Home on the Range?

Presb. Church

Hello, dear friends, supporters, and other readers – greetings from the heart of Tohono O’odham nation!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived on the reservation for a full three weeks now.  In some ways it feels like it’s been far longer.  But in other ways I feel like I just arrived yesterday.  Either way, I’m only just beginning to learn about the people and the culture here.

That’s right – even though the reservation (and the same goes for any other reservation) is technically a part of the United States, it’s still a separate nation with its own distinct culture.  For instance, free-range livestock roam the villages, contained only by the occasional cattle-guard.  Cattle, horses, and even dogs are given free reign of the town and can often be seen lounging or grazing by the side of the road.  Or crossing the road.  On my first morning here I was awakened from a nearly-sleepless night by the sound of “mooing” just outside my house.  I definitely wasn’t in the city any more


One evening, inspired by real events, I wrote this lighthearted tale:

Baby Cow wanders away from his parents and ends up behind my house. He can’t find his way back to the opening in the fence where he came in. Mama Cow is on the other side of the fence. Much mooing ensues.
Some dogs run up to the far side of the fence and chase Baby Cow out. Nothing happens for a few seconds – and then Baby Cow returns! Followed shortly by none other than Mama Cow and Daddy Cow (yes, I know that’s not how it works) who give Baby Cow a stern talking to and take Baby Cow back outside the fence. More mooing ensues.
Meanwhile, Daddy Cow returns and peacefully munches on the weeds in my carport.

True story.

But not all the animals are domesticated… or outside.

Shortly after unpacking I discovered that not all was well in my borrowed trailer: I was not alone.  I found copious amounts of mouse droppings, mainly in the kitchen cabinets.  In denial about the possibility that I had an unwelcome guest, I spent an evening scrubbing the cabinets in the hopes that the droppings were evidence of an old visitor who was no longer in residence.  You’ve got to understand: my last experience with house-mice was when I was about 6 years old; I didn’t exactly play a role in catching them.  This was new territory for me – and I really didn’t want to go there.

Three days of finding “missed” droppings later, still in denial about the presence of my furry enemy, I spotted an adorable little gray mouse sprinting from under a chair into the hallway.

Stowaway confirmed.  The hunt was on!

But this mouse was a genius.  Every morning I checked my traps.  And every morning I found several of them bait-less and sprung… empty.  It was as if the mouse was taunting my attempts at rodent eviction.  I tried everything – baiting the traps differently, relocating them, even a live trap – but nothing worked.  This mouse was just too smart for me – Houdini in rodent form.

But one day it made a mistake.  I came home to find a trap missing.  I didn’t have to search for very long to find a dead-looking mouse attached to a trap a few feet away inside the doorway of the next room.

And then it moved.

The mouse wasn’t dead.  The second I leaned down to get a closer look, the mouse jumped up and took off – dragging the trap behind it.  The trap rattled against the linoleum so it wasn’t hard to follow.  I cornered it, scooped it up in a cup, and proceeded to ponder what to do with the creature.

It was adorable.  Sure, it had a broken foot now (that’s what was caught in the trap) but a big part of me wanted to keep it.  Of course, I couldn’t do that but I didn’t want to kill it either.  So I did the only thing I could do – I carefully freed its foot and took it outside, releasing it at the far end of my driveway.

I don’t know if that mouse survived the night but its partner-in-crime didn’t.  I woke the next morning to find another mouse, nearly identical to the first one, dead in one of my remaining traps.

It’s been over a week now since I caught that second mouse and as far as I can tell, I’m free and clear of unwanted guests.

But I’m not just here to catch mice – my real role is teacher.

My first few weeks as a teacher have been loaded with new experiences.  There are six students in my class, ranging in age from 9 to 12 years old.  The curriculum we use is individualized so each student works at his or her own pace and my role is to supervise, facilitate, and assist – which means it’s a lot like tutoring, something I actually have experience in.

And I’m enjoying it.

I’m still working on building up relationships with the kids but it’s still early in the year.  My hope is that by the end of the year, I’ll be able to work with each of them on a deeper level.

In addition to classroom work, I’ve also been leading devotions for both classes combined (12 students total) twice a week – alternating days with the other teacher – and leading music for chapel once each week.  Music in chapel is something that’s new this year so the students are still shy about joining in.  My hope is that in a few months they will all feel comfortable enough with me and with each other to join in singing praises together.


I’m still looking for places to plug into the community.  I’ve gone to several different churches including a small group and Bible study but as of this moment I haven’t committed to anything.  There are several needs that I’ve seen already, everywhere from children’s ministry to song leading, but I can’t fill them all and I haven’t narrowed down which ones I can work on.  One thing that I don’t want to do is fill a hole so completely that I cause a crack when I pull out after school gets out next spring.  One of the goals of missions is to raise up local leaders to fill the gaps, not to fill them with foreign influence.  And, particularly since I won’t be here long term, I want to honor that goal.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I can’t serve in a church or in the community while I’m here.  It simply means that I can’t make myself too indispensable!

As much as I’ve learned in the last few weeks about the ways of life on the reservation, there is ten times that amount still to be learned.  And I’m looking forward to every moment of it – one narrowly avoided cow at a time.


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