The Making of a Warrior for God
The year was 1934, and I was six months old. My father, mother and I lived in a small wickiup he had built for us in the small Apache settlement known as Camp Verde.
The afternoons in Arizona were hot during the summer months so we found shade under the brush arbor next to the wickiup. We felt the small breezes but still, there was little relief from the heat. My mother watched over me while I slept in my cradleboard. She made bread, ground acorns, and fed those who occasionally stopped by to visit. She worked hard to show hospitality to others, and still care for her family.
One afternoon, my grandfather and father were talking together when a neighbor rode in. It was obvious that he had been drinking. The voices had been quiet up until now, but suddenly the voice of the visitor known as Nalte became harsh and angry. He shouted at my father, “You always make fun of me. I am tired of it! Be quiet, or I will stop your mouth!”
“You can never take a joke, Nalte,” my father replied. “It is a sign of a little man when he cannot laugh at himself. You drink too much wine.”
“I told you to stop,” shouted Nalte, as he pulled a gun from his belt. “Now I will stop you!” He began firing shots, and one bullet hit my father in the leg! In spite of the shock and pain my father managed to run to the wickiup to arm himself. My mother quickly picked me up and ran for the cover of the brush nearby. My grandfather wrestled Nalte for his gun!
My father grabbed his rifle and returned quickly, but it was too late. Nalte had fired his gun again, this time killing my grandfather. My father shouted at Nalte to stop. But Nalte shot my father again, this time fatally wounding him. My father was determined to protect my mother and me with what little strength he had left. He managed to aim and fire his rifle, ending Nalte’s rampage. Within five minutes three men lay dead: my father, my grandfather, and our neighbor, Nalte.
I didn’t learn of these events until many years later. This was the first of several times where I know God certainly protected my life.
With the death of my father and grandfather, my mother decided to make the long trip from Camp Verde to San Carlos where our relatives lived. She hoped they would take us into their camp. It was a long journey on foot. After several days we arrived at the home of Aunt May, a relative she had never met before. Aunt May welcomed us, and we became part of her family. She helped my mother weave baskets and make beadwork to sell at the trading post. They worked together to fix up her grandmother’s old house so we could have our own home. Our life now had a new beginning. Eventually my mother remarried, and I had a new stepfather.
As a child, I had little interaction with outsiders. I grew up speaking only the Apache language. There were many things in our small community that we did not comprehend. If anyone was sick, there was suspicion that an enemy’s curse was causing the illness. Eventually, more and more of our people began to understand new ways. Our people began to seek treatment at the government medical clinic. When I was old enough, I began attending the school close by in the community of Peridot. I learned English and began to read and write.
Soon, tragedy struck our family once again. My stepfather made the decision to go out on a Saturday night with some men who were drinking. He never came back. No one would admit to knowing what had happened, but the following morning his body was found lying on the railroad tracks where a train had run over him. My mother was broken hearted again, and this time I was old enough to understand. I cried with her.
During this time, God was at work in our community. People began to notice a great change in the life of an Apache man named Manual Victor. He had been known for his drinking, gambling, and fighting. Now, he was happy and helping others. When people asked what happened to him, he said that God had changed his heart. Many came to listen to his story. He decided to start a church on a hill near where we lived. He quarried local rock called tufa stone and built a building one stone at a time. It was known in our community as the Tufa Stone Church. The sign over the door said Apache Independent Church.
My mother decided we should go to the services. All of the teaching came from a Holy Book we called “Bik’ehgo’ihi’nan Biyati’” in our Apache language. It was the first time we had heard God’s Word read in our own language. Eventually, the entire New Testament was translated into our Western Apache language.
The preaching in our language helped our community to understand the message from our Creator. We were told that anyone can know all about God. He loves all people and will change our lives if we will allow Him to do so.
My mother was so happy that she could understand. The messages gave her comfort and hope. As a child, I struggled to understand all that I heard, but I loved the singing. My mother and I sang the songs over and over all during the week. We began to understand our Creator’s great love for us.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Each Sunday, the way of salvation was presented to the congregation.
All people have sinned.
We all need a Savior to take away our sin.
Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty of our sin.
We are invited to ask forgiveness and receive Jesus as our personal Savior.
This time, my mother went forward at the end of the service. I asked her why she did that and she explained to me that she had prayed. She asked God to forgive her of her sin and she accepted the Lord Jesus as her own personal Savior. From that day on I saw her living a different life. She was a changed person. God used my mother as a great influence in my life and in our home.
