Learning in the Navajo Nation | God's World News

Learning in the Navajo Nation

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    The Henry family serves God and the Navajo people in Arizona. (The Henry family and Mission to the World)
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    The Henrys started a wood-hauling ministry. Volunteers chop wood for those in need. (The Henry family)
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    Emily Henry takes a picture with women from her Bible study. (The Henry family)
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    This Bible is written in Diné Bizaad. (The Henry family)
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    Phinehas Henry learns silversmithing from his Navajo uncle. (The Henry family)
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    Monument Valley is located in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. (AP)
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Even when Daniel (DH) and Emily Henry were young, they wanted to serve in ministry to others. Now DH works with Navajo students at Indian Bible College in Flagstaff, Arizona. Emily is a trained counselor, and she leads Bible studies in the community. DH prays God will raise up Navajo men to be church planters.

Native Americans communicate spiritual truths to each generation through song. So DH encourages Navajo people to write music for the Bible’s psalms in their own language. Meeting physical as well as spiritual needs, the Henrys also started a wood-hauling ministry. Many Navajo need wood to heat their homes and cook.

Tragedy Produces a Heart for Service

God often uses hard circumstances to teach great truths—and to shape people for serving others well. DH was a student in a well-to-do high school when a violent crime occurred on campus. The event shocked his community. He had always lived a life of security with friends who shared his interests. The Lord used the tragedy to show DH that sometimes, our ideas of safety can become an idol. Safety wasn’t a place, like a familiar neighborhood or school. Safety comes from God Himself.

Those who fully trust in God can grow to become willing to take risks to love people. DH realized, “The people that really need to hear the gospel only have a certain amount of time for us to reach them.” He later did mission work in Uganda. While in seminary, he served the Cree tribe in Alberta, Canada.

Emily came to know Jesus at age four. Her parents said, “You’ve just made the most important decision . . . and now you get to go tell everybody about it!”  She grew up to do mission work in Indonesia and later college ministry in the Navajo Nation.

In 2008, DH and Emily met at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. They shared longing to serve a native tribe. They married and later, in 2015, moved to the Navajo Nation.

DH says he saw poverty and injustice in Uganda, but the same brokenness happens in America too. Native Americans have the highest poverty rate of any people group in the United States. Their condition is in great part due to U.S. government policies set in place long ago.

A Human History of Brokenness . . . and Redemption

As the young United States grew, the U.S. government often stripped Native tribes of their lands and resources. From the 1860s to 1978, the government also funded hundreds of Native American boarding schools. Native children were taken from their parents. They were enrolled in “white” culture schools, given Anglo-American names, and were not allowed to speak Native languages.

History tells the story of humanity’s fallenness and cruelty. Leaders like the pharaoh of the Israelites’ exodus in Egypt, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Zedong caused staggering suffering. America too has a history of deeply wounding minorities. But history also tells of redemption in Jesus. He enables us to move into hurting places with repentance and God’s grace.

Despite so many losses, Native Americans are a resilient people. There are over 500 recognized tribes in the United States. Native Americans are known for their ability to live off the land with gratitude and ingenuity. They recognize their spiritual beliefs affect all of life.

When Christians consider the gospel, they frequently think of Jesus removing our guilt. Native tribes often focus more on the power struggle between good and evil. The gospel teaches that Jesus has more power than the evil one. The Henrys say their children learned from Navajo friends how to trust in Jesus for strength and protection.

God gave Native Americans a rich heritage of skills and talent. The Henrys know gifted Native business owners, political leaders, artists, musicians, scholars, and scientists. The Henrys’ oldest son, Phinehas, is learning silversmithing from his Native American uncle, Rick Worker.

In the first five years of ministry among the Navajo, the Henrys focused on learning the language and culture. The Navajo language is Diné Bizaad. It is one of the hardest languages to learn. (Navajo Marines created a code based on their language that no one could break in World War II! They were called Code Talkers.)

When asked what he wants more people to know about Native Americans, DH replies, “They’re still here, and they’re still our neighbors.”

Why? God made every Native American tribe. We have much to learn from Native Americans. The Lord calls out His own from every tribe and nation. (Revelation 5:9)