Susan LaClear felt a strong sense of “coming home” last year when she stepped behind the pulpit of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Farmington, N.M.
Her great-grandfather Rev. Leonard P. Brink planted a preaching station there nearly 100 years earlier as part of his groundbreaking ministry among Navajo people.
The congregation in Farmington, which is still 70 percent Navajo, loves to sing the old hymns of faith and read the Scriptures that Brink helped translate into the Navajo language.
“I had never really envisioned moving to New Mexico,” said LaClear, who previously served as an associate pastor in Michigan. “The church had tried three times to get a Navajo pastor, and each time it fell through. When we came here for an interview, God really confirmed my call, and I felt God’s hand on the entire process.”
LaClear says she’s still on a learning curve and has looked to her great-grandfather’s journals for inspiration and models. She appreciates his passion for bringing the gospel to people in their homes and workplaces, rather than waiting for them to enter a church building. “We already started that this fall, by bringing our outreach activities into the city parks and hanging out with people in their own surroundings,” LaClear said.
Not all missionary practices from the early 1900s would still be applicable in today’s society, LaClear notes. Whereas her great-grandfather’s generation equated becoming Christian with assuming Anglo lifestyles and music, her challenge as pastor is to help Navajo Christians find ways to express their faith while retaining their own identity and culture.
“Developing Navajo leaders is one of my highest priorities,” said LaClear. “I know this was a struggle in the ‘missionary-built’ churches of the past.”
LaClear’s goal for her congregation is that every member will see herself or himself as a missionary, so that the baton her great-grandfather passed down to her will be picked up by an entire team of gospel runners.