Presbyterians Today

AUG-SEP 2018

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26 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay Church to confess its complicity and repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal principle that for centuries paved the way for the subjugation of indigenous peoples. Incorporated into U.S. law in the 1800s, the Doctrine of Discovery was expressed as "manifest destiny" in the oppres- sion of Native Americans. A report issued in conjunction with the 2016 General Assembly action says that for 200 years of American history, "the Presbyterian church was active in the formation and implementation of government policies affecting Native American peoples." But the question remains: Is the Jesus we preach among the Navajos a blessing or a vestige of missionary myopia? Today's living witness Del Muerto Presbyterian Church (Tseyi Bidáá, as it is known in the Navajo language) was founded in 1954 by Presbyterian missionary Joseph Gray and his Navajo assis- tant, Jimmie Draper. The church recently discovered its founding documents in a metal box beneath the floorboards while installing a wood-burning stove. Among the papers was a list of charter members, including Danny Halwood's parents. Halwood is an energetic, winsome man, wholly dedicated to his small congregation. His personal testimony includes how the fervent, interces- sory prayer of his Christian parents helped heal his sick brother. It also includes how his own recommit- ment to Christ helped him overcome alcoholism, a scourge on the Navajo Nation. "I told my family I was going back to church," he said with a smile, "then I said goodbye to my drinking buddies." Halwood served as translator for four Presbyterian pastors, all of them Anglo. The final one, the Rev. Robert Burdett, encouraged him to assume leadership of the flock. Halwood pursued his education by attending Beginning in 1864, the U.S. government — with a goal of ethnic cleansing — rounded up the Navajo people and forced them to march more than 400 miles from northeast- ern Arizona to a new home in eastern New Mexico. Commonly called "the Long Walk," Navajos have another name for the march, hwéeldi, which means "suffering." After four years of near starvation and lack of shelter, resulting in thou- sands of deaths, the exile ended with a treaty that returned 3.5 million acres of land inside the Navajos' four sacred mountains — Mount Blanca to the east, Mount Taylor to the south, the San Francisco Peaks to the west and Mount Hesperus to the north. Surely, these painful lessons have taught us the need for humility and respect. Surely, doing ministry amid the Navajos is a partnership that embraces their history and ancient culture. Then again, perhaps not. At the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center, I spoke with a young Navajo park ranger. She has Christians in her extended family, but her parents raised her with traditional Navajo beliefs. When she gives tours of the White House Ruin — an archaeo- logical site believed to have been built by ancestral Puebloans in A.D. 1060 — she believes she encounters the spirits of the dead. To bring her back into hózhó —or harmony — her grandfather performs a "sing" for her called "The Blessing Way," in which he chants: "With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me, may I walk." This same young woman has encountered much of what she consid- ers "ugly" among Christians in the Navajo Nation. "I have attended their memorial services where the message is loud and clear: Unless I follow this Jesus, I have no salvation on this earth and I'm not going to heaven. I cannot accept this kind of thinking," she said. The evangelizing begins Presbyterians began their work among the Navajos in the mid-1800s. The goal was to evangelize, convert and instruct in the Christian faith, perfectly in sync with U.S. policy. Admirably, Presbyterians also engaged in ministries of healing like the medical clinic founded as part of our mission at Ganado, Arizona, now called Sage Memorial Hospital. Today, there are eight chartered PC(USA) churches and two chapels among the Navajo, existing under the umbrella of Grand Canyon Presbytery. Documents from those earliest years use lamentable language. One speaks of the "persistent primitivism of the Navajos." Another speaks of training young girls to "make their own clothes after the latest American style." In 2016, though, the 222nd General Assembly called on the KRIN J. VAN TATENHOVE Keeping Navajo traditions alive is challenging as many youth leave their homes to find jobs.

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