I had begun this chapter with the intent of describing my first couple of weeks at Passing Sheep Valley. As I started writing, however, it turned into a description of the spiritual battle here on the Reservation. Maybe the reason for this is so that from here on out, I can better examine and describe the things that have happened in both spiritual and physical terms. Honestly, I’m not even sure how well I understand it all.
My uncle picked me up at the airport on Thursday evening. The plan was to stay at his house for the night and then head to Passing Sheep Valley the next day. I had phone numbers and specific instructions on where to pick up my keys.
*Concerning The Mission and Spiritual Warfare*
The Spiritual World is alive and active on the Reservation and churches seem to have a difficult time there. Few churches that experience growth seem to be able to keep that growth. Many close. Some appear and disappear periodically. Many split. Many have become family churches – populated and run by only one family. As I stayed up talking with my uncle, aunt, and cousins, they shared more in depth about their lives and some things they had been struggling with. Unfortunately, a large part of their struggle had to do with a mission in their area.
My grandmother had actually been the first Navajo interpreter at The Mission. When she began her work there, The Mission had belonged to one denomination. For some reason or other, however, that first denomination had turned The Mission over to another denomination. My grandmother had stayed on, which is where she met and married my grandfather, who was one of the first young ministers from the new denomination.
Given this history, my family has always felt tied to this Mission, as though we still have a kind of heritage there. Perhaps that is why the conflicts that now diffuse through it frustrate me so much, especially since they now involve my uncle’s family.
Under the new denomination, The Mission was put under the leadership of a young couple. For some reason or other, there had been early conflict between that couple and my grandparents. Part of the conflict, I am told, concerned practices in reaching out. My grandparents wanted to give whatever The Mission had to the people in the area. The couple in leadership wanted there to be more outlined policies and procedures for the giving – they wanted to be the ones in charge of the giving. Eventually, my grandparents took their children and left.
Years later, the original couple is still there, but the leadership of The Mission has been transferred to their son and his family. Again, their family is butting heads with my family, or maybe all the butting never stopped. The conflict is complicated, but again seems to involve leadership, what is done, and how it is done. What is the balance between respecting and submitting to authority, and letting harmful authority thrive without accountability or question? Why is it that the leader will be more easily believed and assumed innocent, while others are immediately assumed guilty? Why is it that because a person has the position of a Christian Missionary, their actions, motives, and heart are immediately assumed to be pure?
I’m not saying this leadership is evil. I’m not saying all, most, or even many Christian Missionaries are filled with fault. I’m simply trying to make the point that as Christian Missionaries, we are not above the sins that plague everyone else and we deserve to be held to an equal degree of accountability.
If you haven’t caught on, yes, I do still struggle with bitterness against the current leadership at this mission. On some days, I find myself able to forgive and love them. On other days, I find myself struggling to grab hold of that same forgiveness and love.
In addition to the struggles concerning The Mission, my uncle’s family has also been afflicted by opposition of a stranger, darker nature. There is, on the Reservation, among the more traditional Navajo people, a heavy emphasis on contacting the spiritual world.
Unfortunately, these spirits do not include God’s angels. The Navajos believe there are people who, through the work of spirits, can turn themselves into animals. In English, they are called Skinwalkers. For suspected but undefined reasons, my aunt’s family has had more than their share of visits by these creatures. One of the more devastating visits occurred a few weeks before I arrived to stay at my uncles.
Reservation dogs are everywhere. They usually stay in a certain area, and are usually relatively harmless. My uncle had taken to praying every night, not just for his family, but for their sheep and other possessions as well. He remembers that one night, however, he forgot to pray for the sheep. Towards the middle of the night, he and his family were awakened by the dogs barking with a greater than normal fervency. My uncle, aunt, and oldest cousin grabbed their guns and ran outside to see what was going on. Through the darkness, they could see a large pack of dogs surrounding and going wild about the sheep pens. Their own dogs had long since cowered back, not willing to take on such a sizeable number. The three of them ran over and began shooting the dogs. My cousin is convinced that one of them was too large to be a normal dog…
The pack of dogs ended up killing nearly half a dozen sheep (some of the sheep died in the days following). Whether it was the result of a direct spiritual attack, or just some random occurrence, of one thing they were all certain. It was the first time that the neighborhood dogs had grouped up in such a big pack to attack a herd of sheep.
Paranoia? Too much over spiritualization? Mere coincidences? Of one thing I am certain – there is a spiritual battle raging here, and rather than receiving help and encouragement from the church and the mission, my uncles’ family receives condemnation and judgment.
With each passing day, I see more evidence this spiritual battle at Passing Sheep Valley. As many people have reminded me, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”