Step into a region where Christians are often disdained for their faith but where churches across the Navajo Reservation are striving to honor God in the midst of poverty, addiction, and other challenges. Your team will have a truly unique, cross-cultural experience as you spend time on “The Rez” and listen to stories from The Navajo who continue to live on the land of their ancestors, proudly maintaining their native language and traditions.
Serve families in remote desert communities through Kids Club, home repair projects, or church outreach programs. As your team enjoys the beautiful desert landscape, you’ll work hard but also have time to slow down, sit around the fire, and build relationships on this Native American mission trip. Will you boldly go to little-known corners of the desert to share the love of Jesus?
The Navajo people (also known as Diné) occupy the largest Native American reservation in the United States. The land area is approximately the size of West Virginia, and nearly 300,000 Navajo are living throughout the United States and of these 58% live within the boundaries of the reservation. The Navajo retain a unique identity and language and comprise one of the most distinct subcultures within the United States.
The Navajo Nation has its own government that exists as an entity under the US government. The Reservation is divided into 110 chapters of which each has a governing council. Consisting of an executive, legislative, and judicial branch, the seat of Navajo government is in Window Rock, and there the Navajo council convenes with 88 members representing the 110 chapters. The Nation has its own laws, and there is a tribal police department. The Navajo government owns the entirety of Reservation lands, and residents lease the parcels for various uses such as home site lease and church site lease.
The Navajo Reservation is set in the desert of Northeastern Arizona and Northwestern New Mexico and stretches into the southern section of Utah. The area is classified as high desert and typically ranges from around 5000-7000 feet in elevation. This makes for a harsh climate plagued with scorching heat in the summer and cold temperatures with snow and ice in the winter. It is very dry and in most places wide open, so severe dust storms can develop. Most of the land consists of desert plains, but there are sections of canyons, hills, and mountains. There are many natural and historic attractions such as canyons and ancient ruins throughout the reservation. These ruins can be found in such places as Navajo Monument, Chaco Canyon, and Canyon de Chelly. Other tourist attractions include Four Corners Monument, the BistÃ Badlands, and Monument Valley.
The Navajo dwell in isolated houses or small compounds all over the Reservation. Many families continue to herd sheep and farm, but it is also common for Navajo to work skilled trades or commute into the cities. Modern amenities have not reached every area, and there are still high percentages of Navajo living without electricity or running water. While most Navajo live in contemporary homes, there are still some who live in traditional hogans, and in Canyon de Chelly there are households living much as they have for hundreds of years. A growing number of the people have mobile phones and internet connections, but cell service can be spotty and land lines are rare.
Because a lack of economic development, unemployment among that Navajo is very high. Further, alcoholism and drugs are severe issues. Many of the older people do not speak English, and their children are often unemployed or have moved away, so there is a great need to care for the elderly. For some it is a struggle to keep adequate food and nutrition, and proper home maintenance is at times unattainable. Often Navajo live in trailers that were poorly constructed and have been used far beyond their adequate functionality. Many houses and trailers are structurally unstable or leaking, creating a need for improved living conditions.
The Navajo language is considered to be a part of the Athabascan language family which is spoken by various tribes from the Southwest all the way up to Alaska. This language group has been traced back to its roots in Asian languages. Navajo is a very difficult language for English speaking people to learn. It is tonal in nature, and many modern words to not have exact translations or have developed in a descriptive manner. For instance, the Navajo word for "airplane" simply means "car that flies." The language was not written down until recent times, but it now has been put into written form, and there is a Navajo translation of the Bible. There are, however, very few people who are able to read Navajo because often those who speak exclusively Navajo are older and never learned to read, and the younger Navajo read English. The Navajo language is famous because it was used for codes in World War II. The Navajo who administered the codes are known as "the code talkers." This is the only code used in World War II that was not deciphered by the Japanese.
