Today marks the third anniversary of our arrival in Dulce, New Mexico. I suppose it's natural to review "what we've accomplished" and to "set new goals," but that's not really how I think of our three years here. I have learned and gained so much more than I've given or accomplished.
Living among the Jicarilla Apache people has taught me many things. I'm still confused at times, but I've learned a lot! If you've ever lived outside of your native culture, you understand what I mean.
What have I learned?
I've learned that differences within the culture are almost as large as the differences between my (White, mainstream) culture and the Jicarilla culture. The Jicarilla people have many interpretations of what certain cultural practices mean; if I ask several people what something means, I get a better, fuller understanding than if I simply ask one person. This is even true with language pronunciation and use! Slowly, I am coming to an understanding of what things mean, but I am still ignorant on many topics.
I've learned that it's okay for me to take photographs in most situations since I am a member of the community. I still ask permission to post any pictures publicly, but I do that among my White friends, too. And I never take my camera to cultural events such as a keesta (girls' coming-of-age ceremony) or go-jii-ya (annual fall festival). Many of the parents of Kat's friends appreciate my photography hobby and love seeing what their children are doing while playing.
I've learned that ministry is all about relationships, especially here among the Jicarilla Apache. The time we spend with our Jicarilla friends opens the door to service and witness, besides being fun. Relationships take time. Among the mainstream culture, time is often more important than people; that is not true in Dulce. Here, if someone drops by (yes, this actually happens!), you stop what you're doing and settle in for a visit. It's delightful!
I've also learned that much of the ministry here is not done in the church or even with the church members. Much of our ministry consists of being welcoming to strangers who wander through our yard and our lives... of making plates of food for hungry wanderers, who are often intoxicated... of simply sitting with those who are distressed, depressed, or suicidal. This church was "the" church among the Jicarilla Apache for about 50 years; this means that families who aren't connected to another church often come to Brad for a wedding or, more often, a funeral. Brad is very good at consoling grieving family members and proclaiming the gospel at funerals.
We've discovered that we absolutely delight in the weather in the mountains. We love the cool summer nights and warm winter afternoons. We love the snow... and the fact that it usually melts within days. On our travels back to the Midwest, we feel the humidity, that's for sure! The dry climate is welcome when we return.
So, as we prepare to begin our fourth year in service here, we look forward to learning more about ministry, more about the Jicarilla Apache, and more about ourselves. We thank God for bringing us here, and ask Him to give us many more years among these precious people of His.