by Diana Fish & Nicole Potgieter
The coronavirus was just gaining media attention when Holbrook Indian School began its spring break. One of our students, who had a less than ideal home life on the reservation, received permission from her guardian to spend spring break with the family of two other students, who lived in the Phoenix area. These two students also had challenges at home, so staff members offered to keep the three students during the break. However, the three were determined to spend their spring break having fun in the “big city.”
Later, we received the news that all students had to stay home through the end of April, with the possibility that schools would be closed for the rest of the school year. Throughout the spring break, we checked in with these three students and were assured that all was going well. However, after the second week, the visiting student shared that under the circumstances she wished to be with her family. One of our teachers was able to pick her up and return her to Holbrook Indian School. The next day, our director of development made the two-hour drive through the Navajo reservation to take the student home.
At that point, there were only two cases of COVID-19 confirmed on the Navajo reservation. A revival meeting had taken place the week before, and it is believed that an outsider brought the coronavirus to the reservation. A stay-at-home order was put in place. As of April 15, there are more than 800 cases and 28 confirmed deaths. “We’ll persevere through this. I don’t know why this is happening. We just don’t know why but God knows,” said Jonathan Nez, Navajo Nation President. “We just put our faith in our prayers, put our faith in our creator, that we know that we will overcome.” Holbrook Indian School invites you to join us in praying for our students, their families, and all the people of the Navajo Nation.
Starting in April, the Navajo Nation was put under a nightly curfew. During Easter weekend, a 57-hour curfew was implemented in which Navajo Police issued more than 100 citations for violations. Nez said he wouldn’t rule out another 57-hour curfew to keep his people safe. In mid-April, the Navajo Nation began receiving rapid testing kits, which will allow people to get their COVID-19 test results back within hours.
We are always concerned about the well-being of our students when they are away from campus. During this time, we have even more to be concerned about. Homes are very small, and often more than one family lives together, creating cramped and unhealthy conditions that will make the spread of the virus harder to contain. Food scarcity has always been an issue; we shudder to think how much worse it is now.
Our boys’ dean, Mike Findorff, and his wife had a wonderful opportunity to impact two students who live with their grandmother on the Apache Reservation. Mrs. Findorff called them often to ensure that everything was going well.
One day she asked if they needed anything. After some hesitation, the student admitted, “We could use some food.” Mrs. Findorff sensed that the student was embarrassed to be sharing that. She immediately promised to see what could be done.
HIS had funds available to help out. The Findorffs headed to the store to buy groceries, and that evening they drove to the reservation. It was already dark and cold when Mr. and Mrs. Findorff arrived. The students’ grandmother came out to meet them. “Thank you,” she repeated over and over. Not long after this, the Apache Reservation put a stay-at-home order in place and travel is now being restricted.
Our teachers are also hard at work serving our students. Sharon Lodge, one of our elementary teachers, spends half an hour on the phone with each of her students, reviewing schoolwork and giving instructions on new assignments. Once a week, school assignments are mailed to our students who do not have internet access. We are currently working on providing hotspots and devices for students who do not have access to the internet.
These daily calls are not just about school. Ms. Lodge asks the students how their days are going and tries to encourage them. They share about family, something fun they did, the movies they watched, or anything that is on their hearts. HIS teachers, counselors, and mentors are reaching out to students to help them stay connected to our loving Savior by praying with them and sharing Bible texts and devotionals. One staff member is studying Steps to Christ with a group of students over the phone.
We often hear our students say that they miss being at school. Holbrook Indian School is a safe place for them to live, learn, and grow. It’s a sanctuary from the trauma and disconnect they face in their lives. Jaden, one of our elementary students, told Ms. Lodge, “I can’t wait to be back at school!” We are hearing this from many of our students.
We don’t know what the new normal will be once the pandemic is over. We do know that the support we receive is more important than ever as we continue to serve our students and this community. It is through faithfulness to this unique ministry that together we can help ensure that Native American children and youth continue to receive a Christian education and go into the world knowing that their Creator loves them and has a plan for them.