On May 18, 1916 a letter was written to Orno Follett from the General Conference president officially commissioning him and his wife, Agnes, to be the first Adventist missionaries to the Navajo nation in the southwestern part of the United States. Follett, who had moved to the desert climate after a diagnosis of tuberculosis and the doctor’s prediction that he would only live six months, purchased a team and wagon that summer and began looking for a place to set up a mission. He wandered throughout the Navajo reservation and finally settled near Smith Lake where he felt impressed by God to establish the mission. Emulating Christ’s ministry, his work focused on teaching and healing. As the influenza epidemic spread across America, whole families of Navajo perished, but many were saved by the efforts of Orno and Agnes.
Orno’s own health continued to improve and their labors for the Navajo were unceasing. Eventually a teenage Navajo girl became acquainted with the Folletts and began riding her horse 10 miles to the mission, showing up at their log cabin every day at breakfast time for a Bible study. Lilikai Julian became the first baptized Seventh-day Adventist Navajo at the age of 18. She went on to also become the first woman elected to the tribal council.
From this humble beginning 100 years ago, the missionary effort has grown through Southwest Native Ministries until it now includes more than a dozen churches, schools and missions in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah whose members have a passion to share Jesus with the Native Americans of those areas.
Pastor Steve Gillham is the director of La Vida Mission.