During Southwestern Adventist University’s Spring Break, a 36-member mission team from SWAU, Chisholm Trail Academy, and the Keene, Texas, community, traveled to the Navajo Nation with the ambitious plans to complete three projects: build two greenhouses, do some building repairs at the Gallup All Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church, and give an interior facelift to and conduct an educational program at Rez Refuge, a non-profit youth center on the reservation. The university has been organizing mission trips to the Navajo Nation over the past 15 years under the leadership of Bill Kilgore, D.Min., SWAU religion professor, and Randy Butler, Ph.D., former SWAU faculty.
“God has blessed this ministry over the years, and we have appreciated the opportunity to be of service to the Navajo people,” says Butler.
Although 36 people went on the trip, the projects successfully completed represent the involvement and support of many other individuals and organizations. In 2015, the University’s Enactus team, directed by SWAU business professor Ana Patterson, sponsored the building of a greenhouse and garden at the Rez Refuge project in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Then in 2017, Enactus sponsored a similar project at the Gallup church. This year the annual trip took on an exciting new development when a request came directly from the vice president’s office of the Navajo Nation for the mission team to build two greenhouses for the Office of Diné Youth, one in Fort Defiance, Arizona and the other in Crownpoint, New Mexico.
The Navajo Nation is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Nation. The yearlong celebration includes youth programs and advocating for and teaching their Nation how to live a healthier lifestyle. The vice president of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, actually visited the team and ate supper with them. He thanked them for their service to the Navajo Nation. Following his visit, Nez posted on his Instagram with the caption “ … these volunteers graciously gave up their spring break for an opportunity to give back to rural communities. We thank them for their willingness to help and their hard work.”
The building of the two greenhouses was led by Keene residents Ron, Dave, and Greg Patterson, and was sponsored by the University’s Enactus team and the Texico Conference. The work was completed in a record three days. The Texico Conference was particularly interested in sponsoring this project because they are establishing a new church in Crownpoint. “It was such a rewarding experience working on the greenhouses and knowing that the young community of the Navajo Nation will learn more about their roots and how to have a healthier lifestyle,” reports freshman business major and Enactus member Veronica Carvajal.
At the Rez Refuge project, the team painted the entire interior of the Rez Refuge facility, completed some exterior repairs, worked in their garden, and conducted a week-long education program each afternoon for 37 Navajo children. The Native Ministries Department of the North American Division (NAD) sponsored several SWAU students on the trip, as well as paint and repair supplies and furniture for the project. Generous donations from Sabbath schools at the Keene and Burleson Seventh-day Adventist Churches helped to sponsor nine University students and provide extra project money for the trip.
Judy Cuevas, sophomore theology major, says “My life is sweeter thanks to the support of my church family.” In preparation for the trip, Keene Adventist Elementary School 8th grader LeeAnn Patterson coordinated a book drive which supplied 1,500 books to the Rez Refuge’s small library! The team restocked and catalogued the collection. “Working at the Rez Refuge was an incredible blessing. Getting to interact with the kids and staff showed me a clearer picture of Christ. The atmosphere surrounding that place is one where you know Christ abides, and it was humbling," said Kayla Goodman, freshman theology major.
During this week of service, the mission team was honored by several special visitors. Ken Denslow, representing the NAD Native Ministries Department, and two leaders of the Texico Conference, Lee-Roy Chacon, President, and Phil Robertson, Executive Secretary, toured each of the sites and visited with the team members, congratulating them on a job well done. “We are incredibly grateful for the ministry spirit of the students that helped with this project. The impact of this trip over the years will be profound, and we want to foster continued involvement by Southwestern Adventist University students,” said Robertson.
At the conclusion of the trip, the mission team conducted the Sabbath School program and provided special music and the children’s story for the church service at the Gallup church. “Our students combine their knowledge and faith experiences and have put them into practice by serving the people of the Navajo Nation in meeting their needs. I cannot be more proud of them,” says SWAU President Ken Shaw.
Southwestern Adventist University is committed to return next year to continue being God’s hands to His people and exemplifying the University goal to build knowledge, grow faith, and inspire service.
Watch the video recap!