When Nancy Crosby walked onto the Kayenta Seventh-day Adventist Church property on a sunny day in July 2021, it was like being jolted awake from a long sleep. For the past 14 months, the Navajo Nation, where Kayenta is located in Arizona, United States, had been under rigid COVID restrictions; no one had been allowed to gather at all. Now, the church was bustling with 77 volunteers on the Ultimate Workout — Maranatha Volunteers International's annual mission trip for teenagers. To Crosby, the sight, noise, and energy of so many people were startling in the best possible way.
“When I came there the first time, and I saw all those kids — I can’t even describe it. It was just so beautiful,” Crosby, the Native Ministries Coordinator for the Nevada-Utah Conference in the North American Division, says. Crosby had been praying for this moment for years. After the devastating closure of Monument Valley Mission School, located 25 miles (40 kilometers) away, she dreamed of opening a new school in Kayenta. She shared her idea with Maranatha, and the organization made an initial site visit, but Kayenta had no funding to move forward.
Then, in early 2021, Maranatha suddenly needed a new location for the Ultimate Workout. It had been initially planned for Peru but had to be canceled, once again, because of COVID restrictions. As an alternative, Maranatha started looking at sites in the U.S., where the organization had been running projects for several months. With the element of culture, needs, and rural landscapes, Kayenta was an excellent option for a mission trip. But the school project still needed financial backing, and Maranatha typically does not raise funds for projects in North America. Then, in the first of many miracles that took place in the project's planning, a long-time donor stepped in and offered to fund the Kayenta school and provide a service opportunity for the youth.
After a whirlwind planning session, on July 15, teens from all over the world arrived in Kayenta. Using the church property as a home base, the volunteers spent the next 10 days constructing the school’s walls. They also ran a health education program, coordinated a Vacation Bible School, erected a greenhouse, and completed various tasks at 13 area homes, such as painting, gardening, and fence building.
On Saturdays (Sabbaths), volunteers worshipped with the Kayenta church members, singing hymns in Navajo and praise songs in English. As part of the last worship, members shared their gratitude with the teens.
“Your work, your effort, what you did here is making a really big impact for generations to come.… If you could just look ahead and see all the children going to school here, and the staff that will be impacted. I can’t describe for you what will happen,” Lorayne Whitehorse, member of the Kayenta church and community leader, said. “As you go forward, know that we appreciate all the effort that you put into this community, and we just love you to pieces. Thank you so much.”
Crosby said that the project energized the church members, even piquing new interest in those who had stopped coming to church; when they saw the activity around town, they started coming by to inquire about the latest Sabbath School Bible Study Guides. Current church members plan on using the information collected from the health education booth to reach out to Kayenta residents and invite them to church programming.
But it wasn’t just the local community that was impacted. The daily, communal time with God and joyful service for others transformed the young volunteers. After an intensive period of worship, working, and bonding, the Ultimate Workout experience culminated in a beautiful agape feast, foot-washing service, and communion to open the Sabbath on Friday evening. The next afternoon, 17 teens gave their hearts to Jesus during a baptism ceremony on the last Sabbath, set against the stunning red rock backdrop at the San Juan River in Mexican Hat, Utah.
“Maranatha’s mission is to build people, and we do that through the construction of urgently needed buildings. I can certainly say we have accomplished our mission for this project,” Lisandro Staut, director of volunteer projects at Maranatha, said. “People’s lives were built — the local people, volunteers, and each one of us — as we all experienced spiritual, physical, and mental growth thanks to the work of God in Kayenta.”