“I’m impressed to see how strong the Church is in this place,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as she reached out to Latter-day Saints in New Mexico and Arizona.
Sister Aburto made a historic visit to the American Southwest, November 8–11, 2018, to minister to members on the Navajo reservation, where unemployment is high and many single mothers and grandmothers are raising their children.
“I have felt such a strong spirit in this place,” said Sister Aburto. “I feel that this is a very, very special place with wonderful people, people that have a long history of loving the Savior and loving the earth where they live and loving nature.”
“She came out here to try to understand some of the challenges and problems that the sisters face here so that the Relief Society [general] presidency can determine if there’s something more that they can do for the people here,” explained Elder Todd S. Larkin, Area Seventy, North America Southwest Area, who accompanied the Relief Society leader on her journey.
Sister Aburto met with Latter-day Saint tribal leaders in Gallup, New Mexico, before a devotional on Thursday night.
“I think that really made me feel like there is without question a sincere interest, wanting to know how we’re doing,” said Edison Wauneka, a newly elected member of the Navajo Nation Council, the nation’s legislative branch.
Edison and his wife, Cecilia, raised 10 children and several foster children. Now, Cecilia spends time working on family history.
“I still have to do more work for a lot of my relatives that have gone before us. … I get to learn more about my ancestors and what we’ve been through, and I try to look for stories that they left behind,” said Cecilia Wauneka.
During evening devotionals, Sister Aburto, a native of Nicaragua, taught members about the importance of reading an ancient record of their people — the Book of Mormon.
“I want them to remember that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, that He loves them, that He is aware of them. … We just need to keep trying and doing the things that the Lord has asked us to do, and He will bless us. I also want them to know that the Book of Mormon was written for us, for our time, and this is a book about their ancestors on this land,” she said.
“We know that she is a servant of the Lord. … I really was touched by her testimony, especially when she … said she read the Book of Mormon and she knew that that was her people. And I read [the] Book of Mormon and I felt the same way. I felt like those are my ancestors,” said Helena C. Yellowhair, a youth Sunday School teacher and former Relief Society president in the Chinle Arizona Stake.
Youth and senior missionaries are gathering oral histories from aging members of the tribe to preserve their stories and language because many members of the rising generation speak only English. Sister Aburto was able to see how the process works during some home visits.
Latter-day Saints in Chinle, Arizona, expressed their appreciation to Sister Aburto for her visit with a traditional Navajo dinner, cultural celebration and devotional, complete with authentic Navajo tacos. The Yellowhair family provided the dancing. A choir also sang “I Am a Child of God” in Navajo.
“When I found out she was coming I was very excited, and I wanted to meet her because I kind of share similar stories about life in general with her,” said Christine Wilson, a Relief Society leader from the Chinle Arizona Stake. “Singing in Navajo is very personal … to us because even in our own cultural upbringing we get taught that we have a Heavenly Father, that … we’re holy people.”
Sister Aburto added, “I can feel a depth in their faith and such a wisdom that they have. And I feel that we Latter-day Saints from all over the world have a lot to learn from them about their humility, their sincerity, their wisdom that they have and their faith.”
“I’m so grateful to be here,” she said. “My testimony and my faith have been strengthened because I’m here among these special people. And I know that more miracles will happen here and that they will continue to blossom … like a rose in the desert. … The Lord will continue to do miracles through them because of their faith.”
“You go teach the gospel in your home and not the things of this world,” Elder Larkin urged. “You go preserve the language of your forefathers.”
Sister Aburto ended her trip with a visit to Latter-day Saints in Kayenta, Arizona, before returning to Salt Lake City.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.