By Marv Knox
LEUPP, Ariz.—The love of God permeated a portion of the Navajo reservation in Arizona the first weekend in August.
It looked like children smiling through painted faces, bales of hay stacked in pickup trucks and backpacks stuffed with school supplies. It sounded like laughter, plus sermons, hymns and prayers offered in at least three languages. It smelled like frybread and desert vegetation. And it felt like summer sunshine, tempered by breezes flowing down the mountains.
All the sensations of Convergence, a mission project sponsored by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship West, reinforced CBF’s love for residents of the tribal lands on the high desert. The event attracted 63 CBF volunteers from 10 states. They ministered to about 500 Navajo who live on the reservation. In addition to churches affiliated with CBF West, volunteers came from Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.; CBF Global; CBF Oklahoma; CBF Texas; Familia, the CBF Latino Network; Fellowship Southwest; and Meadow Oaks Baptist Church in Temple, Texas.
CBF West conducts a missions project every-other year and a spiritual retreat on the off year, reported Coordinator Glen Foster. The organization’s leadership decided to conduct its 2019 missions project on the homeland of Greg and Sheila Long. They are longtime volunteer leaders of CBF West and directors of Selah Navajo Ministries, which is based in Flagstaff, Ariz., and serves the people and congregations of the region.
“We believe missions and ministry are part of our DNA,” said Foster, also pastor of Pantano Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz. “A few years ago, we decided doing hands-on ministry would be much more beneficial to a local church and community …. This year, our focus was the Navajo Nation. Being the presence of Christ involves being present with people, meeting needs and demonstrating practical love.”
The Longs steered that practical love to Leupp, Ariz., a village on the Navajo reservation, where Saturday flea markets attract vendors and residents from across the area. CBF West expressed that love through what the Longs branded Convergence, a first-of-its-kind ministry for the reservation, with carnival-style booths and a revival-style tent.
Cooperative Baptists set up the open-air tent to provide relief from the searing desert sun. Under the tent, the Longs and volunteers conducted worship—featuring hymns and spiritual songs, Bible readings, prayers and sermons in Navajo, Spanish and English. They gave away 140 bales of hay to feed livestock owned by families across the reservation.
Around the tent, the volunteers set up shaded booths, where they sponsored games and face-painting for children. They also handed out 214 backpacks filled with supplies to prepare children for the upcoming school year.
The booths and backpack/hay distribution provided a pretext for the CBF volunteers to mix and mingle with local residents—to prompt encouragement and spiritual conversations and opportunities to share the love of Jesus, Foster said.
“Volunteers (from Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming ) who traveled long distances to participate in our Navajo missions event were encouraged by the cooperation and friendliness of each other,” he noted.
“More importantly, providing backpacks and school supplies for children and hay for ranchers made us feel we were meeting tangible needs,” he said. “Bringing joy to their lives brought joy to our lives. The miles traveled and money spent are minor compared to the people touched by CBF persons who care.”
The weekend project—which included setup on Friday, the missions event on Saturday and worship in nearby Navajo churches on Sunday—lent strength to Selah Navajo Ministries, Greg Long said, predicting ongoing benefits. They include:
- Opportunity to tell local Navajo churches about the Longs’ project to translate the Bible into Navajo—the first such translation using the original Hebrew and Greek Bible languages.
- A platform to maintain dialogue with Navajo churches, which can benefit from a variety of Selah Navajo Ministries’ support services.
- Strength for Navajo churches through access to information about congregational structure and function.
- Encouragement for Navajo churches to implement creative strategies for overall success.
- A cordial and fun atmosphere, that can invigorate Navajo churches “until the next Convergence event.”
Long hopes Convergence will be ongoing, providing collaboration to bless the reservation.
“We did receive a great amount of positive response from the Navajo people and hopes that Convergence will continue,” he said. “If we make a commitment of providing the Convergence event every year, I believe the community, the churches and other surrounding Navajo ministries will show their support, and participation will rise. The more our local churches in Leupp partake in Convergence, the more our people will hear the gospel.
“We anticipate Convergence will strengthen ministry with and alongside local congregations, promote Navajo churches working together for the glory and honor of the Lord, and provide CBF-affiliated churches with an opportunity to network, collaborate and partner with local Navajo churches—not just for the weekend, but for years to come.”
Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network that serves alongside CBF affiliates in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas.