The CRC and the Navajo Nation

Welcome to My World

This column is devoted to enjoying some of the rich diversity God has blessed us with in the CRC. This month we’ll meet John Huyser, a college student who grew up in the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Arizona.

BANNER: Tell us about yourself and how you relate to the CRC.

JOHN: I am 20 years old and an English major at Biola University in California. I grew up in Window Rock, Ariz.—the capital of the Navajo Nation. My mom is Navajo and my dad is a Dutchman from Iowa. Throughout my time on the reservation I have been part of Window Rock CRC. Having a multicultural family, I have been able to see two cultural contexts for the CRC: my experience with the church on the reservation and brief glimpses into a few midwestern CRCs.

How are Navajo churches different from those you’ve experienced in the Midwest?

I grew up on the reservation where life is pretty laid back. No one really rushed anywhere except to make the tip-off in basketball. So church was pretty much that way too. Family is a big part of Navajo culture and church, and every family in our church had responsibilities such as cleaning the church, singing special numbers, and hosting an evening service at home. Here’s one example of how Navajo culture views family differently: a lady named Ellouise would introduce me as her “grandson,” and people who didn’t know the Navajo clan system would be surprised and say, “I didn’t know Mary (my mom) was your daughter.”

What could the larger CRC learn from Window Rock CRC?

The larger CRC can learn better collaboration with other believers in the community. In Window Rock there are several different denominations, but for major celebrations we join together. For example, the Easter sunrise service was a joint effort among all the Christian churches in the area. Every other month we had evening church service together, taking turns visiting each other’s churches. 

How has growing up on the reservation affected your view of the church?

When talking about diversity people often say we are all “one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28). Though this is true, it often feels like it is used lazily as a way to ignore learning about another culture. In fact, being “one in Christ” should spur us to the complete opposite. We need to recognize that each different tradition, like that of the Navajo, has a home in Christ’s kingdom. We need to learn about and appreciate each other.

How do young people on the reservation view the church?

I have noticed that one of the church’s main strategies for appealing to contemporary culture is spending money on the latest technology and equipment. This amuses me because this is precisely what many of my peers look down upon. As one of my friends said, “Those church people are helping themselves more than helping others.” I think this is a general feeling among many young Navajos today.

What type of worship style do you enjoy most?

A common assumption is that all young people enjoy contemporary style. Not me. In fact, I didn’t even know any of the praise songs when I arrived at Biola. Give me gospel hymns in English and Navajo that tell rich and complex stories relating to God’s mercies in everyday troubles.

So what do you do for fun?

Aside from reading, my interests include family, sports, and eating mutton.

Nice to meet you, John. Hope the mutton is good at Biola!

About the Author

John Huyser, who grew up in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, is an English major at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. He’s pursuing his interests in literature and writing and is a member of the school’s Torrey Honors Institute.

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I was a good friend of John Huyser at Biola. He was my workout buddy, basketball teammate, conversation partner, and loyal friend. I have lost contact with him since he went into the army, and I am trying to find him. If anyone knows his contact information, please forward this note to him and tell him to email me.

Thanks,
Scott Swingle

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