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Building Relationships on the Navajo Reservation

Larry Peña, January 30, 2013
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Fifteen students from Pacific Union College braved the freezing deserts of northern Arizona over Christmas vacation to provide aid to a Navajo community there. This was PUC’s third trip to the community with a student-led ministry called Project Pueblo.

“The whole idea for these repeat mission trips is to develop relationships with people in the community,” says Fabio Maia, PUC’s service and missions coordinator. “We’re there to minister to their practical needs.”

Initially, the project was intended to focus on repairing and renovating a church that the Adventist group on the reservation had recently purchased with the assistance of one of the largest 13th Sabbath offerings ever given by Adventists in North America. However, when the student group arrived in the reservation town outside of Page, Ariz., they discovered a more immediate need—this winter’s unusually cold weather had frozen the water lines serving the town’s community center.

“We had to change our plans and spent two days digging deeper trenches and heating the pipes up to get water,” says Jeremy Lam, one of the student leaders of the group. That meant more than just shoveling dirt—to get to the pipes, the students had to build fires to thaw the frozen ground and hack at the icy earth with picks.

With water flowing again to the vital community center, the PUC group had just three days to get to work on the church project. The old building had been purchased at a great price from a Baptist congregation, who had insisted on passing the building on to another faith group. Although well-built, the church badly needed cleaning and insulation to keep out the below-freezing winter temperatures.

“We worshipped in the church on Sabbath, and even with radiant heating in the sanctuary it didn’t get above 55 degrees,” says Lorie Johns, the student success advisor in PUC’s nursing department and a co-sponsor on the trip. “It needed a lot of work to be usable.”

Students set to work clearing out dust and debris from the old building and installing insulation into the cinder block walls. Although the tighter schedule didn’t allow them to finish everything they had planned, they left behind a much warmer, much more comfortable sanctuary.

In the coming months, the church will host Adventist evangelistic meetings and health seminars, and will likely host PUC students again when they return for a planned trip over spring vacation. Like the new pipes in the community center, the church and the students will be a lasting blessing to the community on the reservation.

The repeat trip highlights PUC’s emphasis on practical, relevant service to people in need. “There are great opportunities to help the community out,” says sophomore Clifford Young. “Every student here can help serve, because there are so many opportunities—every weekend, every month—to do something. I think PUC does a great job of pushing the service role and doing what Jesus would do.”