I recently returned from a weeklong mission experience in Monument Valley, Utah. In addition to working with Navajo people to repair homes on their Reservation, our church group learned about native culture and encountered the startling beauty and deep mysteries of the local landscape. Though the region is mired in a fourteen-year drought, we were continually showered with signs of hope.
Before we reached Monument Valley, we visited Grand Canyon. The sere landscape of the rim and the visible parts of the desert-like interior made me wonder how anything could live there. Then, from certain angles, I caught glimpses of the Colorado River, far below. Sometimes greenish, sometimes reddish brown, sometimes silvery in the reflected sunlight, the Colorado carved out this enormous wonder of nature over millions of years. It provides water to the plants, animals, and humans living on the canyon floor. Seeing the river snake through the Grand Canyon reminded me of two important truths about life: Even something relatively small can make a huge difference, given time and patience. Also, in most dry places (physically, emotionally, or spiritually), we can find refreshment and life if we look from the right angles.
On a rafting excursion through nearby Glen Canyon, the heat started to get to several of us. Just when we were beginning to regret the trip, we pulled our rafts up onto a small beach. Our guides told us we had time for a dip. Despite the intense heat of the canyon, the river was a shocking 46 degrees Fahrenheit! Egging each other on, we jumped into the frigid water in small groups, many holding hands. What started as a simple chance to cool off became a unifying event for our group. I can still hear the peels of laughter and applause echoing off the canyon walls.
Once we began our projects on the Reservation, we were blessed with more unexpected signs of hope. Our group of 46, combined with 150 other travelers from all over the country, was divided up into crews of 6. Despite differences in culture, theology, political opinion, socioeconomic status, age, gender, and more, most crews functioned beautifully together and all projects were completed successfully by the end of the week.
Given the history of the native people in our country and their treatment by European settlers and the US government, it is not surprising that outsiders are often viewed with suspicion on Reservations, especially at the beginning of a visit. Our hosts proved that assumption wrong, at least in Monument Valley, as they welcomed us graciously on the first day and in many instances labored side by side with us all week.
Perhaps the most refreshing gift I received all week was a simple statement. As New Englanders who often rush about and who manipulate the environment to our short term advantage and long term peril, we would do well to receive this piece of wisdom offered to us from one of our Navajo hosts: “Take life one step at a time and move with the waves of the world.”