Putting hands, hearts to work
Local youth serve mission at Navajo reservation
By TIM WENZL
Southwest Kansas Register
Four high school students and two adult leaders from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Dodge City spent a week in July working with other youth groups from throughout the country at the Window Rock Navajo Reservation near Fort Defiance, Arizona.
Jordan Olivarez, Shannon Wenzl, and Megan and Laura Wright, were accompanied by Jodi Lix and Dennis Scheck. They joined mission groups from Peoria, Ill., Phoenix, Ariz., Jensen Beach, Florida, and Meridian, Idaho. The mission trip was part of the YouthWorks network. The Cathedral group was placed in two separate work teams. Dennis Scheck, Laura and Megan Wright’s group assisted at a kid’s club for two days and worked on a service project for two days. Jodi Lix, Jordan Olivarez and Shannon Wenzl worked at a Teen Community Center each of the four-day mission trip, where they assisted with religious education sessions similar to a Vacation Bible School. They taught the teens about the Bible and saints during these sessions.
“We had probably 15-25 kids each day during the four days we spent at the Teen Center,” stated Jodi Lix. “It was a challenge for me to find patience with the discipline issues at the teen center. We had been warned that they have gangs and problems with alcohol and drugs. But once they knew what was expected, they gave us a chance to really get to know them and learn more about their lives. Our theme for the week was ‘The Bible.’ Our youth came up with lesson plans to help share bible stories and taught them how to find bible passages. The kids created games and activities for students who were 12 to 18 years old.
“One young girl came to the community center the first day in tears, afraid of the bullying that she had already encountered at the hands of other teens. But after a short time with Shannon and Jordan she was smiling and returned each day.”
The youth shared these thoughts about the mission trip.
“The mission trip is something that, in my experience, is life-changing.” stated Jordan Olivarez. “It helps you view the world in many different ways, and helps you see the good in what is normally viewed bad.
“The trip allows you to connect with God on many different levels. It helps strengthen your relationship with God and follow him in a stronger faith. Sometimes it even seems as though I’m being called to help. You change the lives of others and you might not even know it.”
“I felt like this mission trip was a very rewarding experience to enrich my faith and help people,” said Shannon Wenzl. “It was amazing to see all of us teens from different places with different beliefs, coming together and doing God’s work. I made a lot of unforgettable memories and will miss all of my friends. I will definitely be doing something like this again because I always enjoy making people smile.”
“We found it very revealing to be a part of this mission trip,” stated Laura and Megan Wright. “It was rewarding to work with the Navajo children. The classes with the students involved doing creative and expressive craft and game projects. The craft projects let us learn more about their feelings and lives.
“We also happily faced the challenges of repainting and repairing some buildings. One was a Hogan, the home of an elderly couple. That couple taught us about a plant that grew in their yard that the Navajo couple used to make tea.
“A female elder and her daughters from this reservation taught us some history, words/language, and jewelry-making skills of the local Navajo people. This information made us realize that life on the reservation is difficult, demanding, tragic, and troublesome. But they also made us realize that they all felt pride, honor, and a sense of hope for their tribe’s future.”
During the last part of the mission trip in one of the closing meetings, the group was part of a feet washing ceremony. The youth discussed why and how God choose them to participate on this trip. In this meeting, a young girl from Arizona expressed her negative concerns and feelings of low self-esteem in her life. She stated that she didn’t know why or if God or others valued her life.
“Our leaders and the two of us tried to help her realize that she’s a nurturing and helpful young person,” stated Megan Wright. “We talked to her about the ways she helped and supported the Indians on the reservation and those of us involved in the youth group. We both felt that God had sent us there to hopefully help and give our spiritual support to a fellow teenager.
“We also know that God sent us on this Navajo mission trip to give us a chance to learn more facts and information about another Native American tribe,” Laura Write added. “We’re from an Ojibwa tribe near the Great Falls, Montana area. It was fun and wonderful to also help teach children and give support to an elderly couple.”
The evening activities were great opportunities to learn more about the culture of the Navajo people. The group visited a Navajo museum, the zoo, and did some hiking at Window Rock Tribal Park. One night they traveled to Gallup to see some traditional Navajo dancing and a presentation by a Navajo woman about Navajo life, traditions, clothing, jewelry, weaving, and pottery. On the final night, youth invited people from the community to enjoy a barbeque with the group.
“I had a great time,” stated Dennis Scheck. “It was good to see so many young people involved with their faith. I always get more out of the week than I expect.”
Lix summarized the mission trip this way: “I was very impressed with the maturity level of our kids and how willing they were to serve others of their own age group. The trip was a true blessing to see God’s work through the hands of our children and sharing his message with others.”