Fire Damage, Uncertainty, in Days Following Arson

Fire Damage, Uncertainty, in Days Following Arson
Congregation members in front of damaged, but still standing Naschitti Christian Reformed Church, Aug. 25, 2019.
Videna Slivers

The council of Naschitti (N.M.) Christian Reformed Church met Wednesday evening, Aug. 28, to address some of the concerns the church faces a week after fires on its property destroyed three unoccupied buildings and caused damage to the current church sanctuary.

“One of the main things that the community was worried about was the (safety of the) building,” said elder Jerome Sandoval. If structures need to be taken down or the main building repaired, “Is there a danger of asbestos?”

To date, there are a lot of questions but no solid answers as a criminal investigation continues and plans for how the congregation can move forward have yet to be finalized.

The fires destroyed two former pastors’ residences and the former sanctuary building and caused smoke and fire damage to the current sanctuary. In an Aug. 22 media alert, the FBI referred to the fires as arson and offered a reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.” A local convenience store, the Naschitti Red Mesa Express (formerly known as Naschitti Trading Post), burned a day before the church buildings. That fire is included in the investigations.

The church hosted community update meetings Friday, Aug. 23, and following worship Sunday, Aug. 25. Sandoval said the service went as planned Sunday except the 35-40 attendees met under a canopy of shade tents in the church parking lot. They shared a potluck meal together afterward.

Those gathered also were able to survey the damage together.

“People got a chance to look at the building and see what things looked like, so that kind of helped the congregation a little,” Sandoval said.

He said they discussed four key issues: determining how to get the building inspected for asbestos, securing the area with temporary fencing, addressing the question of where to direct funding, and coming up with longer-term solutions about where to gather for worship.

World Renew, the CRC’s relief and development agency, has helped with the funding question and plans to send staff to New Mexico on Saturday to make further plans. As of Wednesday, the agency had begun a campaign to collect “financial gifts to purchase building materials for reconstruction and (to) support volunteers who help make repairs.”

Sandoval said Classis Red Mesa, the regional group of churches, also was discussing how it could support Naschitti CRC. Expecting to meet Sept. 14, classis has changed its planned location from Naschitti CRC to Bethel CRC in Shiprock, N.M.

Sandoval had shared prayer requests with the classis by email, noting some fears of a “vigilante atmosphere” since there has yet to be an arrest.

The community has become frustrated with the lack of communication, Sandoval told The Banner. “That’s the atmosphere now because information is not coming in. … (Law enforcement) are not telling us anything. I went to the local government, and they said, ‘They don’t tell us anything either.’”

Videna Slivers, who sent The Banner photos of the congregation’s Sunday outdoor worship, wrote that she wanted people to know, “We as a small community, as members and congregants of a church on the Navajo reservation, are RESILIENT, and will not be defeated. The Lord continues to be our leader. Where he leads, we shall follow.”

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