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COVID-19 shifts, doesn’t stop Navajo Nation mission

OZARK, Mo. (BP) — With the Navajo Nation on strict lockdown due to an extremely high per-capita coronavirus infection rate and resulting cases, Scott Watson, lead pastor of River Bluff Fellowship in Ozark, knew the decision to modify the church’s annual mission trip to Kayenta, Ariz., was the right one.

“We’ve been going there for 13 years and bringing 30-50 people each time we go and we love it,” Watson said. “But we decided to change our plans for two reasons: First, we did not want to go there and increase their anxiety and make a terrible situation even more difficult for them, and second, healthcare on the reservation is limited under normal circumstances so we wouldn’t want to put our people at risk and add to the medical strain.”

Not doing anything this year for their Navajo friends, however, was also not an option. The church’s heart for the Navajo people and the relationships it has cultivated for more than a decade has put River Bluff Fellowship in a unique position to help.

“We know part of the reason the coronavirus hit [Native American populations] so hard is because they have a strong communal culture where multiple families often live together,” Watson said. “Also, we know that about 30 percent of homes there don’t have running water, which is not conducive to prioritizing hand washing.”

Knowing the people and the need, church member Leigh Tedford organized a collection of needed items like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and tissues, which volunteers would deliver to the reservation.

Then God took it from there. Media outlets like the Springfield News-Leader and KOLR10 News heard what the church was planning and became a mouthpiece for the ministry.

“Our original plan was to fill up the church van and send three people to head out on Sunday,” Watson said. “But the Lord had a different plan.” Volunteers ended up driving a box truck full of supplies to the Navajo reservation.

“The Navajo Nation is a very special and unique place and some might go there with their own mission agenda, but we have never done that in the 13 years we’ve been going,” Watson said. “Our ministry approach has always been, ‘Know a name, know a story, know a need,’ so we always come willing to do whatever is truly helpful. This year it’s not staying a week and putting on a Kamp KaBoom Bible school or doing a construction project or helping in the women’s shelter. It’s delivering sanitation supplies. We are honored to meet the need.”

Above all, he said it’s their desire to see God continue to work in the hearts and lives of the Navajo Nation people.

“They have a deep heritage of ancestral religions and connectivity to nature, but we’ve seen a desire from them to search out the truth and an openness to hear the Gospel,” Watson said. “We have a calling to stay connected to that work, and we had the funds set aside for the mission there. The last thing we want to do is save that money. We want to always listen and be open to whatever new ministry opportunity God has for us to do.”

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