God’s Name Changed My Life!
AS TOLD BY SANDY YAZZIE TSOSIE
TRYING to hide, my sisters and I were under the bed giggling and hitting each other when the Mormons knocked at our door.a When I finally answered the door, I rudely told them that we were traditional Navajo and did not want them talking to us about any white man’s religion.
Our parents had gone to the trading post for necessities. They were due back at sunset. On their return they learned that I had been rude to the Mormons. They gave me good counsel never to treat anyone with disrespect again. We were taught to treat people with respect and kindness. I remember when an unexpected visitor arrived one day. My parents had cooked a meal outdoors. They hospitably invited the visitor to eat first, and then we ate afterward.
Life on the Reservation
We lived at Howell Mesa, Arizona, nine miles northwest of the Hopi Indian Reservation, far away from congested cities and towns. This is in the southwestern United States, where there is spectacular desert scenery, punctuated by unusual red sandstone formations. There are many mesas—high, steep-walled plateaus. From these we could watch our sheep graze five miles in the distance. How I loved the serenity of this country, my homeland!
During high school I became very close to my cousins who supported the American Indian Movement (AIM).b I was very proud of being a Native American and voiced my opinions to white people about the decades of oppression, which I believed were caused by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Unlike my cousins, I did not openly display my hatred. I kept it secret in my heart. That led me to hate anyone who possessed a Bible.
I reasoned that it was because of the Bible that the white people had the power to take away our land and rights and our freedom to practice our own sacred rites! I even forged my father’s signature to get out of the Protestant and Catholic religious ceremonies when we were forced to attend church during my boarding school days. Those schools were intended to assimilate us and make us forget our Indian heritage. We were not even allowed to speak our own language!
We had a deep respect for nature and our surroundings. Each morning we faced the east, uttered our prayers, and gave thanks by sprinkling the sacred corn pollen.c This was my formal training in worship the Navajo way, and I wholeheartedly accepted it with pride. Christendom’s idea of going to heaven did not appeal to me, nor did I believe in a fiery torment in hell. My heart was set on living on the earth.
During school vacations I enjoyed my close-knit family. Cleaning the hogan—our Navajo dwelling—weaving, and caring for the sheep were my daily routine. We Navajo have been sheepherders for centuries. Each time I cleaned our hogan (see photo below), I noticed a little red book that contained the Bible book of Psalms and several books of the “New Testament.” I kicked it here and there, never giving any thought to its contents and meaning. But I never got rid of it.
Marriage—Illusion and Disillusion
After graduation from high school, I planned to attend trade school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, I met my husband-to-be before I left. I returned to the Navajo reservation, which we call the Rez, to marry. My parents had been married for many years. I wanted to follow in their footsteps, so I married. I loved being a homemaker and enjoyed our domestic life, especially with the birth of our son, Lionel. My husband and I were very happy—until one day when I heard heartbreaking news!
My husband had another woman! Our marriage was shattered by his infidelity. I fell apart and became very hateful toward him. I wanted revenge! But during the course of our divorce battles over our son and financial support, I simply became sad, feeling worthless and without hope. I used to run for miles to ease my grief. I broke down in tears readily and lost my appetite. I felt totally alone.
Some time later, I started a relationship with a man who had similar marital problems. We were both hurting. He showed me fellow feeling and provided the emotional support I needed. I told him of my innermost thoughts and feelings about life. He listened, which showed me that he cared. We made plans to get married.
Then I found out that he too was unfaithful! As difficult and painful as it was, I forced him out of my life. I felt rejected and deeply depressed. I became bitterly angry, revengeful, and suicidal. I made two attempts to end my life. I just wanted to die.
My First Inkling of a True God
I shed many tears while praying to a God whom I did not know. Yet, I tended to believe that there was a Supreme Being who had created the awesome universe. I was intrigued with the beautiful sunsets and meditated on how wonderful that Someone was to allow us to enjoy these marvels. I grew to love that person whom I did not know. I started saying to him: “God, if you really exist, help me, give me direction, and make me happy again.”