Traditional Navajo Religion is still the most common belief system on the Reservation. Like most indigenous cultures, the Navajo are very spiritual and do not draw a sharp distinction between daily life and religion. The Navajo have a mythological structure that is used to explain elements of the world, and their community leaders are medicine men who actively engage in the spirit world. The Navajo believe in a multiplicity of gods, and they believe that these spirits are active in the world. It is common for Navajo to assume that physical ailments are a result of spiritual torment. The traditional Navajo lifestyle is full of ceremonial significance. There are also many churches and Christians throughout the Reservation, but they are commonly disregarded or disdained by those who adhere to traditional religion, for the infiltration of the "white man's religion" is viewed as destructive to their native culture.
It is believed that the Navajo's ancestors originally came from Asia and crossed the Bering Straight into Alaska and moved down from there to the Southwest several hundred years ago. The Navajo traditionally lived in houses called hogans, which were made out of mud and sticks, and these rounded structures are of immense ceremonial significance to their tribe. Originally, hunting was an integral means of subsistence, and gradually herding and farming became more primary. By the nineteenth century, sheep herding was a core aspect of Navajo life, and it continues to this day.
During the civil war, tensions between the Navajo and area settlers began to grow, and US Military Colonel Kit Carson was recruited to bring an end to the Navajo crisis. What ensued was one of the darkest chapters of Navajo history. Carson began a mission to capture as many Navajo prisoners as possible, but the first few months proved largely unsuccessful. This all changed when he realized that many of the Navajo were dwelling in the Canyon de Chelly. He began looting villages, stealing livestock, destroying water sources, and taking prisoners when possible. This campaign lasted 16 days, and upon its completion he camped at Chinle and waited in hopes that the Navajo would surrender.
It soon became apparent to most of the Navajo that they had little chance of surviving the winter, and they began to admit defeat. Many walked to Fort Defiance and Fort Wingate and turned themselves in where they found that the soldiers treated them well and provided blankets and food. Word began to spread and more and more Navajo came to the forts to surrender. By the spring of 1864, there were so many Navajo that supplies began to dwindle and accommodations became limited, so they were prompted to make the long trek to the Bosque Redondo Reservation at Fort Sumner to settle there. They were promised more provisions when they arrived, and these reports were substantiated by a small minority of Navajo who had already surrendered and returned from Bosque Redondo to encourage them to cooperate.
The trip turned into a disaster. It is estimated that around 8,000 Navajo made this journey which has since been known as the Long Walk. While there were some wagons, there were not enough, and most people were forced to walk and snow and cold made it extremely difficult. Further, the Navajo became sick from the food that was provided, and many who fell behind from sickness or fatigue were left to die. There were thousands of deaths. When the Navajo finally arrived to Fort Sumner, they encountered some of the same problems as they had at Fort Defiance, and they found themselves far from their home and among strangers.
Eventually, Chiefs Barboncito and Manuelito, two of the more prominent Chiefs from those remaining in their homeland, made the long dangerous excursion to Fort Sumner and negotiated the freedom of the captured Navajo through the Treaty of 1868. With the signing of this treaty, the current Navajo Reservation was formed in sections of present day Arizona and New Mexico, and it has since been enlarged to include a portion of Utah.
When the Navajo returned to their native land, they made great economic strides enjoying a time of prosperity in the 1880's and 90's that they had not experienced before and no longer enjoy today. It is believed that the Navajo tribe doubled in population from 1868-1892.
While herding and farming continues to be a component of the economy, during the 20th century many Navajo travel to the cities to work and each member of the tribe receives financial aid from the federal government. Both coal and uranium were found, and the mining of these resources became a component of the economy. Handmade crafts such as rug weaving, pottery, and jewelry were historically a part of the lifestyle and with the rise of tourism this has become a significant portion of the livelihood for many Navajo families. Today, any visitor to the Navajo Reservation is sure to have ample opportunity for quality souvenirs.
