ABHMS delegation visits Arizona mission partners, reconnects with ministries on Hopi Reservation

VALLEY FORGE, PA (05/01/2024)—At the end of 2023, a delegation from American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) consisting of the Rev. Ben Sullivan, ABHMS’ national coordinator for Native American Ministries, the Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri, director of ABHMS’ Intercultural Ministries, and the Rev. Kerwin Webb, ABHMS’ national coordinator for Justice and Mission Engagement, visited multiple Arizona partners, including Hopi churches that ABHMS helped to establish more than a century ago. The goal of the trip, the first to Arizona since 2020, was to reconnect with the ministries and identify opportunities for new partnerships.

First Mesa Baptist Church leaders, Polacca, Ariz., and members of an ABHMS delegation

Leaders of First Mesa Baptist Church leaders, Polacca, Ariz., gather with a three-member ABHMS delegation.

Over eight days beginning November 26, the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, the delegation visited Bethany Baptist Church, Keams Canyon Baptist Church, First Mesa Baptist Church and the Sunlight Community Baptist Church (which has since closed its doors). In addition, delegates spent quality time at Rainbow Acres, a residential Christian community that empowers persons with developmental disabilities, and the Peace Academic Center, formerly the Hopi Mission School.

Bethany Baptist Church greeted Onwubuariri on November 26. Located in Clarkdale, Ariz., on the Yavapai-Apache Reservation, this congregation comprises almost twice as many children as adults, which Onwubuariri found remarkable. She also was impressed by how children were fully incorporated into worship. “As we are thinking of intergenerational ministry,” this is a church we could learn from,” she said.

While at Bethany Baptist Church, Onwubuariri eagerly sought out Monique Prigmore, a church member and active participant in the first Intercultural Leadership Institute sponsored by ABHMS. Onwubuariri said that Prigmore “has enriched various conversations convened by ABHMS with her insights and experiences.”

Bethany Baptist Church is a candidate for the 2024 ABHMS cohort focused on youth ministry.

Founded as the Hopi Mission School in 1951 by the General Conference Mennonite Church as an extension of its mission that began in 1893, the Peace Academic Center is a K-8 Hopi Christian formation school with the capacity to serve 40 students. The center is located near Kykotsmovi, Ariz., on the Hopi Reservation. American Baptist Churches USA is a historic partner of the school, which serves children who would otherwise “get lost in the system,” said a member of the ABHMS delegation.

First Mesa Baptist Church, Polacca, AZ

First Mesa Baptist Church, Polacca, Ariz.

On December 2 and 3, delegates visited Keams Canyon Baptist Church in Keams Canyon, Ariz., and First Mesa Baptist Church in Polacca, Ariz., respectively. At Keams Canyon, they discovered an aging mostly Hopi congregation eager to reach out to younger families in the community, while First Mesa delivered a multicultural worship experience.

While a majority of the congregation at First Mesa is Hopi, the pastor and youth pastor are missionaries from South Korea. Other church members, teachers at the local Hopi high school, are Filipino. During their December 3 visit, delegation members joined their hosts in worship and conducted a listening session.Lea

Rainbow Acres in Camp Verde, Ariz., is a Christian community that exists to help its adult residents, who are neurodivergent individuals, live to their fullest potential with dignity and purpose. The community, or “ranch,” provides housing, life-enriching programs and holistic care. ABHMS has partnered with Rainbow Acres, which will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary, in various mission initiatives. Members of the delegation saw the ranch programming firsthand, interacted with the ranchers, and explored exciting future partnership opportunities.

Summarizing the Arizona trip, Webb described it as having had two objections. “One was to meet some of our partners that we had funded before, to see what the work looks like on the ground,” he said. The second was “scouting out possible experiential or immersion trips, and opportunities for the [ABHMS]  Summer Passionary Institute.”

Sullivan acknowledges that the Hopi Reservation may seem desolate and sparsely inhabited at first encounter; however, he knows it to be “an amazing place … full of wonders.” Visiting the Hopi people was a gift, and what emerged from the trip, said Sullivan, “was a commitment by ABHMS to step up our communication with them, address the property issues, and return to this land and bring our colleagues with us to work and learn among the Hopi once again.”

“Another takeaway for me,” said Onwubuariri, “is the desire to bring [Hopi voices] to the larger conversation. They told us, ‘We want to share our stories and our experiences.’ It very much aligns with the goals of Intercultural Ministries that our coordinators not only help to equip leaders to do ministry within their context, but to give a platform to them to shape the larger denomination.”

To learn more about Intercultural Ministries at ABHMS, visit abhms.org.