With the help of a substantial donation, World Renew Disaster Relief Services (DRS) was recently able to add to existing funds to hire a contractor to remove the charred remains of three Naschitti (N.Mex.) CRC buildings destroyed by arson in August 2019.

The burned-out shells of the former church, parsonage, and another home had been left standing on the church property since the fire — and the cost of removing them was out of reach for the church, said Bob Laarman, director of World Renew DRS.

“We are eager to help when we have the right resources to support our church brothers and sisters in crisis,” said Laarman.

Located in a relatively remote area between Gallup and Shiprock, N.Mex., the existing Naschitti church and three other buildings were the target of an arsonist on Aug. 20 last year. The congregation’s former church building and two abandoned buildings, all about 50 yards away from the current church, were destroyed. The current church building was also the target of arson but sustained mainly smoke damage and was able to be spared.

Besides covering the cost of removing the structures, World Renew DRS brought in volunteers and funds for materials to do significant work in the church building after the fire. This work was in coordination with the church members.

“Now the church is in a better position to be able to finish the work themselves. Our lament is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic we could not be there in person with the people of the Naschitti church. Our mutual sharing of God's love had to be done remotely. This is not as satisfying,” said Laarman.

Jerome Sandoval, chair of the Naschitti CRC council, said he is very grateful that the buildings have been removed. All that is left is to work with Navajo Nation officials to fill in the holes left behind.

While Sandoval regrets not being able to meet with World Renew representatives because of COVID-19 restrictions, he is very aware of the impact the virus has had on the reservation.

“We were doing really well,” said Sandoval. “We had gotten the church ready by mid-November and were able to worship again. People were coming together and doing well. Then March came, and the government shut everything down, and we couldn’t worship together anymore.”

So far, more than 10,000 of the Navajo Nation’s people have tested positive for the virus, and more than 500 have died.

Sandoval said people close to him have tested positive, and he knows of several people who have died.

“It has affected many of us,” he said. “But we don’t know the extent of the damage that has happened to people in our church and on the reservation because we are so far apart and don’t have media covering what is going on.”

Sandoval explained that because of the spread of COVID-19, the tribal government has closed the reservation down on weekends, from Friday night to Monday morning, making it impossible for members of the Naschitti church to gather, even outside, to worship.

“We’re waiting and praying that we can get together again,” he added.

For the church, Sandoval does provide a message and holds a Bible study for 30 minutes on Facebook Live on Sunday mornings. To his surprise, people from all over the world have clicked in to have a look.

“Still, the tough time persists,” he said. Many people on the reservation are poor, and in some places food is scarce. Sandoval recalls taking some food out to people living far out in a remote area of the reservation.

“When I pulled up, I saw an old vehicle in which a couple were sleeping,” he said. “Another person came out and just wanted to talk. This made me wonder, ‘How is the mind of my people now?’ We’ve been so isolated.”

Looking beyond the struggles, Sandoval said he takes pleasure and comfort in prayer, in talking to God. And he remains grateful to World Renew for coming to help in a time of need.

Without the assistance of World Renew volunteers and the financial help to remove the burned structures, he doesn’t know where they would be, he said — especially during this time of COVID-19 shutdown.

“Thank you to World Renew,” said Sandoval. “Now we are just out here waiting and praying and hoping that we can get together again at our church.”