Now What, North?
We picked Dave up in the parking lot at the Star 88 Radio Station. His morning began on air with an interview about lessons learned through Mars Hill days. The four of us - Dave, Brian, Drew and I - began the three hour westbound drive to meet our neighbors in Zuni Pueblo and the Navajo Nation.
We scheduled a meeting with Pastor Mike Meekhof and Dino Butler, and anticipated the conversation at Zuni’s Chu Chu’s Pizza. Mike has served the Zuni people for over 20 years. Dino focuses on serving Native American youth at Broken Arrow Bible Ranch.
We traveled Interstate 40 west along the same freeway that connects Chicago to LA, passing trains hauling a mile’s worth of cargo. Truck stops. Casinos. Grants. Laguna Pueblo. Acoma Pueblo. Cows. Southwestern color and landscape whose splintered billboards boasted The World Famous Laguna burger, Crab Leg Buffets, McDonalds, pottery, moccasins, turquoise jewelry. The closer we got to Gallup, the kachinas made their presence known.
Gallup is one of those towns where you stop to grab a bag of sunflower seeds, stretch your legs and relieve your bladder. Both Brian and Drew grew up in that town. They told stories of Navajo Skinwalker experiences, a bus driver who was mauled by a pack of wild rez dogs, and the way the weekend boosts Gallup's Wal-Mart to one of the most profitable stores in the nation after the government distributes its checks to the area.
Chu Chu’s Pizza
We drove the hypnotizing, two-lane highway south of the city, toward Zuni Pueblo. A trading post to the left bombarded us with the color of twenty painted kachinas. Brian turned the car around. Drew took pictures of the ancient mediators of the pueblo people.
We were in a different world. Pastor Mike greeted us in the Chu Chu’s Pizza parking lot. The staff offered us a meeting room. Its window looked south toward a bread oven made of mud, and southern cliffs and mesas. A fireplace occupied one corner of the room. A Red Bull cooler in another. A cabinet filled with pottery in another.
We were hungry and the pizza looked delicious. The staff placed drinks, chips and salsa on the table. Dino Butler entered into the meeting room and the conversations began.
Pastor Mike shared a story about the power of Indian sovereignty. In the early 90s, Stealth bombers would fly over Zuni land. The Zuni elders asked that they stop, but the United States government would not listen. Later, a Stealth bomber crashed on the Zuni land. The government raced from Kirkland Air Force Base to the crash site. They demanded that the Zuni officials leave the area. Zuni officials fought against the US Government, citing old documents stating their nation’s sovereignty, and the right of presence. Zuni was correct. Afterward, the people of Zuni said that, “Saddam Hussein could not take down a Stealth, but our Medicine Men could.” Mike let us know that the US designed the Stealth to fragment into tiny square pieces so that the enemy would not know how the plane was made.
Pastor Mike described his interactions with the Zuni people. The Zuni Pueblo Governor feared that the Zuni language and traditions are being lost to younger generations, and he spoke of the swirling, tribal politics. With discretion, he told us stories the emphasized the reality of spiritual warfare, demonic oppression, and possession.
Dino shared many things about his life, and ministry involvement at Broken Arrow Bible Camp. Dino talked about being Navajo, and the way spending time in the midwest made him feel like an outsider to both White culture, and his own. He observed a distinction between Navajo life and Pueblo life. Pueblo Indians have tight community which protects their traditionalism. Navajos have embraced western expansion, but it has caused severe isolation. Dino talked about what discipleship looked like on the Navajo Nation. Minutes before joining us, he discovered that his aunt passed away. He was conflicted about wanting to be with his family and needing to attend a conference in Phoenix that had to do with his support base as a missionary. He needed to head out to meet his family. We laid hands over him to pray for him and his ministry.
After lunch we drove into the center of Zuni Pueblo.
Pastor Mike drove me in his 4-door Toyota Tacoma that he uses for hiking, camping, gathering wood and hunting. We drove through the paved pueblo highway. He waved at a driver in an oncoming vehicle, who reciprocated. The pueblo wave is a subtle yet meaningful act of peace.
A left turn lead us onto a dirt road that allowed us to weave through the pueblo. This wasn't government housing. It was old pueblo. We made a left, right, another left, and found ourselves face to face with an old Catholic Church. Built in 1629, its graveyard was overgrown with weeds. Its stucco mud was swollen and crumbling.
Pastor Mike pointed to the bottom corner of the church and said that when Popé triggered the Pueblo Revolt against the Spaniards, Zuni killed a catholic priest and placed him in the sealed vault beneath. Mike snuck into an opened side door of the church and gave a sneaky signal for us to come inside. Maneuvering through dried rez dog poop, we stuck our heads into the church, illuminated by minimal light. A painted parade of colorful kachinas danced above the brown, dingy, twelve stations of the cross. It was dusty and antiquated. A Zuni lady chased us out, yelling that we needed to pay for the church tour just like the Texan ladies.
