Hope for the Future: Reaching the Navajo Nation for Jesus

April 11, 2023

I will never forget their words, “We want to reach our Nation for Jesus.” I came to tell them about God’s miracles around the world. I came to their church to inspire them with how God was growing the church in foreign lands through the broadcasts of Adventist World Radio (AWR). I shared pictures of hundreds of people being baptized in Zambia. I told of changed lives in the Philippines, of whole churches that changed from Sunday to Saturday worship services because they accepted the Adventist message.

The leaders insisted on a follow-up meeting after church with an urgent request: “We want to reach our Nation for Jesus.” It was not only a humble ask, it was a bold challenge. These Navajo elders were speaking with heavy hearts. They well knew the challenging conditions their communities, their people, were experiencing because they didn’t know the power of God’s love in their hearts. Aside from poverty, disease and family dysfunction, they knew many of their people also lacked hope for the future.

As I saw and heard the sincerity of their request, there was only one response I could give, “Let’s see what God will do for you.” That was the beginning of my incredible three-year journey with wonderful Navajo people of the American Southwest.

In just over a hundred years since the first Navajo tribal member became a Seventh-day Adventist, the Church has attempted to grow in the Navajo Nation with some success: we now have three small churches inside the reservation and a half-dozen on the huge reservation’s perimeters. Three Adventist schools now operate on the elementary and secondary levels. 

My new Navajo brothers and sisters sensed that more needed to be done. “If we could have a radio station to reach all of the Navajo Nation, we know our Adventist community would grow tremendously,” they urged. “This is the largest reservation in the country—it’s the size of the state of West Virginia and larger than many other states,” they added. “Our people are radio-oriented; we all listen to radio.”

Quickly my thoughts turned to the possibilities. Radio could be the way to accomplish what the church needs to do to grow in the Navajo Nation; a way to combine efforts and strategically target this great community made up of many small communities. As AWR has proven, radio is the best way to create church communities among many cultures around the world, so why couldn’t it happen here? Do I have enough faith to believe it could be done?

That’s how it started. Since then, God has been opening doors that we needed to walk through.

When AWR leaders heard of this possibility of evangelizing North America’s largest mission field, financial help was offered. When pastors at our Navajo churches considered the impact that radio could have in their land of labor, they suggested we start by buying a half hour per week on the main Navajo station, KTNN, “The Voice of the Navajo Nation.” The pastors asked the Pacific Union Conference for funds, and enough money was provided to purchase airtime and install a production studio in Window Rock, Arizona, the seat of government and capital of the Navajo Nation. Soon two more production studios were installed at La Vida Mission near Farmington, New Mexico, in the Rocky Mountain Conference and at the Gallup All Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gallup, New Mexico, in the Texico Conference.

Church members, mainly in the four conferences that have parts of the reservation in their territory, began sending donations to support the project. At the 2022 Native American Camp Meeting, attendees raised $40,000 for the project. AWR presented three training sessions for tribal members, and the last session graduated 17 radio evangelists who already are gaining practice preparing half-hour weekly programs in English and Navajo. Then the Federal Communication Commission granted construction permits for three radio stations. In short, the miracles have happened so fast it is breathtaking to witness it. 

The vision cast years ago by those elders at Window Rock has turned into an avalanche of blessings. But most of all, people from around the Navajo Nation and the surrounding diaspora are already being reached for the Lord. In the first 70 hours on the air at KTNN, 300 people responded to offers of Adventist literature, Bible studies, family prayer requests and even requests for baptism into the Seventh-day Adventist community of believers.

Early on in this journey of faith, the elders decided to call their future radio network the “Diné Adventist Radio Network.” In their language the word “Diné” means “the People.” Soon, with God’s help, thousands more Navajos will be listening to “The People’s Adventist Radio Network,” on a daily, 24-hour basis. God’s Word will reach dozens of communities in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and beyond. The elders believe many Adventist communities will be the result. They say God’s miracles have only begun!

By Allen Steele. Steele launched the first AWR broadcasts to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa from Lisbon, Portugal, in 1971, and is the AWR Ambassador in the Texico Conference and consultant for the Navajo Radio. Bud and Norma Heacock are some of the many volunteers who produce English and Navajo radio content. Reyes Brown serves as a technician and records and edits the program.