Life in the Old West may be history for many in the U.S., but for the Navajo Native American tribe in northeast Arizona, life without electricity, running water or toilets inside the home is the norm.
It’s also a land that Corban Business Professor Bryce Bernard has found God calling him to and for more than a decade he has followed that calling. Between June 24 and July 3, Bernard and his wife, Julie, led a group of 18 teens and young adults from the Corvallis Korean Church, where his son is a pastor, to the Navajo reservation in Arizona to lead vacation Bible school for the kids and Bible studies for parents and other adults.
The short-term mission trips on the reservation were started many years prior by Corban alumni in the San Francisco Bay area. These alumni proved invaluable when they led Bernard to Pastor Willie Tsoie, a Navajo Indian and church planter on the reservation, in 2001.
“We worked with Willie at the Black Mesa Church,” Bernard said. “Throughout the year he follows up on the contacts we make through the VBS program. When we came last year, he had five members in his congregation and now he has 50. Seeing God working so collaboratively is amazing to watch.”
The group lived at the Black Mesa Church during the one-week mission.
Most of the Navajos surrounding the church live in hogans, six-sided, one room homes built from wood and mud. Doors face east with the belief that it welcomes the sun and brings good fortune. Typically, there is a wood stove in the middle for heat and cooking. Clean water is gathered at wells away from the homes and brought back. Many Navajos raise goats and sheep for income and food.
While many Navajos live on the reservation to maintain culture, Bernard said most are open to hearing the gospel message. Each year, many make a decision to follow Jesus Christ in part because of the good work many Christians are doing on the reservation and also because of the Navajo Christians sharing their faith with others.
During the day, teens have themed Bible time, game time and snacks with the Navajo children who attend VBS. Bernard led a men’s Bible study while Julie Bernard led a Bible study for women.
“One thing we have done is built long-lasting relationships,” Bernard said. “Our high school students get to know the Navajo children and remember each other when they come back the next year. You know we have been successful in building relationships when children show up at 6:00 am to say goodbye one more time on the day we leave.”
Although he only recently returned from this mission and a previous mission in Indonesia with Corban University, Bernard is already mentally planning for the next trip to the reservation.
“When I see Willie’s perseverance it makes me want to be part of that,” he said. “God is definitely at work on the reservation.”