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Personal Story: Daniel in Black Mountain

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After meeting Daniel Smiley, people often comment that he is one of the most down-to-earth pastors they have ever met. He always wears his hair in a knot wrapped in white yarn, a traditional Navajo style, and his singing ability is known throughout the Navajo Reservation. During services on Sunday mornings at Black Mountain Mennonite Church as Pastor Dan speaks in a mix of Navajo and English to the old and the young in his congregation, it is clear that the congregation is more of a family than an assortment of people coming together for a church service.

Growing up, Daniel was raised by his grandfather since his mother was considered evil by most of her family because of her Christian faith. As a young boy, Daniel wanted to train to become a medicine man, but curiosity got the best of him. He began looking into the religion of his outcast mother. By the age of ten he had become a Christian, and within a year he heard Gods voice while walking across a soccer field, calling him to be a preacher. He was eleven when he preached for the first time near Verde Valley, Arizona.

As a teenager, life was difficult. While going to boarding school, he attended a church that taught it was a sin to participate in Navajo culture. He cut the knot from his hair and tried to eliminate the Navajo aspects of his life in order to be a proper Christian.

After school, he studied to be a Protestant preacher. While he was studying, the congregation at Black Mountain Mennonite Church, where both he and his mother were saved, asked him to be their pastor. He accepted, and when he finished studying, he went back to Black Mountain to lead the church. Then, he says, about thirteen years ago, he fell in his life due to sin. His denomination let him go, but he remained at Black Mountain with the congregation of his youth, his family.

About four years ago, Daniel says, he found Jesus instead of man. Before, he was following what famous theologians had said, but he realized that Christianity is about listening to what Jesus says in the Bible and starting there. Daniel regained his identity both in Christ and as a Navajo man and realized that it was acceptable to be Navajo in Jesus eyes. Three years ago he was baptized in the church again.

Now, Daniel is proud to speak Navajo, put his hair in a knot and wear turquoise, and his congregation is as well. For eighteen years, he has been preaching at Black Mountain Mennonite Church. He says he is constantly growing as a Christian and working to humble himself, and he teaches his congregation to, above all, follow Jesus.

MORE INFO | Click to learn more about mission trips to the Navajo Reservation