The power to change the world. At the young age of 17, I never thought I would have that chance. Now, after a mission trip to Black Mesa, Arizona, I believe anything is possible.
Twenty-five people in two vans would not have been my chosen method of travel. Nevertheless, my youth group and I set out on a journey to better the lives of the Navajo living on the Indian Reservation in Arizona. The middle of the desert was worlds away from my small town just outside of St. Louis, Missouri—literally and figuratively speaking. We had abandoned our normal lives to spend four days living and working among the Navajo people. Immersing ourselves in their culture meant no running water, no air conditioning, none of the usual luxuries I had always taken for granted. We ate food cooked over a campfire, washed our hair in buckets, and attempted to keep the dust off the air mattresses we slept on each night.
Six of us, as members of the roofing team, would travel north each day to Ol Jato, Utah to work on top of a house under the blistering Arizona sun. We ripped up shingles. We replaced plywood. We tarred, both the roof and each other. And we painstakingly laid down new shingles. Even though the never-ending physical labor was beyond difficult, it was one of the most fulfilling parts of the trip. Each day as we drove back from the job site to the small church where we were staying, I watched the sun set through the van window and marveled at the brilliance of it all. The simple beauty of this barren landscape. The slow-paced life of the Reservation. And the huge hearts of the people who lived there.
Even more rewarding than the work we accomplished were the relationships I formed with some of the Navajo. Many of the children who lived nearby came to our Kids’ Club at the church. We played games, acted in skits, designed crafts, and of course, ate snack. Their utter joy at something so simple—a piggy back ride, a jump rope, or bubbles—was contagious, and there were nothing but smiles on all of our faces by the end of the day.
The happiness and openness of the children was mirrored in the adults we met at the church service and revival we attended. They welcomed us naïve Midwesterners with open arms, graciously ignoring our bumbling cultural mistakes and accepting us for who we were.
Additional trip highlights included visiting the Grand Canyon and white water rafting on the Rio Grande. Yet those times are not what I remember from this journey. I remember the smiles of the innocent children, the arms of every person who hugged me. I finger the delicate, handmade Navajo jewelry I purchased there and remember the older woman who prayed next to me, tears streaming down both our faces. I remember the gentle Navajo man who told us stories and legends as we rebuilt part of his home. I remember the songs sang, both in English and in the Navajo traditional language.
These memories are forever with me, and this experience has changed my life. These people have taught me that there is so much more to life than the world’s materialistic viewpoint. They have so little, yet they give so much. They have taught me how to live, how to love, and how to trust more fully than I ever could have learned on my own. For that, I am forever grateful.
I cannot wait to go back.
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