Meanwhile, my family was worried, especially my father. My parents hired medicine men to heal me. My father said that a good medicine man would never quote you a price, and he would practice what he preached. To please my parents, I went through the Navajo Blessing Way religious ceremonies on several occasions.
I spent days secluded in the hogan with only a radio by my bedside. I listened with abhorrence to a clergyman’s condemnation because I didn’t accept Jesus in my heart. I was so turned off! I had had it with the white man’s religion and even with my own religion! I made up my mind to find God in my own way.
During my seclusion I noticed that little red book again. I discovered that it was part of the Bible. By reading the Psalms, I learned about King David’s sufferings and depression, and I felt comforted. (Psalm 38:1-22; 51:1-19) However, because of my pride, I quickly dismissed everything I read. I would not accept the white man’s religion.
Despite my depression, I managed to take good care of my son. He became my source of encouragement. I started watching religious TV programs that offered prayers. I picked up the phone and made a desperate call to an 800 number for help. I slammed the phone down when I was told to make a pledge of $50 or $100!
The divorce court trials depressed me, especially seeing my husband not being truthful to the tribal judge. It took a long time to finalize our divorce because of battles to get custody of our son. But I won. My father, without a word, lovingly supported me during the trials. He saw that I was deeply hurt.
My First Contact With the Witnesses
I decided to take life one day at a time. On one occasion I noticed a Navajo family talking to my neighbors. I could not resist spying on them. The visitors were involved with some type of door-to-door work. They came to my home also. Sandra, a Navajo, identified herself as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The name Jehovah caught my attention more than anything else. I said: “Who is Jehovah? You must be a new religion. Why was I not taught God’s name in church?”
She kindly opened her Bible to Psalm 83:18, which says: “That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” She explained that God has a personal name and that his Son, Jesus Christ, was a witness for Jehovah. She offered to teach me about Jehovah and Jesus and left me the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.d Excited, I said: “Yes. I would like to try this new religion!”
I finished the book overnight. Its contents were new and different. It explained that life has a purpose, and it was what I needed to rekindle my interest in life. I started studying the Bible, and to my delight, many of my questions were answered from the Bible. I believed everything that I learned. It made sense, and it had to be the truth!
I started teaching Bible truth to Lionel when he was six years old. We prayed together. We encouraged each other with the thought that Jehovah cared and that we needed to trust him. Sometimes I had no strength to cope. Yet, his little arms around me, together with the confident and reassuring comment, “Don’t cry, Mummy, Jehovah will take care of us,” made a world of difference. How that comforted me and gave me determination to continue studying the Bible! I prayed incessantly for guidance.
The Effect of Christian Meetings
Our appreciation for Jehovah inspired us to travel 150 miles [240 km] round trip to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tuba City. We attended twice a week during the summer and all day on Sunday during the winter months because of the inclement weather. On one occasion when our car broke down, we hitchhiked to the Kingdom Hall. The long drives were tiring, but a comment Lionel made that we should never miss a meeting unless we were dying impressed upon me the importance of not taking for granted spiritual instruction from Jehovah.
At the meetings my tears flowed easily when we sang Kingdom songs that emphasized living forever without life’s miseries. I drew comfort and encouragement from Jehovah’s Witnesses. They followed the course of hospitality by inviting us to their homes for lunch and refreshments, and we participated in their family Bible studies. They showed an interest in us and listened. The elders in particular played a key role in empathizing with us and reinforcing our conviction that Jehovah God cared. I was happy to gain real friends. They were refreshing and even wept with me when I felt I could continue no longer.—Matthew 11:28-30.
Two Big Decisions
Just when I felt content with Jehovah’s provisions, my boyfriend returned to make amends. I still loved him and could not refuse his pleas. We made plans to get married. I thought that the truth would change him. That was the biggest mistake of my life! I was not happy. My conscience bothered me terribly. To my dismay, he did not want the truth.
