Hogan sweet hogan

Missionaries build homes for Navajos

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

STANDING ROCK, N.M., August 1, 2013

Text size: A A A

(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Volunteer Ken Swarb from Odessa, Texas takes a quick glance of the inside of the hogan he and other members of his church are constructing for Bob and Alta Miller last Friday in Standing Rock.

SECOND FROM TOP: Bob Miller, bottom left, walks his and his wife's new home new home on Friday in Standing Rock.

THIRD FROM TOP: Bob Miller from Standing Rock, N.M. holds a board in place as volunteer Jeff Benbow from Odessa, Texas hammers a nail in on Friday.

F inding a suitable home on the Navajo Nation is hard enough, but building your own on a homesite is even harder.

As a way to show Navajo families that there is still hope of owning a home, the people of Vision Ministries of America from Fort Worth, Texas and Cornerstone Ministries from Smith Lake, N.M. are providing hogans for Navajo families in need on the Navajo Nation.

So far this year 12 families across the Navajo Nation have received or are in the process of receiving a two-bedroom hogan.

"We just wanted to come to the area and give hope to people through the Lord Jesus Christ," Mike Helton, president of Vision Ministries of America said. "We found a place that needed this and it fit my job skills. We're hoping it catches on."

This isn't the first time Vision of America Ministries has constructed hogans for needy families on the reservation. In fact it all started with the construction of one house in Tuba City three years ago and since then the number of hogan constructions has steadily increased.

According to Helton they built three hogans in Lukachukai, Ariz. in 2011, 10 in the Torreon and Cuba, N.M. area in 2012, and now this year they will construct 13.

"We've been waiting to do something like this for a long time," said Bobby Willie, volunteer with Cornerstone Ministries, adding that they want to see the community, churches and the chapters come together to build homes for the people.

This is the first year that Cornerstone Ministries has partnered with Vision Ministries of America and Willie said the families that have been selected for housing have been grateful.

"We're helping the families and youth in need," Willie said, adding they hope this brings the communities together to help better the community. "We're trying to help anyone we can."

Helton said a Sept. 2011 article in the Navajo Times is what sparked their efforts to continue this project.

People told Helton they had waited 10 or 15 years to get help building a house.

"It just confirmed that they needed help. People really needed help with their housing and they're not getting it from the politicians or the Navajo Housing Authority," Helton added.

The hogans

Since the fall of 2012, Helton said, he's traveled across the nation seeking donations from different churches to help with this housing project, and his efforts paid off.

"It really gives the family a start," Helton said, noting he was able to get 13 sponsors that donated $4,000 each.

Those donations are what these hogans are being built with, said Helton, adding that some of the churches that provided a donation even sent out crews from their church to help with the construction.

Each of the hogans is pre-constructed by volunteer groups from several different churches across the nation. The crew that helped with the Miller hogan, for example, was on a mission trip from Monahan, Texas.

"It's good work to do for the people up here," said Kenneth Swarb from the First Baptist Church in Monahan. "I've never seen a hogan before. It had eight sides and that's all I knew."

Swarb's group came out to the Navajo Nation for the first time in March on a scouting trip to see what type of home they were building and where it could go.

Afterwards they returned to Texas to construct the shell of the Hogan at Swarb's home before hauling it back to the reservation early in July to start construction on site.

"We're just trying to do something for other people who maybe aren't as fortunate as we are," Swarb said noting that the hogan is about 730 square feet and is built to house two bedrooms.

The families

There was no real process to how people were selected to receive houses, Helton said. Much of it came from referrals by pastors, ministries and chapter houses.

They would hear the families' stories and visit their homesites before they made their final decision, Helton said. In the future, however, they will have a more extensive process and part of it will be whether the families are willing to help their neighbor build their own hogan.

"I want to see a community coming together and working together," he said.

Willie said one of the families from Smith Lake that was selected was living in a small shack for three years and one that they constructed themselves. The hogan was the first real home they've ever had.

Elta Miller said she and her husband Bob are recipients of a hogan this summer. Before that they were living at the NHA housing complex for the past 15 years because they had nowhere else to go.

"It was really hard to get a home out on the rez," Miller said. "We want to come back to the reservation instead of being in a clustered home area."

Yearning to live on her mother's land in Standing Rock, Miller said she started looking into the different resources that would provide her with assistance to help build a home.

She looked to the chapter and the Navajo Nation government but came up empty-handed until she heard through her husband's co-workers of Cornerstone Ministries.

Miller said she visited Cornerstone Ministries and told them her story of how her mother's current homesite had a home, but it was too run down to be occupied. "Just right then and there they told us, 'We can help you,'" she recalled.

"I know there are a lot of people out there that are in the same situation we are," Miller said. "They came out here to the reservation to help make a home for a family. I don't know how to thank them or what kind of thank you I could say, but all I can say is I am so thankful.

"I feel happy. I get so emotional," she added. "This is the first time I have a home. I thought I was going to live in the housing for the rest of my life, but now I have a chance to live in a home."

When her new home is up and running Miller said the first thing she is going to do is get a small flock of sheep because she grew up around livestock and she remembers her grandparents herding sheep.

"They're really helping people," Miller said of Cornerstone Ministries and Visions Ministries of America. "I had no home but now I'm so happy that I have a home that I can call it my own."

The other Standing Rock family receiving a home is Raymond and Janice Begay who have been living on the land of Janice's father - in fact, they were in the exact same house he once occupied.

The house is 64 years old, according to Janice. Before she reoccupied it 11 years ago it was abandoned for 10 years. The house has no foundation and the walls are starting to fall apart.

Raymond said they were wasting their time trying to salvage that house because it was just too old. Even the Standing Rock Chapter officials told them they were wasting their time and requested that they move into the NHA housing, but that wasn't something the Begays wanted to do.

"We're really happy about this house because this is the first time we have an actually house," Janice said.

Over the years they have been searching for alternate housing or assistance but they were always denied, mostly due to no funding.

Raymond said it's important for families to develop a home on their land sites because "you need a home, and after we leave that hogan is going to be there and our grandchildren will live in it."

"This is my dad's land and we want to hold onto it," Janice said.

Of their work and what the group has been able to accomplish, Helton said, "I'm a grown man crying; it feels great."

The families receiving the homes are Alrene Saunder and Jimmy Garcia from Little Water, N.M.; Ernie Begay from Iyanbito, N.M.; Louise Spencer from Casamero Lake, N.M.; Paul Ration, Gewn Ramone and Lucinda Roman from Smith Lake, N.M.; Larverna Yazzie from Haystack, N.M.; Alta Apachito and Radine Lowley from Baca, N.M.; and Raymond and Janice Begay, and Bob and Elta Miller from Standing Rock, N.M.

For more information: www.visionministriesofamerica.com.