard from the Youth teams were amazing as I heard about how they’ve really formed a connection. When I got home I saw people friends with them on Facebook and others continuing to text their Navajo friends. The Drama team really put on amazing performances that had even made me tear up. Like the Praise team, they reminded us that we were there for God and put a visual representation of the great things God has done. See their skit of “The Prodigal Son” below. Read the story in Luke 15.
One of the leaders of this mission had told us that our real mission begins at home, that this “mission” has no end. We need to go and make disciples of all the nations including those who are closest to us. It really makes me wonder how it can be easy to share the gospel to people we don’t know in Arizona but so difficult to those we do know. Is it the setting? I learned to really work on trying to incorporate God’s will and message into my thinking 24/7 not just while I’m on a mission. We really need constant reminders that we are living for God because without him, we are worthless. The things I found that we really needed to bring back were our hearts that we had in Arizona, our mindset, and our new found relationships and experiences so that we can continually grow.