Truth Be Told

My upcoming book with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah titled "Unsettling Truths - The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery" is now available for pre-order from InterVarsity Press.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dancing with the Navajo

There they were, the shivering and barefooted pastors of the Global Discipleship Network, dancing around the living room of the retreat center we were meeting at on the Navajo Reservation. They had come for a time of retreat, training and fellowship. They arrived into Albuquerque from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Orlando, FL, the Dominican Republic, and the state of Indiana and then drove with me for nearly 3 hours to the high desert of the beautiful Southwest. It was December and our land was sleeping, in the midst of its second winter storm. Several inches of snow were on the ground and the night time temperatures were hovering around ZERO degrees. I was blessed and honored to welcome them to the land of my tribe, my clans and my family: the Navajo reservation.

For the past 2 years these pastors had been exchanging visits with each other. Living in each other's homes. Dwelling with each other's families. Learning from each other's ministries. Discipling each other in much the same way Jesus trained his 12 disciples. By being with them, 24 hours a day, as both friend and teacher. And now that they had a chance to begin building these types of relationships with each other, I was bringing them into my home to give them an even clearer example of the discipleship relationships I wanted them to experience.

 We spent time catching up, sharing stories and getting reacquainted. It was wonderful to hear how in only 2 years their relationships and ministries had already begun to impact each other. I was especially struck by the story of Pastor Felix who is serving New Heart church in a bi-lingual (English/Spanish) community in Orlando, FL. While visiting and being disciple by Pastor Bernardino in the Dominican Republic he was struck by the work he was doing in both Spanish and Creole, including holding 2 distinct services, one in each language. Seeing the blessing those 2 services were to the Spanish and Creole speaking members of this congregation, Pastor Felix was motivated to begin holding 2 services at New Heart Church back in Orlando. They already had an English service and recently started a Spanish service. He reported that this second service has been a blessing to the entire church and allowed them to expand their outreach and ministry within their local community.

I led them in some Bible study of several of the passages that God had placed on my heart throughout the past decade of my work both on and from the Navajo Reservation.  I introduced them to many of the relationships I have, the partners I work with, and the people I minister to. I brought them into some of the conversations that God has led me to participate in regarding reconciliation, contextualizing worship, training new leaders and preaching the Gospel. I, and my son, shared with them the painful history of our Navajo people both with the US Government and the Christian Church, the Doctrine of Discovery, the Long Walk, the broken treaties and the boarding schools.

We also shared with them our food, some of our language and a few of our traditions.

Which is how they came to be dancing on the living room floor of the retreat center. Most of these pastors came from tropical climates and a few of them had never seen or experienced snow before. So that morning I shared with them that one of our traditions. For a Navajo child’s first snow, traditionally they would be taken outside and rolled in the snow. This was not meant to be cruel, or even as a punishment, but rather to begin to toughen them up to some of the extreme hardships of life in the high southwest desert. And so that morning I had the pastors remove their shoes and socks, take off their jackets and run outside in the snow. They were probably out there for less than two minutes before they came running back in with cold toes and shivering bodies and in unison, without prompting, began jumping up and down and dancing on the living room floor. As I continued to introduce them to our people throughout the rest of their time there I told them this story, of the pastors first experience with snow. Our Navajo people often smiled and many of them even laughed. Tickled that these pastors had come not just to meet us and take our pictures. But to be with us and experience a taste of our lives.

And that is what is at the heart of the Global Discipleship Network. To bring pastors, from around the globe, together for a time of training, encouragement and discipleship. Understanding that no one pastor, language or culture is above the other. But we are all co-laborers in the church of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ahe’hee’ my brothers. You are always welcome in Dineteh, the land of our Navajo people. We are so glad you came.

The Global Discipleship Network is a project of Christian Reformed World Missions.