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Mountain Sky congregations reach out to Navajo neighbors

 The Rev. Norman Mark and Rebecca Mark. Courtesy photo.
The Rev. Norman Mark and Rebecca Mark. Courtesy photo.
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The Navajo Nation encompasses 27,000 square miles in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Approximately 174,000 people live on the reservation. By late April, the reservation had the third-highest infection rate per capita in the United States, reporting 1,321 confirmed cases and 45 deaths.

Attempting to reduce the infection rate, the Nation's government imposed travel restrictions, nightly curfews, stay-at-home orders and weekend shutdowns. Many reservation residents experienced difficulty obtaining food, water, cleaning items and infant supplies. United Methodism’s Mountain Sky Annual Conference responded to the humanitarian crisis.

The conference Disaster Relief Committee granted $15,000 to the newly formed Navajo Nation COVID Relief Program, and the Committee on Native American Ministries gave $2,500. United Methodist gifts on the annual Native American Ministries Sunday offering, shared on the Third Sunday of Easter, help support such efforts. Half of the offering is used to develop and strengthen Native American ministries within the annual conference.

The relief project is managed by the conference Native Grace Intertribal Fellowship in Cortez, Colorado, and First United Methodist Church of Cortez, in coordination with the chapter houses and official Navajo Nation representatives.

Watch this video of how the Arapahoe Nation is using its funds:

The target area is southeastern Utah. New Mexico and Desert Southwest conferences are responding in New Mexico and Arizona portions of the Navajo Nation. If resources allow, the effort will expand into northern New Mexico and northern Arizona. Some Native Grace Fellowship members who live in these areas drive four hours round trip to attend worship services.

Pastor Norman Mark, his spouse Rebecca Mark and the Native Grace Leadership Council identify needed items and work with Navajo Nation officials to identify families in need. Boxes of supplies are packed in Cortez, then delivered to homes. Pastor Jean Schwien and the First UMC of Cortez congregation assist with ordering and organizing supplies and fiscal management.

Contribute checks directly to Native Grace Fellowship for COVID-19 response. Send to First UMC of Cortez, Attention: Navajo COVID Relief, P.O. Box 1016, Cortez, CO 81321. Write checks to First UMC of Cortez, with the memo “Navajo COVID Relief.”

– Adapted from “The Navajo Nation COVID-19 relief efforts,” Pastor Jean Schwien, First UMC, Cortez, Colorado. Used by permission.

Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retired from UMCom

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.