Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Navajo Camp Meeting

A preacher prays over a boy who collapsed in rapture during the alter call at the Navajo Nation Camp Meeting in Ft. Defiance Friday. 

I went to the 23rd annual Navajo Nation Camp Meeting last week. It was one of the most interesting events I've covered in my time as a photojournalist.  

Preachers from across the Navajo Nation, and the western US, come to Navajo Nation Camp Meeting to preach and evangelize. Evangelical Christians make up a growing part of the reservation - there are now about a hundred camp meetings and tent revivals on the reservation every year, almost all during the summer. 

The camp meeting in Ft. Defiance draws nearly 200 people each night of its six day run. Many of the attendees convert to evangelical Christianity from traditional Navajo beliefs, Catholicism or Mormonism. In Ft. Defiance, one of the preachers warned people about following the false faiths of Catholicism, Mormonism or the Native Church.  

One camp meeting regular said the camp meeting and Christianity is about love. He said people's love in Christ would set them free but that traditional beliefs were about fear and taboos. "If you (Navajo people) don't offer pollen to the four directions, something bad would happen, or if you see a coyote cross the road something bad is going to happen." But, he said, Christ's love is about freedom from bondage to those beliefs and bondage caused by alcohol and substance abuse. 

Freedom from drugs and alcohol is a theme among conservative and fundamentalist Christians on the reservation. Several Navajo preachers included their histories and battles with alcohol in their personal testimonies. One Navajo man told me his was on a path to be a Navajo medicine man, but was in an alcohol related single car accident. He discovered Christ during his months long recovery in a hospital Albuquerque and credits his sobriety to his conversion.