Last month’s super moon went blood red in its full eclipse, a frightening astronomical event for some of the students at La Vida Mission. Coming from a traditional Navajo background, eclipse viewing is taboo since they believe “looking at the moon could shorten their lives,” explains Dolores Bentley, mission director and special design teacher.
The ancient Navajo would stop all their activities during an eclipse, according to Arnold Clifford, Navajo ethnobotanist. Responding to interest from Indian Country, he commented that the Navajos would “stop the ceremonies. They didn’t eat, they didn’t drink water, they stayed inside, they avoided all that darkness, that evil influence that was coming down on them.” At La Vida Mission, the recent full eclipse was felt in a Navajo way.
La Vida Mission, however, expresses much, much more and is a special place, unlike any other Adventist school in North America. It had its beginnings in the 1940s in a one-room trading post infested with mice. Over the years, the school, cafeteria, medical clinic, and church were built by volunteer labor and are a testimony to faithful sharing of a Christian vision.
Today, 26 Navajo students attend the school, a fulfillment of the dream given to a young Navajo girl of many moccasined feet walking into the light of Jesus and the result of labors and dedication by another woman, Veda Scholder, after whom the mission was named.
The dream continues to evolve after more than 50 years of service. The current mission administration is looking to the future with long-range plans that include self-supporting industries and vocational classes.
La Vida Farm now produces vegetables to supply some of the school’s needs and greenhouse head Aquiles Gayares “has grown a tomato of such high quality that we are looking at ways to market our produce starting next year,” says Dolores Bentley. Aquiles Gayares' tomatoes, coupled with Cliff Mitchell’s background as a broker for a large company that buys tomatoes, should prove to be a winning combination. Cliff Mitchell is the husband of La Vida’s school nurse.
Another venture is a dialysis clinic, currently in the proposal stage. School nurse, Joyce Mitchell and her husband, both of whom have taught certified nursing assistant classes, she with a background of running dialysis clinics, are mapping out direction and cost. “Because of our location, the clinic could be a big asset for the community,” says Dolores Bentley.
Another highlight of the La Vida Mission is its high school, now in its fourth year of existence. At the end of this school year, they will have a graduate headed to college.
New vocational classes are being added to the curriculum. A mechanics class, taught by Steve Gillham, retired RMC pastor, has been offered for the past year. The boys in his class have begun a complete tear-down and rebuild of a jeep and will learn to do body repairs and welding. A mechanics class for the girls will begin during their second quarter and will be taught by Steve’s wife Carol.
The wood shop class, revived two years ago and taught by Bob Blair, uses many of their acquired math skills in their building projects. The goal for most of the students is to build a product that can be sold. One student, however, plans to build a chicken coop for his family.
A certified nursing assistant class is in the planning stages and students who take it could finish high school with a vocation or use it as a means to put themselves through college.
The administrators explain that the Navajo children and their families often live in small houses or trailers. Some live in hogans, an ancient tradition that is seeing a revival among the Navajo people. Because water is limited, some of the homes do not have water, which makes gardening a low priority.
The traditional Navajo culture believes in many Navajo gods and supernatural powers. Some of La Vida’s children, coming from this culture, still believe in skin walkers, a person with the ability to turn into any animal they desire, explains Dolores Bentley. But “children who have been at La Vida for a few years begin to look to God for protection. During the last school year, several students attended a Revelation seminar and were baptized,” Dolores shares.
The Navajo code talkers of World War II distinguished themselves by using the Navajo language to devise a military code that would baffle the enemy. It was a complex language virtually incomprehensible to most listeners. With a 27,000-square-mile reservation, where La Vida Mission is located, and more than 250,000 tribesmen, the Navajo Tribe is the largest American Indian tribe in the United States today. More than 1,000 Navajo live, off-reservation, in the region.
An introduction to La Vida story would not be complete without mentioning its church plant at Crownpoint, 30 miles south of the Mission. It has between 25 – 35 people attending. They have outgrown the trailer where they’ve been meeting, says Dorie Panganiban, school chaplain and office manager. She and her husband direct the church plant. [Carol Bolden]
Above left: Teen girls singing praise songs; Above right: Teen Church with Pastor Steve Gillham