Photo courtesy of Portraits

Sierra Vista church shares God’s love by cutting wood for the Navajo Nation

By Francine Biere
Portraits

From the beginning, God used wood — from Noah’s ark to holding the Ark of the Covenant to the interior of Solomon’s temple to the cross. But, in isolated areas on the Navajo Nation, located largely in Arizona, it is often used as the only means of heat and, in some cases, the only example of God’s love.

A missions ministry of Village Meadows Baptist Church in Sierra Vista, Arizona, started more than 15 years ago when Ministry Pastor Larry Lane first led a large number of people to cut wood on a mission in Window Rock. That initial trip ultimately developed into a long relationship with Good News Church in Houck on the Navajo Nation.

“We fell in love with the people,” the first time the team visited the church, said Brian Claassen, the new ministry leader. Currently, the ministry attempts to go twice a year, fall and spring, to cut firewood as well as support the church financially.

Recently, Eugene Chee, pastor of Good News Church, delivered more than 30 cords of wood to people on the reservation.

“One guy didn’t believe there’s a God, but after helping me split wood, he wanted to know when the church would open back up,” he said.

There are many ways to preach the gospel, and for the most recent missions trip, the road to obedience was littered with obstacles.

“Usually, this is a pretty straightforward trip, because we have done it so many times. But this year was different. Larry and Susan Lane couldn’t go, so our leader and chief cook were out,” Claassen said.

Dry conditions

“We were not going to be able to cut wood on the Navajo Nation this year due to dry conditions, and the area we usually used was closed,” he continued.

And then there was COVID-19.

“The Navajo Nation was, and still is, shut down. Almost everything is closed, and they have a curfew,” Claassen said. “The Good News Church has been closed since March.”

Housing was another challenge. For the past several years, the Canelo Cowboy Church has been helping with the missions trip. When Scott Hill, a member of Canelo, heard about the struggles of getting wood on the reservation, he offered camping in the Springerville area as well as cutting wood there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option on such short notice.

But as He often does, God made a way when there seemed to be no way.

You could say Brian Claassen, a deacon and member of Village Meadows, had been training for such a mission all his life.

“Missions have always been a big part of my life and being able to do something that I have loved since childhood was a bonus,” he said. “With Pastor Larry unable to attend, I was asked to lead the trip, which quickly turned into my biggest challenge.”

Then, Dan and Joyce Long stepped up as cooks.

Meal prep

“The planning was the most challenging, but the meal prep went smoothly,” Dan Long said. “Meals were ready when the teams returned, giving them time to rest and relax.”

Pastor Acey Martin with the First Southern Baptist Church of Springerville extended an invitation for the team to stay with them. They would still be 100 miles away from the Good Neighbor Church. God provided by leading Daryn and Brooklynn Sulzer, along with their three children, to join the team with a truck and a willingness to pull a trailer.

“Because of the distance between the wood-cutting site and the church, we knew we wouldn’t be able to cut as much wood,” Claassen said.

Again, God made a way.

With donations from Canelo Cowboy Church and Village Meadows, Hill arranged for the purchase of 12 cords of wood close to Houck. He also found a closer site where wood cutting would be easy. As a result, close to 20 cords of cut wood and two trailers of food and supplies were delivered to the Good Neighbor Church.

A number of churches have partnered with Village Meadows in this ministry.

“I can’t tell you how many people, over the years, who have left their comfortable homes, been to the Navajo reservation and had their lives changed,” Lane said. “While we spread the gospel there, we reinforced it here at Village Meadows.”

Chee also shares the love of Christ with those who do not know God.

“Good News Church is here to help and be friends with them,” he said. “It impacts their lives — we share the love of Christ with them.

“God comes through every time. There are so many who are lost, and we are trying to reach them with wood, food, transportation or just listening to them. We want to share salvation and hope any way we can,” Chee added.

God at work

All on the missions team, which represented several churches, believed they were more blessed than the recipients of their hard work.

“God really did show up for us on this trip,” Claassen said. “His hand was everywhere.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was originally published by Portraits. To read more articles like this on Arizona Baptists, visit azsbc.org/portraits.