HOPI RESERVATION, Ariz. (BP) — Amid mesquite trees and towering, sand-colored rocks sits a modest and historic church. True to its name, Keams Canyon Community Church is nestled in the breathtaking Keams Canyon.  

It is the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists’ only church on the Hopi Reservation. And the churches that have decided to link arms with it are more than six hours away on the other side of the state — Yuma.  

First Southern Baptist Church of Wellton is one of the few Arizona Southern Baptist churches to hold VBS locally and then take it on the road to help other churches.   

Wellton caught the attention of Tommy Thomas, a retired North American Mission Board church planting catalyst in northern Arizona. He approached Wellton Pastor Charles Wesner about bringing the mobile VBS to the struggling Keams Canyon Community Church.  

“Keams needs help,” Thomas said. “They need help with VBS, encouragement and property maintenance.” 

The once-thriving Hopi church was now without a pastor, and young families and the small and graying congregation were struggling, he said. 

In 2021, First Southern, Wellton, made a three-year commitment to sponsor and assist the Keams Canyon church however they could.  

In Keams Canyon, the mobile VBS is for both children and adults. The culturally relevant curriculum was written by First Southern’s education director and Biola University graduate, Laura Noel.  

Keams Canyon Church has noted the curriculum has made a tremendous impact on the community and church, but First Southern’s ministry there goes beyond that.  

Keams Canyon’s elderly church body has not been able to keep up with building repairs, so First Southern has invested their labor and thousands of fundraised dollars on maintenance. 

Partnering with other churches in the Yuma Southern Baptist Association, they’ve replaced the asbestos tile with new flooring, restructured stairs, installed new windows and signage, upgraded the front doors, repaired the parking lot walking area, removed a decayed greenhouse, and more. Their hard work is bearing fruit.  

“Three new families visited when they observed the physical changes,” Wesner said.  

Don Vickers, associational mission strategist for Yuma Association, assisted on a mission trip in April.  

“We’ve developed strong friendships with the people,” he said. 

“The gentle and inviting Hopi people sometimes show their gratitude with fresh bread baked over hot rocks,” Wesner added.  

With the end of First Southern’s three-year commitment approaching, Keams church leader Karen Tutsi cried. But Wesner assured her they weren’t going anywhere.  

The Yuma Southern Baptist churches have kept their promise and will continue to support Keams Canyon until the church finds a Hopi pastor who can focus on shepherding this congregation.  

Next Steps  

  • “Family goes beyond individual churches,” Don Vickers said. Pray for the Lord to help members of your church see the needs of congregations beyond your own.  
  • Look for opportunities to support the unmet needs of another Arizona Southern Baptist church. Assist regularly or during one-time events.  
  • Partner with a new church plant or a struggling Southern Baptist church in Arizona. Commit to supporting them for a period and go where the Lord leads you.  

    About the Author

  • Claudia MacDonald