When I taught Bible to my junior high students at Southwest Indian School, I tried to make the lessons in the Scriptures applicable to their lives. Sometimes we would take walks outside as I presented the lesson. After all, that’s the way Jesus often taught His disciples. Following His example, I introduced our study of the first three books of the New Testament, known as the Synoptic Gospels.
We walked across the campus and looked at the cactus, the beautiful roses that were blooming and then came to my residence. There I told them about my 1973 Cougar and introduced them to my calico cat, Samantha. I explained that “Samantha” means one who listens, and I had chosen the name because the cat had big ears. Her middle name was Elizabeth, and that name was given because she considered herself a queen. We then walked through the dining hall and interacted with the staff members, which included many “snow birds” who spent their winters in the Valley of the Sun.
I’m sure my students were wondering what this activity had to do with a Bible lesson, but they didn’t object to being outside. When we returned to the classroom, I asked them write down what they remembered from our walk.
The next day I shared some of their accounts.
What we learned was that although we had witnessed the same events, no two papers were alike. Many boys wrote about my car, and several girls were interested in my cat. Thus, it was with the Gospels, I pointed out. Each writer wrote of those things that interested him most even though they all witnessed many of the same events.
We began our study of the Synoptics with Mark, the shortest Gospel.
The Gospel of Mark was written to the Romans, people who were interested in what Jesus could do, not about His genealogy. Thus, Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus or his lineage. Mark shows Jesus as the conqueror over death, disease, demons and nature, I pointed out.
As we were looking at Jesus’ miracles in this Gospel, I told my students that still today there are accounts of supernatural events even on their own reservations. Then I related a story I’d read in a book written by Tom Dolaghan, The Navajos are Coming to Jesus. Dolaghan was someone most of the Navajo students knew. He emigrated from Ireland, took up residence in Arizona, learned the Navajo language, and was ministering on the reservation. I loved listening to him speak Navajo with his beautiful Irish accent!
I related a story from Tom’s book, unfamiliar to most of the students.
One day Pete Greyeyes, a medicine man from Navajo Mountain, became very ill, and his body broke out in sores. Outside in the juniper tree, owls began gathering, not one or two but 10 to 20 owls. Pete knew that this was a sign that someone was witching him. In Navajo culture, owls can represent one’s ancestors coming to warn him/her of impending calamity or even death. Pete called in another medicine man to sing over him. When his efforts proved futile, another one was called, still to no avail.
When Pete’s wife and daughter began having sores, they became desperate. After some discussion, they decided to visit the Navajo preacher, Herman Williams. They arrived just as the church service was ending and Herman was giving the invitation for those who wanted a relationship with Christ to come forward. To the preacher’s surprise, these latecomers responded, and the people of the church prayed with them.
After the congregation had left, Pete and his family lingered, eager to tell the preacher what had been happening in their lives. Herman invited them to his home where he counseled and prayed with them again. This session lasted until the wee hours of morning. At about 3 a.m. as the family got up to return to their homes, Pete asked Herman an important question.
How was Jesus going to get rid of those owls? Herman thought for a minute, and then he replied.
“When you get home tonight, go out and preach to the owls in the name of Jesus Christ.”
As they were driving home in their pick-up, Pete thought of what the preacher had said. He was a Navajo and had no problem understanding witchcraft, but he was not crazy. He could not imagine anyone preaching to owls!
They arrived home and were about to go inside when his wife reminded him of what the preacher had told him to do. She refused to let him inside their hogan until he did as Herman had instructed. Somewhat reluctantly, Pete began a sermon to the owls that went something like this.
“There is no reason for you owls to stay here any longer. I belong to Jesus now. My wife belongs to Jesus. My children belong to Jesus. Our sheep, our cows, and our pick-up—everything you see belongs to Jesus. So you can leave now.”
Pete went inside and slept peacefully.
The sores disappeared from their bodies, and owls left and did not return.
Pete took his medicine bag back to the old medicine man who had given it to him. He reported that it was effective at times; but when he really needed help, it was powerless. Pete gave this testimony often on the reservation.
As I was dramatically relating the story, Daryl, a Navajo boy, smiled the whole time. I thought he was amused by my attempt at a Navajo accent when I was preaching Pete’s sermon.
But that wasn’t the case.
Class ended, and Daryl came up to me.
“Ms. Kornmiller,” he quietly began, “that preacher you talked about…Herman Williams. He’s my grandfather!”
I guess I had succeeded in making that day’s lesson meaningful to at least one student.
Karen Kornmiller writes a bi-weekly column published in The Perry County Tribune. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.