A trio of Calvin alumni has made the small community of Zuni Pueblo, N.M., their home for decades, understanding that ministering to this tight-knit village of Native Americans does not come with a short-term option.
“The Christian Reformed Church has been in Zuni since 1897, and we stand on the shoulders of people who came before us,” said Mike Meekhof ’76 MDiv’84. “We see the results of work done long before we came. We’re continuing that work across generations.”
Meekhof, the pastor of Zuni Christian Reformed Church, along with wife Ardy Engbers Meekhof ’76, a kindergarten teacher at the Zuni Christian Mission School, and Kathy Bosscher ’68, a teacher and the principal of the school, are sharing one of Calvin’s Distinguished Alumni Awards this year.
“Length of service is important in any mission post, and nowhere more than in Zuni,” said Tom Weeda, who served as the teaching principal of the school from 1967–1969. “Zunis, for good historical reasons, are very slow to accept new people from outside the pueblo. Only a denomination with a very strong belief in a sovereign God would have remained to witness in Zuni all these years.”
Just 40 miles south of a well-known Navajo-Christian Reformed community in Rehoboth, Zunis have maintained a cautious, protective strategy to keep their culture and history alive, and with that comes deeply held animist spiritual practices. To become a Zuni Christian is to strain family relationships.
In addition, poverty and struggles with addiction have given the Zuni people—and those who care for them—difficult challenges to overcome.
Into that complicated history and daunting present enter three Calvin alumni—the Meekhofs in 1989 and Bosscher (for the first time) in 1990. Since then, this dedicated trio has been sharing God’s word and the love of Jesus with the community through the dual ministry of church and K–8 school.
Mike and Ardy were serving the Comstock Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids when Ardy’s parents, Bernie and Niecia Engbers, served Zuni in retirement as volunteer school administrator and teacher, respectively. The Meekhofs visited and became known by the ministry leaders there.
“We were initially conflicted about the call and asked some friends to talk and pray with us separately,” said Ardy. “At the end of the evening, Mike and I shared what had happened in our groups, and it was clear that the Lord was calling us to go.”
They’ve never left since. Their three children—Chad, Tara and Gina—are all Calvin alumni, and all were raised in the Zuni community.
Kathy Bosscher grew up at Rehoboth, where her father was the campus maintenance supervisor. After a Calvin education degree and a University of Michigan master’s in education, she enlisted in the Peace Corps and spent three years in the Philippines. While there she came into contact with the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators, which led to five more international assignments with that organization—to Asia and Africa. In between these assignments, she taught, first in the Navajo reservations and then at Zuni.
“I think you can call me a reluctant missionary,” she said. “But God used my reluctance and put me in the place I most needed to be.”
In 1999, she became the Zuni Mission School’s principal as well as a teacher there; she does administrative work in the morning and teaches first- and second-graders in the afternoon.
“The three Calvin grads are Zuni, today, really,” wrote author James Schaap, a retired Dordt College English professor who has been writing stories about the Christian ministry in the Southwest. “They are—if there ever will be—perfect examples of selfless giving to the promotion and life of the Kingdom.”
Zuni is nestled in a gorgeous panorama of majestic and colorful mesas. It is impossible to look around and not see God’s handiwork everywhere. That’s exactly what Mike and Ardy Meekhof and Kathy Bosscher think, too—but they’re not primarily referring to the scenery (although they love the outdoors). They believe in and see God’s creative work in the children and the families of Zuni.
For more than 100 years, Zuni Christian Mission has been building a reputation of respect in the Zuni community—home to a friendly but intensely loyal tribe that does not readily accept outside influence. To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to teach children in a Christ-centered manner in this place is brave and challenging. Yet, the school has recently been rebuilt in a stunningly beautiful fashion, and the next stage of construction—for a new worship space, school gymnasium and staff housing—will commence this year if approved by the tribal council.
Along with other buildings, they are tearing down the old bungalow parsonage that has been the Meekhofs’ home since they arrived. This house was the only building that survived the 1971 fire that destroyed the 1930s mission facility of church, school and staff residences. Until the new school was built, students and teachers learned in portable classrooms and modular housing.
Mike knows many of the people and the stories of the Zuni community, learned during his 24-year ministry here. And many Zuni people know him. “Pastor Mike,” they greet him. He can show you the homes where his parishioners and school families live, and he also has become a kind of “village chaplain,” often invited to traditional wakes and to serve on local committees by tribal leaders.
In the middle of Zuni there is a location called the “Center of the Earth,” where many believe the gods come from and where they return each year, a belief that people fervently hope will bring blessing.
How can the gospel survive—and even thrive—here? Somehow, it does, say this Calvin trio, and they point to God’s grace and the relentless work of the Holy Spirit among generations in Zuni families.
“We’ve seen significant change here over the years,” says Mike. “Young people keep coming back. Some of them we don’t see for a time, we hear of their struggles, and then they come back. They first heard of the Lord in kindergarten here and they never forgot the message of the love of Jesus.”
Mike cites a passage in I Thessalonians 3 where Timothy brings back an encouraging report to Paul about the faith of the church there and compares it to the way they respond as they witness God bringing fruit from seeds planted in children and families years before.
“Here in Zuni, we’re embedded in this community. We daily strive to build relationships and establish trust. God does the miracles,” he said.