By Karen L. Willoughby
From the depths of one Navajo woman’s personal anguish has emerged the Love Thy Neighbor Pantry for people on the Navajo Nation dealing with COVID-19.
What started with a “What can we do?” discussion during the April 23 Zoom meeting of the Kayenta Women’s Ministry has grown into a daily endeavor to “step out in faith and serve,” Veronica Corrado said.
She is the coordinator of the effort by Navajo women that involves acquiring, sanitizing, packing family-sized grocery sacks, and distributing food and supplies for quarantined and other Navajo families in the Kayenta and Dennehotso communities, about three hours northwest of Gallup, New Mexico.
“A lot of people are caught in shock and fear,” Corrado said. “You can’t step outside yourself unless you have something greater to put your faith and trust in.
“When the first case hit here, I was in shock that it came to the reservation,” Corrado said. “I had to yield my fear of COVID-19 to God and redirect my fear to faith, as I trusted that God is in control.”
She cited Isaiah 41:10 and 13.
“But I grieved just knowing this virus was going to change the way we do life,” Corrado continued. “Knowing I couldn’t go to the grocery store with my children, knowing we couldn’t greet each other with a handshake or a warm embrace, which is a cultural custom, or do things you normally would do on a Saturday, like go to a park or visit family. We just saw our whole way of life change.
“It took me a while to recognize I was going through grief and fear of the future because of that change,” Corrado said. “I kept reading my Bible and, one night, I realized perfect love casts out fear.”
She cited 1 John 4:18.
“That’s when I started to reach outside myself,” Corrado continued. “When you’re sheltering in place, you’re isolated. The Lord encouraged me to call somebody.”
Corrado was co-leader with pastor’s wife Michelle Boyd of Kayenta (Southern) Baptist Church’s prayer group of Navajo women that had started in anticipation of a LifeWay Living Proof Live with Beth Moore event in 2016. Moore’s visit was so successful – attracting about 2,500 women from the reservation—that she returned in 2018.
“After we had the big event, we asked ourselves, ‘What do we do now?’ We decided to do Bible studies,” Boyd said. “From prayer meetings before, to Bible studies after. And it just grew!”
After Moore’s second visit, “We decided to keep going. The one thing we were praying for was that other ladies would come to the Lord,” Boyd said. “After it, we needed to follow up and be available to new believers, but we didn’t have any names. You just have to find them.”
A Facebook page helped get out the word that Bible studies were continuing. The women in this group were the first ones Corrado reached out to.
“We were encouraging each other, sharing our emotions, and just praying for each other over the phone,” Corrado said.
Then she heard a relative was in quarantine.
“As vast as this place [the reservation] is, there are only 13 grocery stores,” Corrado said. “The same day I was going to a grocery store for one relative, I found out another relative was in quarantine too, so took him groceries as well. I started to serve God by helping those in need.
“I prayed, ‘Lord if this is what you want me to do, to help get people food, I’m limited. I’m one person. Give me resources. Give me people to help,’” Corrado said.
She took one of the women in the Bible study with her in mid-April to deliver food, and when they told about their visit at the Bible study, “Janece said it blessed her to give food to someone in our community who was sick, and the other ladies began talking about how they could help,” Corrado said. “The discussion started from there as to who could do what, and I said, ‘Okay. Let’s combine our efforts.’”
Two large donations added to what the women contributed themselves, and God continues to provide, in part with proceeds from a GoFundMe account for the Love Thy Neighbor pantry that member Jacklyn Knight set up at Kayenta Baptist Church.
Each family in need receives one sack of groceries to last about a week, and a second grocery sack of cleaning supplies and non-food items, plus an evangelistic tract and other Christian materials.
“Our women’s ministry team is committed to pray for anyone who is asking for prayer,” Corrado said. “This has been a prayer ministry as well as a food ministry.
“People have been asking for prayer, and that’s encouraging, because they realize a need for something greater, and that gives me hope there will be reconciliation to God our creator,” Corrado said. “There is an awakening happening spiritually. People are seeing there is a higher power, that higher power is now being recognized, and that’s why people are asking for prayer.”
KAREN WILLOUGHBY writes about what God is doing with and through Southern Baptists nationally. She is a member of First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah.