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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Presbyterians reach out to Native American communities during pandemic


PC(USA) supporting presbyteries making a positive impact

November 22, 2020

The Southwest is known for its stunning scenery. Unfortunately, it;s also becoming known for COVID-19 impacts in such areas as the Navajo nation. (Photo by Pixabay)

Hardly a day goes by without the Rev. Brad Munroe receiving a call from someone wanting to make a donation to help Native Americans in the southwestern United States, many of whom are struggling to cope with poverty and the weight of COVID-19 and its economic fallout.

National news outlets, from CNN to the New York Times, and religious outlets, such as the Presbyterian News Service, have helped call attention to the plight of indigenous people, such as those who are part of the Navajo Nation. Last month, CNN reported that the Navajo Nation had surpassed New York state and New Jersey for the nation’s highest per capita coronavirus infection rate.

“When it first hit, we were not prepared,” said the Rev. Norma McCabe, an Arizona pastor who travels around the Navajo Nation to provide assistance. For example, “we didn’t have any gloves. We didn’t have any masks.”

There also was a lack of education. “I speak really good Navajo, but it’s still really hard … (to explain) that there are germs that can get into our lungs and make it impossible for us to breathe,” said McCabe, who’s based at Kayenta Presbyterian Church. “We don’t even have a name for COVID-19,” and the virus spreads easily because extended family members often live together.

“One person gets it, it spreads all over that one family,” she said.

Native Americans also are struggling from lack of employment; limited access to grocery stores and adequate health care for advanced COVID-19 cases; supply chain gaps; transportation hurdles; and in some cases, lack of running water, said Munroe, a presbytery pastor who splits time between the Presbytery of the Grand Canyon and Presbytery of de Cristo.

“One of the things that the pandemic is exposing are all these pockets of chronic poverty and how chronic poverty creates even further gaps in the system, and when we see those gaps in the system I think that God’s Holy Spirit compels us to act, both as followers of Jesus but also as human beings,” Munroe said.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has awarded $50,000 in grants this year for the emergency response phase to various presbyteries that serve Native American populations. The recipients include the Presbytery of Grand Canyon as well as the Presbytery of Dakota, the Presbytery of Wyoming, the Presbytery of South Louisiana, and the Presbytery of the Northwest Coast.

In central and southern Arizona, “in the places that have received the PDA grants, we’ve not been overwhelmed by COVID,” Munroe said. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the shelter in place and the downturn in the economy that has occurred because of that,” Munroe said.

Jim Kirk, PDA’s Associate for Disaster Response (U.S.), said, “Through PDA, the PC(USA) is supporting presbyteries who are making a positive impact. We are supporting presbyteries that are already engaged in meaningful partnerships with Native American communities and are in a position to respond in meaningful ways to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These presbyteries will remain in partnership, addressing inequities that have existed far too long, well after the pandemic has passed,” Kirk said. “Through the generosity of Presbyterians, PDA is supporting efforts to help those most impacted by the pandemic.”

The Presbytery of the Grand Canyon has received PDA grant money to address various needs, including helping to provide food and supplies for families and to help cover travel expenses for a Native American consultant to move about the Navajo Nation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, Munroe said.

Also, “some of the Navajo churches are making masks for their communities and so we’re paying for them to buy spools of fabric and kind of cover their costs for the making of the masks,” he said.

The Rev. Martha Sadongei, the southern Native American consultant for the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, said PDA money has also been used to buy food, toilet paper and cleaning supplies for those in need, such as elders who can’t get out to shop for themselves.

 “I know the churches are grateful for that assistance,” said Sadongei, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Phoenix. The PDA funding helps them to have funding “to support their members and those individuals within their community as well.”

 Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, November 22, 2020, Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday (Year A)

First Reading Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100:1-5
Second Reading Ephesians 1:15-23
Gospel Matthew 25:31-46

Today’s Focus:  Native American Communities During Pandemic

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Fred Tangeman, Office of the General Assembly
Allison Taylor, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation

Let us pray:

God of peace and love, transform us from people who hurt to people who bring peace. Challenge our hearts to be more like yours, O God. May you work in us, our churches, our communities, and our world for peace, compassion, and justice for all. In the name of Christ. Amen.