In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explained that a man’s neighbor is the person who shows him mercy. Helping those in need has been the goal of countless missionaries who have traveled the globe, but one group of Alabamians has joined an effort to help meet the needs of livestock owners much closer to home, making neighbors of people who live across the country.
"When most people think of an Indian reservation, they think of something like Cherokee, NC, but the Navajo Nation is about the same size as the state of West Virginia. It is truly another nation inside this country," said veterinarian Perry Mobley of Abbeville.
Dr. Mobley and 14 other people from Alabama, Florida and Georgia spent nearly a week in June working with the Ojo United Methodist Church in New Mexico to give veterinary treatment to the livestock providing desperately-needed income there, a work Mobley said has changed his ideas about mission work.
"That first trip I took out there eight years ago, I thought I was going to help somebody. I was the one who was helped though," he said. "The level of poverty there is just unimaginable for most people. There’s a tremendous amount of elderly people whose sole livelihood is their sheep and goats; so the work we do there meets a great financial need."
While working on the reservation, Mobley and others provided vaccines and other routine veterinary care to sheep, goats, cattle, horses and a few dogs, each day working within a 100-mile radius of the Ojo UMC located on the Navajo reservation.
"Our purpose is simply to help the people we can help, but in doing that, we translate the love of God from our home communities to people in New Mexico. I am more convinced every time I take this trip our true purpose is for the body of Christ in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia to encourage the body of Christ there," Mobley explained.
Mobley and his wife Charlotte first became involved with this annual mission trip when Charlotte heard the program was in need of a vet who could travel to the reservation.
"It’s hard to imagine in this day and time, but a lot of people there are still wary of any white man. In the beginning, it was a struggle to be accepted by the tribe, but now they’ve seen what we’re doing and how it’s helped the overall health of their livestock, their governing agencies have even adopted veterinary missions as part of their overall animal health program," he said.
When the animal care was completed at each farm, the mission team gave the farm family a Bible and asked about the family’s prayer needs before all present joined hands in prayer.
Abbeville United Methodist Church Minister Bob Yawn and his wife Cheryl traveled with the mission team this year for the first time, and Cheryl said they’re already excited about going back.
"I’d never been on a mission trip before and I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was amazed and very pleased by everything that happened while we were there. It was awesome to see what effect this work has had on the people there," she said.
Cheryl said they drove over 1,300 miles on the reservation, sometimes traveling 100 miles between farms there.
"And their hospitality is amazing. In an area where many people don’t have electricity, they would have prepared food for us. They were so appreciative of what we were there to do," she explained.
In addition to the team that traveled from farm to farm, another group of volunteers distributed clothing and held vacation Bible school at the church.
"John Riley led the group who brought clothes and other goods other congregations donated for the trip, and many of us left most of our clothes and things there. John has such a heart for missions work, and it has been moving to see his work on this project," Cheryl said.
Cheryl worked with the animal care group and said sheep were an amusing challenge.
"When you’re trying to catch them and they all get to running, they will jump through the air. We had so much fun working with them. I ended up on the ground before I knew what happened when one particular ram decided he didn’t like me messing with his sheep," she recalled.
Dr. Mobley too had never worked with sheep before he began visiting the Navajo farms.
"That was a learning experience in itself," he joked.
Both Yawn and Mobley said the annual visits wouldn’t be effective without many other people who aren’t necessarily on the front lines of the animal work though.
"Fred Yazzie, the minister for the Ojo UMC, is a remarkable man and a full-blooded Navajo which has a great deal to do with why these efforts have been successful. These are culturally-pure Navajos and one of the biggest obstacles we faced was the notion that we somehow wanted to diminish their culture. Many of the older people speak no English and Fred preaches in Navajo. My first year out there, when I heard these people singing "Amazing Grace" and "Rock of Ages" in Navajo, all I could do was cry. It was so moving to see God working in the hearts of these people," Mobley said.
"We’re thankful for everybody who participates in this effort, including those whose donations make this work possible. And more than that, we’re thankful for the prayers offered for the trip. Those who pray for the work are just as big a part of it as those who give or go," he added.
And Yawn added that just as much credit goes to one very loving veterinarian.
"Dr. Perry has established a great deal of trust with the Navajo people. They’ve seen fewer losses among their animals, and their livestock are healthier and more productive. To see him hugging everybody, holding their hands in prayer and how grateful they are for his help – he’s such a loving man, and to see his humility and the way he treats them with such kindness is a real blessing," said Cheryl.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.