We stood on the outside of the church and heard bleating sounds. We realized it was a sheep coming either inside someones house or the plaza. At one point, Mike feared native ceremonies were happening after hearing drum-like sounds echoing through the plaza. It happened to be hiphop bass thumping through the rez.
We got back into the vehicles and drove through the pueblo while on our way to the mission that Mike pastors and oversees. Three natives stood outside a red stone plaza house, they sized us up and then sent a sign of respect with a head nod.
The mission stood adjacent to the dilapidated Catholic Church. It was an adobe style, two story building that functioned as a elementary and middle school. Construction had begun on a massive, framed church/gym add-on, as well. We walked into the school building and moved up to the second floor where classes were in session. An eight-year-old boy walked through the hall, looked at Drew’s Golden State Warriors hat and said, “Hey, I go for that team too.” We passed more classrooms and girl sleeping on a hall bench as we walked into their worship center. Pastor Mike told us that they started throwing away their old church chairs. In the process, a kind person informed him that they were Herman Miller chairs from the 1970’s. A couple came and paid for them.
Four native elementary girls smiled and laughed and choreographed a hiphop dance on the playground below.
We walked downstairs and outside to view the construction of the new gym, housing area, and worship center. In the future, at full potential, it could hold a congregation of 600 people.
Pastor Mike voiced his needs for prayer, and his thanks for provision. He is in desperate need of leaders from within Zuni. He is looking for somebody else to carry the torch of the gospel as he considers his waning years. He thanked God for the financing provided for the construction project.
We walked out of the mission. One of the the only two white, non-native students smiled and waved good-bye to us as A rez-dog puppy ran around Brian’s car.
The Navajo Nation
We drove out of Zuni Pueblo, started heading west, crossed into Arizona. We hit 1-40 and passed a couple of trading posts. Chee’s and Ortega’s. Brian’s In-laws own Chee’s. No fry bread or navajo tacos for us though, we wanted to get to the capital of the Navajo Nation which is in Window Rock, Arizona.
We exited 1-40 and turned onto a highway known for Skinwalker sightings. Tradition has it that whistling invites their presence. Brian and Drew shared their own Skinwalker experiences. We whistled with hesitation, looking to the rocky cliffs should we see one of these spiritual entities.
On this highway we passed many hogans.
At one point, we passed a dead cow, frozen in ice, on the side of the road. Brian turned the car around so that we could capture some Instagram gold. Whatever car hit the creature left its red paint chips and an empty 40oz bottle of Schlitz Bull Ice Malt liquor around the horned cow.
We took our pictures. Dave stayed in the car.
Ten minutes later, we were in Window Rock, Arizona. This place is the Washington D.C. of the Navajo Nation. The government buildings were surround by towering cliffs and rocks. To the north: the Window Rock, and below the rock, a statue of a Code Talker.
It was an uneventful moment.
As we left Window Rock, we passed many restaurants that had the word Diné. I was sure the word meant something like food, or restaurant. I was wrong. The word diné, means, “The People”, or “The People of the holy ones.” The word Navajo, was the Spanish name given to the Diné which means, “thieves.”
We circled onto Highway 666. Navajos or Diné use this highway to hitchhike back and forth between Gallup and Window Rock. Many have died on this road. At one point, they even changed the name of highway 666 for superstitious reasons.
We filled the gas tank while we filled ourselves with Allsup's beef and bean burritos (and extra hot sauce), and prepared for home.
As we approached Albuquerque we talked about food that we ate as kids, raised on fried cheese until it became a Cheez-It. Government issued powdered milk. Creamed tuna over white bread. Bologna mashed potato cups topped with cheese. Drew said he would get so hungry as a chubby little Gallup boy that evenings left him feeling as if he were going to die. He was not allowed to go to the refrigerator because he was supposed to be in bed. One night, while dying of hunger, he saw a Wendy’s commercial. As the slo-motion shot of chicken nuggets moved across the screen, he cried.
A soul can feel drained and strange after six hours car-bound and 500 miles across the southwest, in a strange land. Maybe this trip was too close to home for a few of us. It could have been the spiritual component that weighed on the soul. Or a people’s desperate need for the gospel. Or the reality of demonic oppression, isolation, depression, drunkenness, passivity, contentment. Or the power of Jesus' name.
All while starring out of a window into a vast wide terrain.
Today, we find ourselves left with an overwhelming sense of the "now what?" Can North Church be a part of Zuni’s story? Can North Church be a part of the Navajo Nation’s story? Where do we go from here? When will be drive out there again? Who has a heart to preach and proclaim the gospel through New Mexico? Who desires to make disciples of both neighbors and nations?