The days of my childhood on the reservation went by quickly. My schooling only went through sixth grade. I was selected to attend High School in Phoenix, Arizona which was 100 miles away. In 1946, I left my home, family, and community for the first time.
My first impressions in this new world were a mixture of fear and awe. I had never been around so many people, buildings, and traffic. We were required to follow a strict schedule of classes. I met fellow students from many different tribes. There were Navajo, Pima, Papago, and Hopi among others.
I studied hard the next several years learning more and more about the world away from my reservation. During my senior year a military recruiter visited our classes and offered us the opportunity to serve our country. The idea appealed to me. I was of Apache warrior descent. The longing to be a warrior was in my blood. I signed up and became a paratrooper in the United States Army. Over the next four years, I was deployed oversees in Germany. I was in some very dangerous situations. Again and again, God protected me!
I finally returned home to San Carlos. I was honorably discharged, and I accepted a job offer at the new government hospital. I was so glad to be home among my own Apache people! I had missed being with family. It wasn’t long until I met and fell in love with Ethel Little. After passing inspection by her family, we were married. We built a small house in an area called Gilson Wash near San Carlos.
I experienced so many blessings from God, yet I still did not know God in a personal way. God had protected me as an infant. He had used our church to plant seeds of knowledge in my mind as a child. I observed the example of my mother’s changed life. Over the years, I believe God was patiently bringing me to a fuller understanding.
“When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.” (Psalm 91:15-16)
Then, God did something amazing! I had just started a fire in the wood stove when I heard a knock at the door. A man named Don Rovey had traveled from his Pima Indian Reservation which was located many miles south of us. God had brought him to our door. He had a heart full of compassion, and he was burdened to share the Good News of salvation that had changed his life. I respected his courage for God. I had seen that kind of courage displayed by my fellow soldiers in the Army, but this man was a true warrior for God!
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)
He began to come every week for Bible studies with Ethel and me in our home. Many nights I would be tired after a long day of work. He must have been tired too after his long trip to minister to us. As we studied the Book of John, I began to understand my Creator. Don Rovey always gave a Bible answer for all my questions. For a period of time, I resisted obeying the commands of the Bible. I did not want to surrender to God, so I made excuses. I was afraid of losing my friends. I didn’t have the courage yet to be God’s warrior. I was too worried about what people would think about me.
One night, Don Rovey announced that this was the last time he could come to teach us because he was returning to his people. He once again opened his Bible and explained how I needed to turn from my sin and trust Jesus Christ as my Savior. It would be the most important choice of my life!
He said, “If you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross and arose from the grave to take your sin away, then admit that you have sinned against God and ask Him for forgiveness. Repent of your sin. Pray in faith accepting God’s forgiveness.”
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10)
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19-20)
Suddenly, God had His way in my heart. It did not matter what others would say. It only mattered whether I was going to obey or disobey God. That night, I knelt and prayed. I surrendered my life to Christ. I wanted to be used of God like Don Rovey. I wanted to be a genuine warrior for God.
That is when my life truly changed. I had joy in my life. Both Ethel and I committed to honor the Lord and serve Him in our community. As we studied God’s Word, we grew spiritually. We opened our home for Bible studies with others who also encouraged us. Eventually, we wanted to be able to have more people gather to learn God’s Word and to worship with us. We took a portion of our land and gave it to be used for a church in our community.
I share my story, so that you can see how God is at work in your life, just as He worked in my own. He created you. He has a purpose for your life. He has protected you when you may not have even realized it.
There are many examples of God’s protection recorded in the Bible. God protected Moses from death as a baby (Exodus 2). God was preparing him to rescue his people from captivity and lead them to their Promised Land. When David was a young shepherd, God protected him from a lion and a bear! God was preparing David to be a warrior for his people and eventually, to be their king (I Samuel 17). God protected Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). He was a great witness to a nation that needed to learn how great God was. God has a wonderful plan for each of our lives!
God wants you to know that He loves you.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God wants you to understand that you have sinned.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“Your sins have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)
God has a gift for you.
We all need His gift because we are all sinners. The gift of salvation is free to you.
Jesus paid the cost when He died on the cross. He will forgive all who have sinned if they believe and trust in Him.
You can pray to God. Tell Him you believe His message and accept His gift.
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” (I John 5:13-14)
When you trust in Jesus Christ to be your Savior, you are accepted into His family. You have been born again (John 3:3, 7). You now have assurance of Eternal Life!
Here are some ways you can grow as a warrior for God:
Read your Bible every day.
Pray throughout the day.
Attend your church each Sunday to hear Bible preaching.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:14-16)
(Copyright Today’s Native 2020)