Friday, August 12, 2016
Reaching the Navajo Nation with the Gospel
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14
The Navajo tribe is the largest Indian tribe in the United States. Although the Navajo Nation covers over 27,000 square miles and includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the Navajo population is only around 250,000 people. The tribe is a close-knit community where distant cousins often remain in contact with each other and families are further associated with each other through a clan system.
The key to the Navajo’s survival as a tribe has been their willingness to plan for the future. Unlike hunter-gatherer tribes that could be wiped out by one bad winter, the Navajo people have survived by constructing buildings and raising sheep. Because Native Americans lacked a written language for quite some time, their creation and flood stories were passed down verbally and bear very little resemblance to the truth. Interestingly, the traditional Navajo houses called “hogans” are built to face toward the East, which could be reminiscent of an earlier society that wanted to pray toward Jerusalem.
The traditional Native American religion is one of superstition and ceremonies. The Navajo belief system is polytheistic in nature. “Father Sun” and “Changing Woman” are examples of Navajo deities. Evil spirits are feared and scary “shape-shifting” entities such as “skin walkers” are rarely mentioned. As with other false religions, their exact beliefs vary and what goes on in the ceremonies is often kept secret from outsiders. When knocking on doors on the reservation, you will often get different answers from different people on what they believe. Some typical responses are that they believe in “traditional religion” or, for shock value, “peyote religion.” Because the tribe is a relatively small community, people usually know of Christians in their extended family, which can make it easier to talk to them about the Lord.
Younger Navajo people are not usually as religious, so they are often easier to reach with the gospel. Some of the elderly people are not fluent in English, but their children and grandchildren are usually happy to interpret for them at the door. Navajo people like to use their traditional language, so some churches conduct at least one service in Navajo, complete with a Navajo hymnal.
Baptists are Failing
Unfortunately, many of the Baptist churches on or around the Navajo reservation teach a repent-of-your-sins plan of salvation. Other churches have the right gospel but the numbers of people out soul-winning are very low. I would love to see our church someday send out a pastor to a city located on or near the Navajo reservation.
Soul-Winning on the Reservation
An important Bible quote to remember when soul-winning on the reservation is, “Beware of dogs.” I heard someone say that the average Navajo family has five kids and five dogs. Although family size is shrinking, you can expect to run into plenty of aggressive dogs and unfenced yards. “Rez dogs” will usually back down if you appear to be on the offensive and do not show your fear.
Another thing to remember out soul-winning is to recognize and respect cultural differences. For example, a firm handshake and direct eye contact are encouraged in our “belagana” culture, but the opposite is considered polite to the Navajo, so don’t be offended if someone seems stand-offish. Natives are superstitious about talking about death, which can be an obstacle out soul-winning. Death and Hell have to be discussed, but it may be helpful to gently acknowledge that this is a subject we do not enjoy talking about, but we still have to think about it sometime. Many Navajo people are shy and politely agreeable, so it is important to get them engaged in a dialogue when presenting the gospel to make sure that they actually believe what you are showing them from the Bible.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Navajos tend to be stoic and don't show a lot of emotion. If they answer the questions correctly then they are getting it, even if they seem lackadaisical.
Another Church Needed
One soul-winning church could potentially preach the gospel to the entire Navajo Nation through door-to-door soul winning, which would need to include small town soul-winning marathons across a large geographical area. If you have a burden for Navajo people and feel you might someday be qualified to pastor a church, Faithful Word Baptist Church is the perfect training ground for you. We have Navajo members in our church that can teach you more about their culture than I can. The natives are friendly here at Faithful Word Baptist Church! Join us, and get a burden for this often forgotten people of the Southwestern United States.
Here is a sermon on Reaching the Navajo Nation.