Family Works [June 9, 2019]
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Several years ago I took 25 adolescents and 4 adults out west to the Navajo Indian reservation in Leupp, Arizona. Our 14-day project was to build a three-bedroom home on a foundation that was constructed to our specifications the month before we left. Although there were more than fifty teens who wanted the “privilege” of going on this adventure, only the top 25 won that right through local involvement in programs to help the disadvantaged in our own area. There were dissenters. One young man led the group in mocking us. “Build a house! What do you know about building houses?” I explained that we were taking an architect and professional builder to guide us in the process. “Besides,” I teased him, “I have built two bird houses and a bird feeder. There can’t be much more to building a house.” He didn’t appreciate my humor. “That house will never happen. Half the kids going are girls. I bet most of them have never even driven one nail.” “They can all learn . . . even the girls,” I assured this sexist doubter who was now getting on my nerves.
For three months we did learn, about tools, safety, and the Indian culture. When we boarded an Amtrak train to go west, I believed they were ready. This young man and his band of followers continued to mock us, warning us that we were neither ready nor capable. By this time, I deeply appreciated their mocking. Unknowingly, they had provided more encouragement (especially with the girls) then I ever could have. The last laugh, they believed, would be theirs. With delight, we all envisioned our ultimate goal of driving the last nail into the home we had built.
Although it was almost midnight when we arrived, the Navajos were waiting for us with traditional food they must have spent all day preparing. We were touched and motivated by their kindness. At daybreak the next morning we had already finished breakfast and the teens were itching to get started. For fourteen days we worked a minimum of 14 hours each day. They slept on the floors, had no baths, and played not at all. By day three, none of the girls cared any longer if their “construction outfits” matched. Hair tied back in bandanas, dirty jeans, and a T-shirt became standard attire. I could hardly believe their focus. At sunset of day 14 we drove the final nail on a tin roof. We were exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. We had done it, fully finishing the studding for the interior walls, windows, exterior paneling, roof, and even a porch. Hundreds of pictures were taken . . . partly for memory’s sake and partly for proof to take back home.
When we returned, our mockers were noticeably quiet, that is, until we began to look ahead to next year. I shared that I believed we needed go back. We still had the plumbing, the electric, and the drywall to go. Unbelievably, this young man rose in mockery. “You can’t do that! What do you know about electricity and plumbing, and drywall?” I shook my head in disbelief.
Henry Ford was right. “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Did we return and finish the interior of this home? What do you think?
Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.
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