Earlier this summer I asked Chuck and Cindy Harper to tell us a bit more about their ministry among the Navajo people, Across Nations. Chuck and Cindy are long-time friends of DSC (they’ve been around much longer than my family and me!) and trusted partners. Here’s the interview.
Christoph: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and how did you get there?
Chuck: We have been supported by Desert Springs Church (Riverview Fellowship) since Pastor Paul Kemp and others in the church became special friends in the early 1990’s. We have been missionaries to Native American people since 1990 and have served in youth ministry and radio broadcasting during the 90’s with Western Indian Ministries.
In 1999, we moved to Albuquerque and became active members of DSC. The church remained a tremendous support and encouragement as we served and began a new ministry, Christ for Native Youth, to work strategically to develop youth outreach among many tribes. In 2013, we returned to Western Indian Ministries in Window Rock AZ, where I became the executive director of what is now Across Nations.
Cindy and I met during a short-term mission project. I had been working with a ministry in Alaska and returned to the mission in Window Rock, where my parents were missionaries. Cindy was on staff with Youth for Christ in the New Jersey area and brought a team of high school students to serve with the mission—specifically with Good News Mission Church. That mission experience began the Chuck and Cindy adventure.
Today, Cindy oversees the human resources, visiting (Encounter) teams and counsels women. I am the executive director and oversee each of the various mission departments: broadcasting/media, Hilltop Christian School, Community Outreach, Business as Mission, Church Development, and Christ for Native Youth.
Christoph: How are you doing? How can we pray for you specifically?
Chuck: Our cup is running over! Sometimes it’s overflowing tears of excitement and sometimes tears of grief and spiritual setbacks. We often feel the closer we get to spiritual breakthroughs, the greater the peaks and valleys. This year has been no exception.
It’s been about a year and a half since COVID became a household word and changed our ministry. We’ve lost many dear friends, pastors and people who we wish knew Jesus as Lord. In spite of it all, we’ve seen unparalleled ministry opportunities explode through food distribution, radio, and prayer. We must thank Desert Springs for the wood ministry and helping us collect and distribute food boxes to thousands of people. Every box of food had a Gospel message and Bible. Jesus was introduced to people who may never have come into a church. Pastors in our network from around the reservation brought the food boxes to people in their community who were hungry and sick.
We got used to COVID fatigue, making plans, cancelling plans, changing plans and, adapting plans. And most recently we got to know COVID-19 face to face, along with a number of our staff and friends. Please pray for a safe and full recovery. What a joy to know that in a world of rapid change, our mission is to “viralize” the life changing message of the Gospel.
Please pray with us that, as we move forward, we will be part of God mobilizing the Native Indigenous Church—to ignite what we believe will be one of most successful missionary movements in Church History. It seems clear to us that we must prepare more urgently than ever for the challenges that are coming. We have God-sent vision and plans underway to advance a disciple making movement ACROSS NATIONS!
It would appear that we are moving toward a time when the church—and ministries like ours—will face challenges to our faith and biblical values, where being followers of Jesus will come at a higher cost than we’ve become accustomed to. But at the same time we are sensing new hunger for truth and community that opens doors for the advancing of the Gospel, and the love of Jesus.
Christoph: What are 2 or 3 things that differentiate Navajo culture from the general US?
Chuck: We serve alongside our Native brothers and sisters. They would see many things that are different to the “immigrant” culture.
- A difference in perspective. Pre-modern to post modern. How one looks at God, spirituality, poverty, family relations, clans, etc.
- A difference in values. Education, money, time, respecting relationships.
- A common attitude (especially from non-believers) is one of entitlement, mistrust of the dominant culture, caution.
- Religion: most people see Christianity as the “white mans way.” It has been the cause of the breakdown in culture, society, and demise of the “beauty way.” Others look at Christians as being confused, and “they don’t even know what they believe-look at all the denominations and they don’t like each other. (Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, etc)
Christoph: Help us understand the Navajo people. In general, what do they care about? What do they want out of life?
Chuck: Native America (in general) (these are answers we hear):
- Need identity: Native America is crossing from pre-modern to postmodern.
- Long for restoration and dignity: Years of atrocities, genocide, and abuse has left an indelible impression of mistrust and addictive behaviors and entitlement.
- Need hope
- Job opportunities
Christoph: Humanly speaking, what are the major hurdles to someone in Navajo country becoming a Christian?
- Other Christians
- Historical abuse
- Relevant church and believers who share Christ’s love without attaching baggage
- Thinking it’s a white man’s God/ religion
Christoph: What do Navajo Christians care about? What’s on their minds as Christians?
