Tuning In

Reaching the Navajo Nation During the Pandemic
October 27, 2021

GALLUP, N.M. – Like most of the United States, the Navajo Nation in the Southwest has suffered greatly, even disproportionately, from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Navajo reservation, the largest in North America, occupies portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah in the Four Corners region. In May 2020, the Navajo Nation’s infection rates surpassed that of New York, which had been, until then, the highest in the country. 

Experts say that the pandemic devastation is due in part to underlying health factors and living conditions among the 300,000 tribal members. Under such conditions, there is widespread hopelessness; many people are feeling abandoned, isolated and forgotten. 

The desire to bring hope to the tribe has become a major objective of Seventh-day Adventist churches in the area. Four Adventist congregations meet regularly on the reservation, and nearly a dozen other Adventist churches can be found around the edges of Navajo territory.

In addition to the Texico Conference, the Rocky Mountain Conference, the Nevada-Utah Conference and the Arizona Conference all have territory in the vast reservation. Even though obstacles are many, Adventist members believe they have found a way to reach across this large mission field through radio. However, it will require help from beyond the reservation and a good deal of cooperation among church entities if the dream is to be realized. 

According to Loris Ann Taylor, executive director of Native Public Media, a nonprofit organization that is spearheading a surge in tribal radio stations nationwide, “radio is one of the only ways for American Indians to get information.” She says less than ten percent of families on native reservations have broadband connections, and one-third still don’t have telephones. 

At a time when most of America is inundated with new forms of communication technology, she says Native American reservations represent one segment of the country where a radio is still the most essential medium.

While our churches in the Navajo region hope that one day they will have their own station to broadcast programs of hope and wholeness to the people in their language, last year they launched a pilot project that shows what radio can do. With funds provided by the Pacific Union Evangelism endowment, they embarked on a weekly half-hour program on the largest radio station on the reservation, KTNN, “The Voice of the Navajo Nation.” 

After only 25 hours on air, responses to offers of the Native New Day Bible course neared 200. Dale Wolcott, Arizona Conference Native Ministries director, has been monitoring the correspondence and shared Janice’s story. 

“Like many of our students, Janice lives in a remote rural area of the Navajo Nation,” said Wolcott. “She mailed us a quiz sheet from one of the lessons, and we noticed that she had answered all the questions about the Sabbath correctly.”

Janice was happy to receive a phone call. She said she has often wondered about the Sabbath day and now has a clearer understanding. She loves the Lord and loves the Bible lessons, but she does not have a church to attend. She would especially like to fellowship with Sabbath-keepers. 

“Janice requested to be put on our church list and wants to join church services by teleconferencing. Please pray for Janice and many more like her. We continue to receive Bible study requests after almost every broadcast,” said Wolcott. 

The weekly programming is supervised by Jonathan Chitwood, pastor, and programs are produced in small production studios funded by the Texico, Arizona and Rocky Mountain Conferences, in strategic locations where Navajo members can most conveniently record their inspirational, health and educational messages. 

The Gallup All Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church was chosen as the home for the Texico studio that is funded by the conference. Adventist World Radio also sponsored a fourth studio at Holbrook Indian School, and has pledged to match local fundraising if a church-owned station becomes a reality. In the meantime, the weekly half-hour program serves as a small piece of the Master’s plan. 

By Allen Steele