The Navajo Tribe has gradually become more modernized, but they retain a cultural identity. Most Navajo still speak their native language and adhere to the traditional tribal belief systems. For a time, many Navajo children were forced to go to school off the reservation and were punished for speaking Navajo, so they began to lose their cultural heritage. In recent years, however, that trend has ceased and Navajo children are taught to appreciate their ancestry. Still, young Navajo are becoming more and more assimilated into American culture.
You will be sleeping at a local church on the Navajo Reservation in a remote desert region of Arizona, and you will be working in the surrounding area. Because the Navajo people are spread out over a large space, you should expect to drive as much as 30-45 minutes to your worksites. We think you'll enjoy the beautiful desert scenery that surrounds you whether driving, working, or simply enjoying time at church.
By serving on the Navajo Reservation, you can genuinely impact the lives of others. You have the unique opportunity to live and work among the Navajo. You will partner with the local churches and practically serve the people around you by meeting real needs in tangible ways. If you come with a genuine heart to connect with people, you will build meaningful relationships and encourage those around you as you become a picture of God's love.
Your team will participate in practical work projects in support of the local church that is hosting your team. This primarily consists of construction-related projects such as tiling, dry-walling, roofing, framing, cement work, and various kinds of repairs/remodeling. Depending on the needs of a given week, our teams focus on helping local families in need and/or the local church. Specific construction skills are helpful but not required. We simply ask that you come with a willing heart that is prepared to work to the best of your ability.
Due to the unique nature of this community, the opportunity for relational ministry may take place directly at your team's worksite as you come alongside and encourage those you have come to serve. There may be additional opportunities to serve in various types of people ministry if the need arises. These types of ministry could include things like visiting the elderly, gardening, cleaning etc.
In this community, your team will have the option to invest in the local children through leading a 2-4-day Kids Club. *Kids Club is a popular activity with teams. In light of this, we will assign the leadership of Kids Club to registered teams on a first come first serve basis.
Kids Club normally last between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours and will take place either during the late morning or early afternoon depending on the needs of the community. We typically have between 6-20 children attend and need a maximum of 5-7 people to lead Kids Club each day. If your team chooses to participate in Kids Club, Experience Mission will provide the curriculum for your teams use. This Kids Club curriculum will be sent out to Team Leaders in the spring via email.
Teams will be responsible for bringing the craft supplies needed for their specific crafts and should budget appropriately. While we do our best to make sure the craft materials are cost-effective, teams may feel free to augment any materials to make them more suitable for their budget. Experience Mission will supply scissors, staplers, paper hole punches and rulers. There are plenty of opportunities to connect with the local children through games like soccer or Frisbee. Tuck in a hackysack, football or jump rope as they are sure to come in handy.
*Due to varying school schedules, Kids Club is not offered during our off-season months of September - May.*Experience Mission works closely with local leaders to identify work projects and ministry opportunities that address authentic needs within the community. We ask that you come with a servant's heart and willingness to adapt to the unique qualities represented in each location. Opportunities can vary significantly from one week to the next. Your team may work at one location or serve at multiple locations each day. Due to the changing needs of our community partners, we cannot confirm your specific activities until your team arrives.
Each morning, there is time set aside for devotions and quiet time. Experience Mission has devotionals/journals that are available for purchase or teams can supply their own. This is a valuable time and we strongly encourage everyone to spend it with God journaling their thoughts and experiences as the days unfold.
Our staff will lead a time of debriefing and a short devotional in the evening (what we call "Evening Gathering") and it is always a great addition to have musical worship. Our programming does not include musical worship as we can't guarantee that our our staff will have this ability. Please let us know if you have anyone who sings or plays guitar on your trip so that we can help to coordinate the musical aspect of worship when able. If teams aren't able to help in the area of music, it may not be a part of the trip.
Due to staffing limitations, Evening Gathering will not be offered during our off-season months of September - May. You are free to lead your team in a time of worship and devotions of your choosing in place of Evening Gathering.AVERAGE DAILY SCHEDULE
Due to staffing limitations and varying school schedules in our community locations, Kids Club and Evening Gathering are not offered during spring break trips. Teams should plan to prepare their own worship & devotional materials for trips from February-May.
