KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Betty and Ron Handrich came to Arizona in January 2007 planning to volunteer for one semester. A year later, they have no plans to leave the Hopi Mission School in Kykotsmovi.
After serving in a Michigan school system for 30 years, Betty Handrich retired and found herself looking for new challenges. Along with her husband, Ron, Handrich was looking for places to do voluntary service when her sister mentioned an opening at the Hopi Mission School.
, a joint Christian Service program through Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Association of Retired Persons, and Mennonite Central Committee Canada, the Handriches were assigned positions for one semester. Betty served as assistant principal and Ron helped with maintenance and other projects.
However, due to some internal transitions, Betty was asked to remain as assistant principal and the Handriches stayed on.
“We definitely feel that God led us here and felt guided during our spring break last year to come back and stay in the same positions we were in,” said Betty.
Not long after they committed to extending their term, the school board asked Betty to serve as principal for the entire school, and she accepted the job.
“When we think back, it was the kids that kept us here. We also felt blessed to be working with the staff that was here,” she said.
Bill Zuercher, a former acting principal and administrator who now serves as the school’s development coordinator, has been involved with the Hopi Mission School since 2000 and has seen many principals come and go.
“The principal position has been the worst for turnover. We are guests in the Hopis’ land, and we need to be respectful, and that has not always happened. Betty and Ron have just been a godsend,” said Zuercher.
The Handriches are not the only volunteers who have entered reservation land and found themselves unable to leave. Sharon Johnson taught at Hopi Mission School from 1998 to 2007; Hannah Zehr spent three years there, beginning in 2004, both through Mennonite Voluntary Service
. Now, both Johnson and Zehr have left MVS, but not reservation life. The two women – roommates at the MVS house in Kykotsmovi – teach at an elementary school in Supai, a reservation community in Cataract Canyon, eight miles past the end of a small road slightly northwest of the Grand Canyon.
Four months after Zehr arrived, while preparing for the school’s Christmas program, a sixth-grade student smeared Zehr’s cheek with brown paint. The student told Zehr that now she was Hopi on the outside. After a pause, the student said, “I think you’re Hopi on the inside, too,” and painted her other cheek.
Zehr, a first-grade teacher at the time, said she realized she was in the right place then, just as she realizes that Supai, working with and living among members of the Havasupai people, is the right place now.
“We are here to be God’s hands and feet,” Zehr said. “We’re here to respond and minister to these kids.”
Zehr already had decided to go to Supai when Johnson decided to visit. She hiked past the end of the road to the village and the school, but the principal was busy teaching a class. While she waited, Johnson started working with a student also waiting in the office. The principal entered, saw Johnson, and told her the school board had already accepted her and that summer school started in July.
“I hadn’t said anything,” said Johnson, much less accepting a position. Still, she continued, “As crazy as it sounds, I was at peace with it. If I could be at peace with that, I figured it was pretty much from God.”
For Wave Dashee, a fifth-grade teacher, Hopi Mission School has given her opportunities to integrate her Hopi heritage with her Christian faith. Dashee taught for many years in the local public schools until she was hired at the Hopi Mission School in 2000.
“I really appreciate the kids here. The enrollment is not too high, and I can work with the kids on a one-to-one basis. God led me here after leaving public school,” said Dashee.
The Hopi Mission School, located on the Hopi Reservation in northeast Arizona, was begun in 1951 as a ministry of the Commission on Overseas Mission, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. Today, it provides an education to local children from kindergarten to sixth grade. The school is staffed by a combination of volunteers (from programs like Mennonite Voluntary Service and SOOP) and paid teachers.
Over its years of ministry, the school has earned the trust of many of the reservation’s residents.
“We serve the Hopi reservation, and people value our school because staff are here with a sense of call. They have seen the appeal of this small school with the kinds of teachers who model a Christian commitment that is compatible with Hopi values,” said Zuercher.
And the Handriches agree. What began as a six-month SOOP term has stretched into a calling to remain. They plan to stay on at the school for at least the next school year and possibly beyond.
“It was through SOOP that we applied and came here and now here we are still,” said Betty Handrich, “The Lord has blessed us with good health, and we’re planning to do some exciting things in the future.”
The SOOP program gives adults and families of all ages a chance to use their gifts to help others. Participants choose their own location, time and length of service. They also work directly with on-site coordinators, who frequently help to arrange housing. For more information or to apply, visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.