New Mexico Mission Experience
By Sarah Hansen
This summer I took my third trip to the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico. The trip was once again amazing! We started by taking the Amtrak out of Union Station in Chicago for a 26-hour train ride to Albuquerque. I know it sounds daunting, but it was so much fun to see all of my friends that I have been going on this trip with for a few years now, and most of whom I only see once a year. Once we arrived in Albuquerque, we checked into a hotel, and then went to a very nice vespers and fellowship at St. George Orthodox Church. The next day we drove to our wonderful camp in Gallup. That night, we did our annual YOCAMA draft, where the junior staff members announce who is on their work team, and then we play games for the rest of the night, which is always a blast! I was junior staff for team one, “The Albuturkeys”. Tuesday was our first day of actually working on the reservation. We began that morning like we would all the others-with a Morning Prayer service. I find prayer to be a very peaceful and nice way to start each day. The way they organize it is that they send each team with a driver to a different sight so we can accomplish as much work as possible. Each team goes to a different sight every day of the week so everyone gets to experience as much as possible.
During the week, we did work for St. Bonaventure, which is a catholic mission that provides inexpensive rent for temporary housing and schooling for very low- income families with young children. There we re-painted the outside of the school, as well as built railings. We also bundled firewood to be taken by the food delivery teams. The food delivery teams take rice, beans, potatoes, flour, sugar, and the firewood to the people that are very far out on the reservation. Often the elders that have no plumbing, running water, electricity, or no means of getting supplies to these homes. Food delivery is definitely one of my favorite jobs while on the reservation because I got a very real taste of how many of the people live, and I’ve even met some really amazing Navajos while visiting their homes.
Another food service that we help with is the Gallup food pantry. They do an absolutely amazing service to people who don’t have the means to provide their family with a sufficient amount of food. I would have to say that the most incredible part of the pantry is that they grow all of their own produce in a completely hand made, state-of-the art garden. Kenworth Jones, a native, is the man behind it all, and provides a truly great service to the food pantry. We had missionaries sorting through produce, packing boxes, and working with Kenworth in the garden four days out of the week.
Due to the enormous amount of people on our trip this summer, we were able to make reparations to 3 different hogans. A hogan is a traditional Navajo home characterized by its octagonal shape and dirt floors. Working on these houses was difficult, but now 3 families are going to have functional roofs as well as better insulation for the winter. In accordance to building, we also built a small green house at the senior center. Now the elders have somewhere to grow plants and vegetables at their senior center. I got to meet many of the seniors that go there, and we even played bingo one afternoon. They are certainly deserving of the green house, and I know they will really enjoy it since most of the land in New Mexico is infertile.
Lastly I will talk about what we did when we weren’t working. One morning, we woke up super early and climbed to the top of Pyramid Rock in Red Rock National Park. That hike is so refreshing, and the top is the most breathtaking view I have ever seen in my entire life. It’s so peaceful, and I am pretty certain that you can see the entire state of New Mexico. We also play silly games each night in addition to the annual YOCAMA sand volleyball tournament. We came in second place!
No amount of words could even begin to do justice in describing the impact mission work has had on my life. If I had to describe my experiences in one word, it would be blessed. Blessed to have worked with the other amazing missionaries, blessed to have made great friends who share our faith, blessed to have met and interacted with the natives, blessed to have the loving friends, family, and church parish to support my mission, and blessed with everything that God has graced me with. If you even have the slightest inclination to do mission work, go! I promise you will walk out with one of the best experiences of your entire life.