Pulling a 16-foot trailer filled with donated cleaning supplies and other items, a diesel pickup truck arrived and parked outside the Tohatchi (N. Mex.) Christian Reformed Church in late June.
Two couples — Marlin and Linda Hendricks and Henry and Evonne Berlink — climbed out to be greeted by members of the church. Together, the couples from hundreds of miles away joined with Tohatchi church members in unloading the trailer. Working under a hot sun, they brought out containers of bleach, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, Gatorade, and even some Spam.
Also accompanying this effort, undertaken by a group of CRC members from Lynden, Wash., was a check for $16,000 to be used by Classis Red Mesa, the regional group of CRC churches, to help people on the Navajo reservation replenish their supplies when they run out.
“We were so thankful for these gifts. We are scattered geographically, and it has been very hard for us to get cleaning supplies in bulk,” said Camilla Lynch, who works at Rehoboth Christian School in Rehoboth, N.Mex., and helped to coordinate the effort by offering her church in Tohatchi as a center to store and then distribute the donated items.
“With the supplies on hand in Tohatchi,” she said, “we can reach out to 16 churches and offer them a wide range of cleaning supplies” — not to mention the Spam, a sturdy staple that a few people had asked for.
Given the terrible toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the Navajo nation, these supplies will be crucial in helping people to stay healthy.
“People on the reservation have been especially hard hit,” said Lynch. “Many families live under one roof and do not have easy access to water for cleaning.”
The number of people infected by the virus has continued to grow, especially among the Navajo nation, now reaching 8,300 infections and more than 400 deaths in New Mexico, according to the Navajo Department of Health. These numbers, per capita, place infection and death rates on a par with those in New York and New Jersey and now Florida, Texas, and Arizona.
“It has been very sad,” said Lynch, adding that there have been times when two or more people who died because of COVID-19 have been buried at the cemetery in Rehoboth on the same day.
Despite this harsh reality, commented Lynch, “It is a blessing beyond blessings what the people in Lynden, Washington, were able to do. They came wholeheartedly and with a willingness to serve.”
Book club reaches out
A group of men, many members of local CRC congregations, have been meeting for a book study, prayer, and spiritual growth every Saturday for more than three decades in Lynden, Wash., said Allen Likkel, a CRC minister who worked for Christian Reformed Home Missions (now Resonate Global Mission) before he retired.
Recently the group was reading a book on the topic of social justice, and they began to wonder — in this time of racial turmoil and the pandemic — what they could do, right now, to help people in need.
“We looked for an immediate ‘hands on’ project that we could do,” said Likkel.
It turned out that Ron Polinder was leading the book study on that Saturday as people discussed what they could do. Given that he had worked for many years at the Rehoboth Christian School, and part of that time as superintendent of the school, he had contacts in the Red Mesa region — people such as Camilla Lynch — and suggested they consider doing something to help the people on the Navajo reservation, especially since the area was reeling from effects of the virus.
“I had received an email from a former student, who had told me about the situation there and how bad it had become and about the need for cleaning supplies,” said Polinder. “We talked this over and then let the Holy Spirit guide us from there.”
Messages he placed on his Facebook page received a quick response, assuring him that the Spirit was indeed moving the book group to help out fellow CRC members in New Mexico.
Using Facebook as his main tool to spread the message of the mission they were on, Polinder wrote, “We need your help — there is a desperate shortage of cleaning supplies, Clorox, wet-wipes, hand sanitizer, and spray bottles.
“With a few of my Christian brothers, we are hoping to collect a big trailer full of supplies for transport to some of our churches, who in turn share them with their parishioners and neighbors, most of whom are poor and live in very remote places on the reservation.”
In another Facebook message, Polinder wrote, “Would you believe that 40 percent of folks on the Rez do not have running water, and 30 percent do not have electricity — and this is in America, folks!
“They live in close quarters, pile into one vehicle/pickup, and travel on dirt roads from these remote areas to get to the highway” to reach grocery stores and to obtain other necessities, he said.
McKinley and San Juan counties, where many of the CRC congregations are based, are among the poorest in the U.S., said Polinder.
In a few short days, said Polinder, he had gathered a garage full of donated items. Financial gifts were also coming in. Then came the word that someone offered to lend a new pickup truck for the trip to New Mexico, and soon the two couples — Marlin and Linda Hendricks and Henry and Evonne Berlink — volunteered to drive the vehicle to Tohatchi.
Once they connected with Camilla Lynch and made final arrangements for the church in Tohatchi to be the distribution point, the two couples headed off on a 16-hour journey to New Mexico.
“I give so much credit to Camilla for doing the organizing on her end,” said Polinder. “Given her efficiency, I recommended she run for President not only of the Navajo Nation but of the U.S. as well.”
After the goods were distributed, Polinder heard from Evie Benally, who along with her husband, Willie, pastors the Sanostee church, not too far from the church in Tohatchi.
“Evie wrote the nicest note of gratitude. Years ago, we hired her to teach at Rehoboth, prior to getting married and having kids.”
In part, Benally’s note reads: “Oh, praise the Lord! Ron was the elementary school principal when I used to teach at Rehoboth years ago! Send our greetings to all . . . the Christian families! We're very thankful. God takes care of his church through caring people.”
As he looks on what they were able to do, and what will take place because of the money being managed by Classis Red Mesa, Polinder is convinced that from the idea posed in the book group to trucking and unloading the goods in New Mexico, this was a divine venture. “This was a mighty act of God. The Lord was in and through it—we watched and marveled,” said Polinder.