I confided in one of the elders. He reasoned with me from the Scriptures and prayed with me over my decision. I concluded that Jehovah would never hurt me or cause me pain but that imperfect people would, no matter how much we adore them. In fact, I learned that there is no security in so-called common-law marriages. I made a decision. It was very difficult and painful to end this relationship. Even though I would be suffering financially, I needed to trust in Jehovah with all my heart.
I loved Jehovah and resolved to serve him. On May 19, 1984, I symbolized the dedication of my life to Jehovah God by water baptism. My son, Lionel, is also a baptized Witness of Jehovah. We received much persecution from my family and ex-husband, but we continued to put matters in Jehovah’s hands. We were not disappointed. My family calmed down and accepted our new way of life after 11 long years.
I love them very much, and all I want is for them to give Jehovah a chance so that they can be happy too. My father, who thought that he had lost me to depression and suicide, defended me courageously. He was content to see me happy again. I found that praying to Jehovah, attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and applying God’s Word are vital to the healing process.
Hope for the Future
I look forward to a time when all traces of suffering, imperfection, falsehood, and hatred will be completely gone. I imagine our Navajo land blossoming with endless vegetation, with the peach and apricot trees that used to be here. I see the joy of different tribes taking part in transforming their arid homelands into a beautiful paradise with the help of rivers and rain. I see us sharing land with our Hopi neighbors and other tribes instead of being rivals as we have been in recent history. I now see how God’s Word unites all races, tribes, and clans. In the future I will see families and friends united with their dead loved ones by means of the resurrection. It will be a time of great rejoicing with everlasting life in view. I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to learn about this wonderful prospect.
Theocratic Expansion in the Land of the Navajo
It has been a thrill to see a Kingdom Hall in Tuba City and to watch the growth of four congregations on the Navajo and Hopi reservationse—Chinle, Kayenta, Tuba City, and Keams Canyon. When I first enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School in 1983, I only imagined that one day it would be conducted in Navajo. It is no longer a product of my imagination. Since 1998, the school has been conducted in the Navajo language.
Telling others that God has a personal name has brought endless blessings. Being able to read and share the faith-strengthening expressions in our own native tongue that are found in the brochures Nihookáá’gi Hooláágóó liná Bahózhoóodoo! (Enjoy Life on Earth Forever!), Ha’át’fíísh éí God Nihá yee Hool’a’? (What Does God Require of Us?), and the latest, Ni Éí God Bik’is Dííleelgo Át’é! (You Can Be God’s Friend!) is too overwhelming to explain in words. I am grateful to the faithful and discreet slave class for spearheading this Bible education work so that all nations and tribes and languages can benefit, including the Navajo people, the Diné.—Matthew 24:45-47.
I work full-time to support myself but enjoy the auxiliary pioneer service regularly. I appreciate my singleness and desire to serve Jehovah without distractions. I am content and happy to tell my people and others, especially those in despair, that “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”—Psalm 34:18.
I no longer feel that the Bible is the white man’s religion. God’s Word, the Bible, is for everyone who wishes to learn and apply it. When Jehovah’s Witnesses call on you, let them show you how to be truly happy. They are bringing you good news of God’s name, Jehovah, the name that changed my life! “Aoo,’ Diyin God bízhi’ Jiihóvah wolyé.” (“Yes, God’s name is Jehovah.”)
b AIM is a civil rights organization founded by a Native American in 1968. It is often critical of the BIA, which is a government agency established in 1824, ostensibly to promote the welfare of the nation’s Indians. The BIA often leased mineral, water, and other rights on the reservations to non-Indians.—World Book Encyclopedia.
c Pollen is considered to be a sacred substance and is used in prayer and rituals, symbolizing life and renewal. Navajo believe that the body becomes holy when one travels over a trail sprinkled with pollen.—The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions.
d Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
[Picture on page 21]
A typical Navajo hogan
[Picture on page 21]
With my son, Lionel
[Picture on page 23]
With Russian friends at the international convention in Moscow in 1993
[Picture on page 24]
With my spiritual family in the Kayenta Congregation, Arizona