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In the desert, but not deserted

The Dennisons share about coming to faith in the Navajo community

by Tasha Books

Johnny B Dennison, 73, can remember sleeping in a hogan (a mud brick shelter) on a sheepskin bed, but now he and wife, Nellie G, 71, have a house with running water. Living in the Nageezi Navajo community in New Mexico, the Dennisons are part of the Brethren in Christ church plant Freedom of Nations.

“We did a lot of good things for our people without knowing God . . . but we didn’t know He loved us until we found out about Him six years ago,” relates Johnny B. He points to Ben Stoner, who planted Freedom of Nations: “He told us.” Despite their suspicion of strangers, a common sentiment among the Navajo, the Dennisons had allowed the Stoners into their home because, says Johnny B, “We had nothing to fight for.”

Johnny B reports that other Navajo are “still afraid of something”—possibly that their land or culture might be jeopardized by outsiders. But the Dennisons aren’t afraid. “Since we believed the Lord, He’s taken care of us, He’s protected us . . . He’s comforting us,” Johnny B says.

Johnny B left the reservation as a young teen to attend an Indian school in Arizona and later worked on the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming, but he returned to New Mexico to marry Nellie G. The Dennisons have been together for 55 years and are the parents of 13 children.

The couple made a declaration of faith in 2004. “We believe Him even though we don’t see Him. God is real, I know I believe Him; Jesus is real, I know I believe Him; His Holy Ghost is real, and I believe Him,” Johnny B declares.

Johnny B had always had a hard time believing the traditions taught by the Medicine Man, a Navajo spiritual leader. “Just carry this arrowhead and it will protect you,” he was once told. “I never felt anything,” Johnny B says.

When they were first learning about God, the Dennisons attended a local Christian revival meeting. An offering was taken, but all they had to give was a few pennies. They asked God to bless their gift. Soon after, one of their daughters gave the couple a $30,000 truck. “What we pray for is always there, right in front of us,” Johnny B affirms. “Our life was alright before, but now it’s better.”

Johnny B often gets up around 4 a.m. to read his Navajo translation of the Bible. He sings his own songs from Scripture, sometimes at public gatherings as a testimony of what he believes. When the Dennisons think about following God, Johnny B speaks for them both when he says, “We want to serve Him, talk about Him, sing to Him, dance to Him.”

This article originally appeared in the spring 2008 issue of In Part magazine.
Tasha Books

Tasha Books is a freelance writer who grew up in Santa Fe, N.M. She lives in Harrisburg, Pa.

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