Mary Beth Falvey
Mary Beth Falvey '18
I have always had this romanticized idea of the west, curated by stunning pictures of national parks, stories of homesteaders, and stereotypical Native American reservations shown in movies. When I arrived to Farmington, New Mexico off of my flight from Denver, I was greeted by a dust storm on the tarmac and was surrounded by brown, barren desert as far as the eye could see. My stomach clenched as I realized that I had agreed to spend 3 and a half weeks of June here. I had traveled out to volunteer at the Four Corner’s Home for Children, a Christian foster home for Navajo children.
In 1947, Navajo Missions founder Jack Drake moved from Michigan to minister at the Navajo Methodist Mission School in Farmington, New Mexico. When Jack and his wife were approached by Navajo families for support, their words broke Jack’s heart. Jack resigned from Navajo Methodist Mission School in 1952 to build a children’s home for homeless Navajo children. When he applied for a $12,000 loan from a local bank to purchase 12 acres of land, he was turned down. Instead, the president of the bank donated the money to Jack for the ministry. In 1953, founder Jack Drake pitched a borrowed tent on the west edge of Farmington. Thus began Navajo Missions, a ministry designed to care for children from the four Corners region who needed a secure place to call home. Today, the home is thriving, with the capacity to care for 20 children on a beautiful 16 acre compound situated on the banks of the San Juan River. The ministry is expansive, including 3 children’s homes, a Christian radio station, a counseling center, and a ranch.
During my time I worked in each of the children’s homes, divided by gender, with similar duties as a houseparent or prefect. I played outside and did crafts with the younger children, and watched movies and hung out with the older kids. I tutored in reading and geography, but mostly spent as much time as I could making sure that all of the children were having fun. All of them were placed in the home due to horrific home situations, and many of them had developmental and behavioral issues. There were some sibling sets and some were alone. Knowing that all of the children had backstories, my imagination ran wild as I imagined what horrible things some of these kids had been through. As I spent more time with each of them, it became obvious that some were better off than others, but that all of them were incredibly resilient, and the home gave them the opportunity to be normal kids.
In one of my first talks with the director of activities, I learned that one of the main goals of the home was to erase what she called “poverty mentality”. She explained “poverty mentality” as the idea of being truly poor, and therefore feeling trapped by the conception that it is inescapable. Many of the children came from generations and generations of extreme poverty, and believe that they may end up like that when they are older. The statistics only help bolster these attitudes, with 35% of Navajo families living on less than $14,000 per year. only 32% of houses on the nation have running water, and only 28% of able bodied adults are employed. Many of the children also come from families where abuse and addiction are commonplace and not frowned upon. The home strives to create a sense of normalcy and to stress Christian values and morals that will give the children a handbook for the path to break these cycles in their futures.
For my Haney fellowship I had requested about $2400, $800 to travel, $800 for donations, and another $800 for living expenses. The donation money went extremely far, some of what I was able to donate includes 24 sheet sets, 24 bath towels, 24 face cloths, 24 beach towels, 4 bath rugs, 4 shower curtains, 8 giant sized bottles of both shampoo and conditioner, a 36 pack of toothbrushes, 10 toothpaste bottles, 12 sticks of deodorant, hair ties, 10 combs, 15 hairbrushes, body lotion, and various other specialized personal care items. The donation guaranteed that the home would have ample amounts of toiletries at least through the summer months.
During my first week there was a volunteer youth group from Hilton Head, South Carolina also staying at the home. They had come out to run a Vacation Bible School at the Baptist church in the neighboring town. They let me tag along for two of the days, and helped make my transition to living alone easier by entertaining me with movies most nights. Within the first half hour of knowing her, one of the group leaders proceeded to tell me seemingly her entire life story up until I met her, the life stories of each of her four children, and how she had just beaten breast cancer and believed that God himself had cured her to allow her go on the mission. Coming from the northeast, it was a bit jarring to have a stranger be so willingly open to talk to me, but I realized later that she really had no reason to hold anything back. We had come out to volunteer for the same reason, and therefore in her eyes we were no different.
The home is deeply Christian, and the staff all believes that God called them to serve and to sacrifice their lives to these children. Upon my arrival, their enthusiasm for religion and the way that they all fully embraced the bible took a little getting used to, but after a few days I found myself more open to considering what they were preaching. The ministry is interdenominational, but all of the staff shares a similar view on religion. I became so accustomed to starting every morning with a devotion service and praying before every meal that it took some readjusting when I returned home. Without thinking, I prayed before I ate in the airport on the way home and when my flights took off, and I did not zone out in church on the following Sunday for the first time in a very long time. Even if I did not agree completely with what they believed, their contemplative natures and genuine kindnesses were infectious.
I never expected my time at the ministry to impact my life so greatly. I will be eternally grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Haney for providing me with the resources to volunteer there. Navajo culture is vibrant and complex, but its people are being left behind. I originally decided to go to Farmington because I saw the Navajo as a forgotten people, and I was shocked that even though we live in one of the most affluent countries on earth, these people were still floundering. I hope that I influenced the lives of the children even a fraction of the amount that they changed mine, and I will never forget my experience.