By Karen L. Willoughby

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders in Arizona and New Mexico recently set up an informal partnership to provide needed supplies to the most vulnerable and most needy among the sprawling Navajo Nation’s 173,000 native residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DR leaders divided in half – east and west – the 27,413 square-mile Navajo Nation, which, while mostly in Arizona, also splays out across parts of New Mexico and Utah.

The partnership came about after Southern Baptist Tim Tsoodle, director of the Navajo Nation Christian Response Team (NNCRT) asked the Arizona and New Mexico Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units for their help in getting food and other items to the isolated Navajo who were falling through the cracks in what was being done by others.

Donations had come to the NNCRT totaling $6,000, which he could pass on to Disaster Relief if they could help, he said.

“We were given $3,000 to purchase and deliver food and other supplies,” said  Kirchner, interim director of Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. “It’s a lot of canned things, soups, veggies, peanut butter, baby food, canned meat, powdered milk products and the like. That’s what they want.” Kirchner continued.

She gave a list of requested items and the dollar amount available to the Sam’s Club in Flagstaff, where it was gathered and then palletized – boxes shrink wrapped together for transport.

“Not everything was available,” Kirchner said. “We got everything we could.”

Six Arizona Disaster Relief volunteers drove a pickup packed tight with food and supplies from Cross Chruch in Surprise as well as a box truck with the four pallets of food and supplies to Gray Mountain Bible Church, the NNCRT’s distribution point for the west side of the Navajo Nation. Cameron is an hour north of Flagstaff and about 20 miles southwest of Tuba City.

“It almost couldn’t all fit into their trailers,” Kirchner said. “Jenny Martinez said it would probably all be gone by Monday or Tuesday.” Martinez is the NNCRT’s site coordinator at Gray Mountain.

“While we were at Gray Mountain, a Nazarene pastor came by to pick up food and supplies for a remote community,” Kirchner said. “We gathered in a large circle and he prayed both in English and Navajo. [It was] really a blessing.”

New Mexico Disaster Relief will be sending a similar amount of needed items to Rehoboth Christian Academy, two minutes east of Gallup, New Mexico, for the isolated Navajo who live far from shopping areas on the eastern half of the reservation.

“There’s not only a humanitarian need but a spiritual need,” Kirchner said. “God is at work on the Navajo reservation and Disaster Relief can represent Him in unique ways.”

Arizona’s 398 trained Disaster Relief volunteers already have been called out three times this year.

At the request of Maricopa County officials, they were on site for four weeks at a shelter set up for COVID-free homeless people. There, they prepared about 100 meals a day. The Salvation Army took over May 18 when it entered into a long-term contract with the county.

At the request of the FBI, Arizona Disaster Relief recently did “a special exercise in Tucson in feeding and chaplaincy,” Kirchner said. “And our shower unit has been in Yuma two months, providing showers for Crossroads Mission, a shelter for women and families.”

Crossroads’ building had been damaged by a sewage backup issue.

“This effort isn’t COVID-related,” Kirchner said. But the 93 residents on site the day of damage, including 32 children – and the Disaster Relief volunteers maintaining and sanitizing the showers as well as interacting with the residents – face the same virus-related challenges as do all Americans.

Last year, Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief helped in multiple situations, including mud-out and feeding teams in both Iowa and Nebraska in response to severe flooding in those states, and feeding teams in San Diego for two months at an asylum center. That was at the request of California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which was fully engaged in response to the state’s horrific wildfires when C-DR received a request from the state of California to help at the asylum center.

Disaster Relief’s waiting to be asked for its assistance is an SBC-DR policy.

“Arizona Disaster Relief volunteers enjoy serving the Lord by serving others in their time of need,” Kirchner said. “When we build relationships with those we help, we also have the opportunity to see and be a part of God’s kingdom growing.”