As we were all gathered around the large dining room table at Many Waters Mission, a middle-aged Navajo woman stood at the end with a pained expression on her face, as she addressed the small crowd. Directly next to her sat a young man who perpetually stared down toward the ground with a disturbingly distant and lifeless expression. The woman pleaded with us that we pray for the young man who was her son, for most days he said scarcely a word and remained disengaged while maintaining this troubled countenance. She went on to explain that she did not want to believe in “the witchcraft,” but she feared that he was under a curse. She admitted that she had taken him to the medicine man, which was the traditional Navajo tactic to break a curse, and she was being pressured by her family to bring him to the Native American Church, which is a cult that uses a natural hallucinogenic drug called peyote as part of its ritual worship. With increasing poignancy, she communicated that she came to the mission because she did not know where else to turn, and she begged us to help her and pray for her son.
Whatever was going on with the boy, there was no doubt that something was very wrong. The mother showed us a picture of him a couple of years ago, and we saw a normal engaged expression in his face, and looking at the person that sat before us it was as if all the life and the spark were gone. Lynn, one of the founders of the Mission, sat down next to the boy and took his hand, but he jerked away as if human touch was painful. Eventually, he let her grab his hand, and she prayed for him, and he talked a little, so the mother was somewhat encouraged.
Conversation ensued after the time of prayer was finished, and the mother again discussed her concern about witchcraft and evil spiritual forces. At this point, an older Navajo woman who until then had remained silent began to speak. She said the witchcraft is real, and she warned that if you don’t have Jesus in your heart it will not stop pursuing you, and it will find you. After she had spoken a few more words of advice to the younger woman, she then began to share her testimony.
Her name was Marie, and she had met Jesus when she was a young girl. She explained how she and her family had lived in a hogan in a desert canyon. Her father was a harsh man who often mistreated her, and one night to escape she wandered out in the desert alone. She stopped at the edge of the canyon, and in the darkness she saw a beam of light that appeared to come from something like a flashlight. As she began to follow the light, she was startled to find that when she reached the end of the canyon the light did not go straight, but it actually wrapped around the rock! She continued to follow this light, and it eventually led her to the home of some missionaries. Marie then told us about how they invited her in and began to tell her about Jesus, and she was moved by the Holy Spirit and believed. She prayed with the missionaries, and submitted her life to Christ.
She then recounted that she returned to the hogan excited about her new found hope, and she walked in to find her mother washing dishes. I was suddenly moved as this quiet, dignified older woman sitting before us recalled that she approached her mother and said, “I found truth, and his name is Jesus.” Her mother immediately scolded her and said that that is the “white man’s religion,” and she should never speak of it again. She told her that if her father found out he be very angry. Nonetheless, Marie refused to conceal her faith, but this was at price for her father indeed was angry and mistreated her.
As she continued growing up, both her father and her brother would beat her on occasion, and they were especially infuriated by her Christianity. Marie told us about how she continued to seek the Lord, and she would walk to church whenever she had a chance. However, she began to share with us that one day as she was sitting in church her father made a surprise appearance. He walked into the church building, grabbed her and threw her out onto the ground. He then took her Bible threw it back in the church and drug her away. It was heartbreaking to watch as this girl who was now an old woman sitting before us began to fight back tears. She told us of other experiences where she was forced to flee from her father or brother, but as she concluded she affirmed that she was still is serving the Lord, and she strives to do his will each day.
I stood for a moment reflecting on Marie’s testimony, and I glanced over at the mother and son standing there broken and hurting, and I felt keenly aware of the spiritual battle that rages on the Reservation. I was struck by the circumstances, pressures, and spiritual attack that so many of the Navajo Christians face. In Marie’s case, she was actually persecuted and shunned by her family for her faith. It is through the testimony of people like Marie that we catch glimpses of the presence of God in this world, and I left encouraged to trust God with my life, for the same God who sustained a young Navajo girl through such intense hardship is also my Father, and he sustains me.
Later that day, I had the opportunity to drive to the church near to where Marie grew up and meet her son who is now a pastor. In the brief time that I was able to chat with him, I was encouraged by his heart for his community and the world. He has actually travelled internationally, and he desires to lead members of his community to become involved in missions. Our hope is to recruit teams to come and serve alongside this church, and as we prepare for these mission trips, it is my prayer that the teams may build relationships in the community and be encouraged just as I have been by the testimony of their Navajo brothers and sisters.
- Josh G.