By Kelly Roberson, Director of Conference Ministries/Communications
Volunteers from the South Georgia Annual Conference have a history of ministry in the 4 Corners area of the Navajo reservation. Rev. John Stephens, III, pastor serving Evelyn UMC and Pavo UMC, is now doing his part to ensure the ministry continues.
For the last five years Stephens has traveled to the 4 Corners area with other volunteers from Cairo First UMC and Climax UMC as well as volunteers from other denominations as part of Lifeline Ministries, a ministry led by lay people in the southwest area of Georgia.
Stephens now, however, finds himself in a different role. He has shifted from one of the many volunteers to the person leading the team of volunteers from South Georgia to be in ministry with the people on the reservation.
Finally back in action from a two year hiatus due to Covid shutting down the reservation to outsiders, Stephens was ready to get back to work.
Stephens made two trips in late 2022 to the 4 Corners area of the Navajo reservation – which is situated in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and touching Colorado. Wayne Mitchell, a retired United Methodist local pastor from Ray City, traveled with him on one of these trips.
“Wayne and I went out to the Sawmill UMC and repaired a handicap ramp, replaced doors, and added a front door to the church. Ladies from the church painted the kitchen, and together we put down flooring in the kitchen,” said Stephens.
In addition to this type of hands-on work, Stephens says the biggest ministry he and others are involved with is the collection of shoeboxes for the people on the reservation.
Each December John returns with volunteers who carry three trucks pulling 14-foot box trailers. A typical team consists of nine members who drive 3,800 miles round trip in 7 days.
“We take approximately 3,000 gifts in shoeboxes as well as winter clothing,” said Stephens. “Many churches in the South Georgia Conference participate in (this initiative). We leave cargo at four different churches on the reservation that serve as distribution points.”
Last year’s trip began December 7. While the total expense to travel to and from Arizona is around $7,000, the team from South Georgia received support from the South Georgia Conference through its Native American Special Sunday offering collection, from the Southwest District mission fund, and from local South Georgia churches.
“The Annual Conference is excited to be able to continue doing ministry with the Navajo nation,” said Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, pastor of Epworth UMC and Conference Secretary for Global Ministries. “Our Advance Mission Specials make ministry like this one possible.”
Stephens plans to take another team next year. For him, whether it’s a team working on repairs or delivering shoeboxes, it really is a true labor of love.
If you would like to participate in a mission trip to the Navajo nation, contact Rev. Stephens at email@example.com. If you would like to support this ministry, you can give directly to the South Georgia Conference and mark it for Lifeline Ministries, Advance Special # 7781.