You will be staying at a local church in Arizona. Your team will be sleeping on hard floors, so mats/air mattresses are essential. Bring your own bedding. It can be cool at night, so a warm sleeping bag is recommended.
There will be no showers at the church. You will be using rustic, outdoor shower stalls. During spring trips it may be too cold to shower, so wet wipes are recommended.
The only toilets available will be outhouses.
There is no running water; however fresh drinking water will be made available in coolers.
There will be electricity at the church.
Experience Mission staff will prepare your meals each day. The menu includes an ample selection of tasty food! Team members should plan to bring their own plate, bowl, cup and silverware for meals.
Your teams transportation to, from and while in the Navajo Reservation is not covered. You will need your vehicles throughout the entire week to transport your team to various locations for work and ministry.For teams traveling to our Western Navajo communities it is important to note that while The Navajo Nation DOES observe Daylight Savings time, the state of Arizona DOES NOT. During the months when Daylight Savings time is observed there is a 1 hour time difference between the Navajo Nation and the state of Arizona.
*Teams arriving from Phoenix or Flagstaff should expect to lose an hour during travel to Black Mesa.
Using a school bus as your main mode of transportation while in this community is not an option. Our work on the Navajo Reservation can only accommodate standard 15 passenger vans or smaller.
If you're interested in bringing your group on a mission trip, fill out this quick interest form! Our staff will be in touch with you shortly to help answer your questions. Also, many questions about trips to this community are answered under Mission Trip Details & Logistics above.
Experience Mission has specific policies regarding registration and withdrawal. Please refer to the document below for specifics.
All volunteers on a week-long EM mission trip must be part of a team of at least six (6) people, with at least one team member age 21 or older to serve as the Team Leader. Not part of a group? All young adults ages 18-30 are eligible to apply for EM’s IMMERSION program.
EM's Health & Safety plan provides the following:
Staff certification: All Summer Staff are certified in First Aid and CPR.
Medical kits: Medical kits that include first-aid supplies for general accidents and ailments are provided for each site. In international locations, we will also carry a Trauma Kit or First Responder Kit. In these remote locations we will have medications like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl and Imodium on hand. We make these available to adult team leaders for their sole discretionary use with their team members. EM Staff will not dispense any medications. In our domestic and international locations, we ask that teams supply their own medications like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl and Imodium as they deem necessary.
Emergency response plan: Based on the severity of each emergency, EM has a plan for appropriate response.
- If a team member becomes seriously ill, they will be taken to a local doctor to receive appropriate medical attention and medications. If they are a minor, their Team Leader along with our staff will accompany them to the clinic. If needed, their parents will be contacted. Their recovery will be carefully monitored by our staff.
- If there is an accident that requires a doctor, but is not life threatening and does not have the potential to cause permanent damage, Experience Mission staff will locate the Team Leader, contact parents or guardians (providing the injured is a minor) and provide safe but quick transportation to a local clinic.
- In the event that an accident occurs which is life threatening or has the potential for permanent damage, emergency medical care will be secured and arraignments will be made if necessary, to transport the injured person to the United States as quickly as possible providing they are serving in one of our International locations. In our domestic locations, local 911 services will be contacted immediately. The family will be contacted immediately to assist in guidance for appropriate response.
All medical care is the sole responsibility of the team member. Experience Mission requires every team member to be covered by domestic medical insurance and recommends that team members traveling abroad carry additional international travel insurance to cover any medical needs their domestic medical insurance may not cover.
Mission Trips involve many details, and we know you probably have a few questions about EM mission trips.
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You must have a group size of at least 6 members to join this trip. Please view the Small Team trips or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.
For most trips, you must have a group size of at least 6 members. Please view the Small Teams tab on each Community page or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.