Last week, I covered the background of my coming to Rehoboth. While there is more could be said, I think it is a better to delve into the actual year. Today, I am going to address the challenges of being in New Mexico. Sure, I had my own personal challenges (and I will talk about them) but I also wish to delve deeply into the cultural, social, and fiscal challenges of Rehoboth. This is not going to be an inherently 'happy' post, but I find such hidden joy and hope all around me because of these difficulties. I pray that same joy and hope will shine through to you.
"You see, Tim, there is a very real fear of the darkness. You can't see anything, so your imagination runs wild. But in the dark, you can also be hidden."
A couple months ago, I was blessed with the opportunity of going to a house on the Navajo reservation. Trust me when I say that 'middle of nowhere' only begins to describe how rural it is in McKinley county. The quote (paraphrased, I'll admit) came from an elderly Navajo lady when talking about skin-walkers (do not read about them before bed) and how the Native culture is prone to accept such supernatural, spirit-driven beliefs. Being in a rural, poor area, few houses have electricity, and those that do choose often to not have outdoor lights. This comes from the ancient belief in the goodness of the sun- Navajo hogans open up to the east for the sunrise- and the evilness of the night. Wild, untamed spirits roam at night. In the daylight, we can see the secure world around us.
As we drove back, with only the car headlights and the stars lighting our way, I began to think about how that is a perfect metaphor for challenges in our lives. In the dark times- literal and metaphorical- we begin to fear the worst. We expect to be overwhelmed by forces beyond our control as the dread and fear paralyzes us.
It is no secret to anyone close to me that I had a really rough fall. I was overworking myself, becoming selfish, coming off as arrogant just to hide insecurities, very critical of myself, and just generally not a great person. My perfectionism tendencies were popping up, and I was unable to derive joy out of much else besides my accomplishments. I would not say I was 'depressed' but my fears of loneliness and insignificance were not easy to handle. Darkness was all around me.
Rehoboth is facing a budget shortfall. Parents are unable to pay as much tuition and donors are still generous, but much less than they would like. The economy is still rocky at best, and it is obvious with my donor conversations that people from all walks of life are feeling the darkness of uncertainty, like a specter crouching outside their homes. There are very real worries about impending budget cuts and possible layoffs. We hear about schools all over the country, including a 130 year old school in Chicago, having to close. How does one handle running such an important ministry without spending sleepless nights wondering how to turn everything around?
You have not seen poverty until coming out to New Mexico. Trailers are normal living structures, often fitting a family of too many into a house of too little space. Broken families, alcoholism, and gambling problems are the norm, not the exception. A harsh climate makes growing food an inhospitable venture, while a lack of natural resources makes Gallup a non-welcome place to do business. People are friendly but it is obvious that many are burdened by needing basic necessities.
But the darkness is not the permanent reality. It did not prevail over me. Through the love of others and of a God that used different circumstances to shock me back into a better emotional state, I am infinitely happier and more content. It is not prevailing over Rehoboth-- we have been blessed daily by new donors who are stepping up to help the school and pay for the children's education. (Shameless Advancement plug right... here.)
And it will not prevail over the Navajo culture. I have a number of friends working for Teach for America, the Peace Corp, Rehoboth, the government of Gallup, and local businesses that are standing up for what is good. We are working to break the bonds of substance addictions. We are living our lives as examples of loving, and not abusing, those we love. We are bringing the light of God into a place that is crying out in the darkness.
There is much, much work to be done. This post might sound like mere sentimentality. The fight against evil is very real here. It is not a 'fixable' problem in many ways. But the challenges are not impossible. I will go into examples of the joys of being here next week, which I hope will show you exactly how this place is changing, and will change in the future. Even at the worst of times, light can be seen. We are not called to hide in the darkness, be it addressing social issues in New Mexico, or showing ethical behaviors in the corporate world. God did not give up on us when we were in the darkness, and we must do no less for others.