Martessa Davis, a sophomore music education major at Walla Walla University, is serving as a student missionary in Arizona from August 2020 to June 2021. Davis recently shared highlights from her experiences working with members of the Navajo Nation.
Kiersten Ekkens: Where are you working this year?
Martessa Davis: I am doing children’s ministry in Chinle, Arizona, right in the heart of the Navajo Nation. It really does feel like I am in another nation. The Navajo culture is unique and beautiful, and I feel privileged to have such a diverse opportunity even in the United States. We live at 5,500 feet above sea level, so our winter months are not Arizona’s stereotypical mild weather. My duties include: leading in-home Bible studies, planning/leading addiction prevention programs at kids’ homes, teaching kids’ Sabbath school, and cohosting weekly kids’ addiction prevention radio programs.
Ekkens: What changes have occurred due to COVID-19?
Davis: The Navajo Nation has been hit hard with COVID, and many families are superstitious. Not only that, but the president of the Navajo Nation has ordered many restrictions, including a restriction of five or fewer people per meeting. Therefore, instead of leading addiction recovery programs at the church in a room overflowing with 30 kids, my mission partner and I drive out to kids’ homes. We often meet outside to lessen the spread of COVID, even in cold and windy conditions. I actually love this change of duties, because our connection reaches deeper with fewer kids at a time. Additionally, radio ministry was only possible timewise because of COVID. So many skills have been gained through this, especially since I record and edit the audio, as well as writing scripts along with my partner, Kristen. Radio ministry has already touched many lives here on the reservation. It is encouraging to hear so many calling in for Bible studies. Of course we have other standard COVID changes, such as wearing masks, conference call church services, Zoom Sabbath school, social distancing, etc.
Ekkens: What have some of the highlights been?
Davis: All my highlights fit under the umbrella of life transformation. Many here are slow to trust because of painful pasts. Like closed rose buds hugging themselves tightly for protection, these souls ache for sunlight. When I let Jesus shine through me, a transformation takes place before my eyes—their petals unfold. I hear a recovering addict exclaim, “While my husband gets high on marijuana, I read the Bible and get high on Jesus!” I witness a little girl join our meeting with a scowl and no desire to sing or play. She ends up dancing, singing, and laughing with the rest. I listen as a controlling and defiant young girl opens up about what is really going on behind the scenes. I hold her as tears spill over the tragic loss of her beloved puppies and horse. I rejoice as a little boy in my Sabbath school class, who seems to hardly listen, pipes up saying, “I want to be baptized!” I hear a little girl respond to my call to have “Jesus time,” expressing, “I would wake up at 4 a.m. for Jesus!”
These people suffer from neglect, abuse, addiction, and more. Somehow, I get to watch Jesus warm their rosebud hearts and open their petals to His love. I am honored to be Jesus’ heartbeat to the hurting.
Ekkens: Has there been anything that surprised you?
Davis: I think it’s safe to say there is a surprise awaiting me every day. One particular surprise is how westernized many Navajos have become. Few speak fluent Navajo anymore, and sighting someone in traditional clothing is rare. It is also shocking how poverty-stricken this area of America is. Our neighbor friends live in a small shack with no running water. Many freeze to death without adequate heat. Another surprise is the plethora of wild horses. It is not uncommon to spot a herd galloping past our church. There are also many shepherds. Sometimes we are stopped on the highway due to a flock of sheep crossing.
Ekkens: Are there others from WWU or other schools that you are working with?
Davis: This year I am honored to work closely with a fellow friend and WWU student, Kristen Zollbrecht. It’s wonderful coming home to a familiar face and sharing our joys and fears. We have learned so much about teamwork and how our unique talents can complement each other in ministry. We also attract different kids, making our witnessing more effective and far-reaching.
Ekkens: How has this affected your personal walk with God?
Davis: Something that has really impacted me is how often everyone around here prays. More than that, people here really believe in the power of prayer. We pray before we drive anywhere; we pray before knocking on doors to share Jesus; we even pray with random addicts in the grocery store parking lot. All of this is inspired by the pastor and his wife, who truly live their faith. I used to be so uncomfortable praying with strangers, but now it is a habit. People here welcome prayers. I am learning to ask God for more in prayer and lean more on His strength. The more God answers my prayers, the more my faith is strengthened.
Ekkens: What advice would you give students looking into a year as a student missionary?
Davis: Time flies. Slow down enough to cherish and inhabit each moment—engage. People are more important than tasks: prioritize people. Show that you care genuinely by listening without an agenda. Expect that you will learn something new in every conversation, even from little kids. Be a humble learner. Don’t try to fake your faith; people will see right through that. Learn to say “no” to less important tasks so you can say “yes” to important ones. Don’t neglect “you time.”
Most of all, take time to pray. Connection time with Jesus is what fuels every other interaction. Find a spot, find some time, find tea, and settle down with Jesus every day. I promise it will make a difference.
Posted March 2, 2021