WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA
The Navajo Nation is a territory defined by its vast landscapes and enchanting natural beauty.
Stretching across 27,000 square miles in sections of three states (Utah, Arizona and New Mexico), it is home to some 300,000 Navajos and Hopis.
It is also a place of rich Latter-day Saints history and activity. Two stakes (the Chinle Arizona Stake and the Tuba City Arizona Stake) and several other units from surrounding stakes operate within the Navajo Nation. Dozens of missionaries from the New Mexico Farmington Mission serve in its many wards and branches.
Many of the members are renowned for their dedication and devotion, said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “They are the children of Lehi and they readily embrace the Savior and the teachings of the Book of Mormon.”
Elder Andersen — along with Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk and Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy — recently traveled to the Navajo Nation to meet with members and tribal leadership. The Brethren’s visit was marked by warmth and a spirit of cooperation. They returned to Church headquarters with a deeper appreciation for the Navajo nation, its people and its potential.
“We were there to listen and to learn ... and to see what more we could be doing,” said Elder Echo Hawk.
The visiting Brethren met with Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez.
“I was impressed with the spirituality of President Begaye,” said Elder Andersen. “He spoke of the divine hand of God in his life. He believes he is being directed to do good.”
President Begaye and Vice President Nez, he added, “have humble spirits.” They are dedicated to helping their people “become what they can become.”
The Navajo Nation leadership shared with the Brethren desires to improve housing and other economic opportunities for the elderly and military veterans. They also discussed efforts to enhance the local job and educational opportunities.
“We told them we wanted to be a part of that,” Elder Andersen reported.
Elder Foster said he appreciated the dedication of the president and vice president. “We were very impressed with their vision to help the Navajo people rise to new levels.”
Latter-day Saints enjoy a voice in government affairs. Dwight Witherspoon, who presides over the local Pinon Branch, is an elected delegate in the Navajo Nation Council
Elder Echo Hawk, meanwhile, is no stranger to the Navajo Nation. A member of the Pawnee Nation, he was serving as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, when he was called to the Seventy in 2012. His professional duties frequently took him to the Navajo Nation.
“The people have a love and a connection to Elder Echo Hawk,” said Elder Foster.
The Brethren were also uplifted by devoted members from the Chinle and Tuba City stakes.
“These are proven men and women of ability and testimony,” said Elder Andersen. “They are great Latter-day Saints.”
Both stakes, for example, organize frequent temple trips to the Snowflake Arizona Temple. And missionary service among the young men and young women is on the rise.
The Brethren also saluted the missionaries and missionary couples serving in Church units across the Navajo Nation. Many are helping the members and their neighbors realize greater self-reliance through a Church-sponsored family gardening project. The missionaries here serve under the direction of President David Adams and his wife, Sister Cherie Adams.
Many Latter-day Saints are also taking advantage of relatively new educational opportunities, such as the Pathway online learning program sponsored by BYU-Idaho.
Elder Andersen, Elder Echo Hawk and Elder Foster encouraged the members of the Navajo Nation to claim the blessings of the temple and to search out their own ancestors. They also spoke of the need for more missionaries and the importance of self-reliance, education and the living the law of tithing.
Elder Andersen’s visit provided a “spiritual boost” for the Latter-day Saints who call the Navajo Nation their home.
“The members really appreciated that an apostle would come to their community to reach out and learn more,” said Elder Echo Hawk.
[email protected] @JNSwensen