- Family healing and restoration
- Where’s my next meal
- Language preservation
- Authentic discipleship
Christoph: What are your goals at Across Nations?
- Respond and connect with the people and their needs
- Serve and nurture the church
- Build a Christ centered community
- Mobilize the next generation
- Help people overcome dependency
- Bible in mother tongue
- Launch a movement of disciple making
Christoph: What are the greatest needs you see in the church there?
- Bible Teaching
- Management skills (financial, ecclesiology)
- Elders and trained pastors to lead churches
We want to be wise, adapt, and remain effective in the rapidly changing times.
It’s been over 115 years since our founder came to the Navajo Nation. It’s been over 83 years since our campus in Tse Bonito began making disciples and seeking to be relevant among the people God has called us to. We are not going to walk away now.
Christoph: What’s your vision for the future?
Chuck: We are considering some new initiatives to help us accomplish our mission in innovative ways. What might this look like?
Imagine a place—quality, beauty, honor, vision—where the community wants to be. Imagine, perhaps a row of small retail shops, a coffee shop—owned by Navajo Christian businesspeople. Imagine “outdoor” developed space for farmers markets/art shows, etc. Imagine a place where young adults are learning a good work ethic and dignity as they learn much needed life and work skills. Imagine a conference and meeting space we could rent for special events (and for Hilltop School) and other special functions! The income produced here goes back into helping these young adults better themselves, it will meet the needs of families, which goes back into the local church, which helps the church be on mission. It’s a place where disciple making would thrive. The process would be transformational.
What are we concerned about?
We need to become more sustainable as a mission. For as long as I’ve known anything about the mission (and that’s all my life), we have had significant struggles getting the needed resources and finances to say we are vision driven and fully funded. I agree that the current “faith support” model is biblical, but could there be more to it?
The Navajo Nation and the churches, it seems, are plagued with very high unemployment. People need to work. For one reason or another (many of which could be and maybe should be explored), poverty (at least with modern society’s definition) abounds. Scripture is full of teachings about the theology of work. No question, it is a biblical concept to provide for one’s family, to give, etc. When one doesn’t have income, when jobs are scarce, one’s world view is out of balance. Without jobs and wealth creating opportunities—“idle hands become the devil’s workshop”—we get addictive behaviors, entitlement, and underdevelopment. Work restores dignity.
We lose our best entrepreneurs to jobs away from home. I’m sure you know better than I that many of our best entrepreneurs leave home to work elsewhere. The poverty cycles continue. Without the forward-thinking people and “vision drivers” in our society and within the family, the Navajo Nation, the Navajo church suffers. This would be a huge boost to the Navajo church as vision for local business grows.
Special talents, skills, and natural abilities are underdeveloped and not utilized. The Navajo people are very gifted and highly skilled and poised to make a difference in many unique ways. But due to the lack of economic development, vision drivers, and the baggage historical and political disenfranchisement people are held back from developing their full potential.
There is a lack wealth driven enterprise and development. Most of the jobs available don’t create any income or exportable product.
Here is the BIG question. What role does the Christian faith based community, and most specifically Across Nations, have in the economic well-being of the Navajo Nation? Let me introduce the idea of Business as Mission, or what we might call Marketplace ministry. This is not a new idea, but one that we believe has a lot of potential, and an idea we already see DSC doing. There is a huge opportunity before us to leverage that God-given power of business to address some of the most pressing spiritual, social, environmental, and economic issues facing the Navajo Nation today. Business as Mission is demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is like in the context of business by engaging with the world’s more pressing social, economic, cultural, environmental and spiritual issues.
Business as Mission is:
- Profitable and sustainable businesses
- Intentional about Kingdom of God purpose and impact on people and nations
- Focused on holistic transformation and the multiple bottom lines of economic, social, environmental and spiritual outcomes
- Concerned about the world’s poorest and least evangelized peoples
- Intentional and integrated
Business as Mission is not a new idea! Business and mission have been combined in different ways and at different times throughout Church history. However, the contemporary Business as Mission movement represents a growing intentionality in the global Church to fully integrate business goals with the call to the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. It is an answer to the prayer, “May Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, as people and communities are positively transformed through for-profit business activities. Business as Mission is the intentional integration of business and mission.
Through business we can intentionally tackle poverty, increase quality of life, bring positive social change, and carry with us the call to make disciple makers—ACROSS NATIONS!
Christoph: Thanks Chuck!