Whiteriver Apache Reservation in Arizona

Our mission travels took us to the Whiteriver Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. Our church operates the East Fork Apache Mission and Lutheran School on the reservation. They also run several other churches and an addiction recovery center. We visited the majority of these places while on the reservation.

We met and talked to a lot of wonderful people who shared friendship, meals, and details about life on the reservation. It was an enlightening experience, and it was a joy and privilege to share the Gospel where some very real work for Christ and for the people was being done.

One thing we noticed was that every worship service was packed, and the turnout for the concerts was really good. The people here know where their hope is found, and they hunger for the Truth, so they show up and are fed.

Enjoy these pictures. I’m going to mostly keep my mouth shut now–you’re welcome for that.

(You won’t find many pictures of people in this post, which is sad, because there were some beautiful people on the reservation. We try to respect people’s privacy and get permission before posting personal pictures, especially of children and at places like the addiction recovery center.)

This is East Fork Lutheran Church on the East Fork Apache Mission. We sang a concert for the 120 children from the East Fork Lutheran School and High School one week and sang during a worship service the next week for a full house.

The picture above is of Elijah outside East Fork on a very chilly Arizona day. We’re at around 5000 feet elevation here.

The picture above is East Fork church inside. There are two wings that go off to the side and they are packed with children. We had a concert there for the kids.

This is another shot of the interior of East Fork with Pastor Myrl Wagenknecht leading the service. He’s the man who loaned us his cabin for several weeks. He’s a good guy.

Steve was invited to speak to the ninth grade music class at the high school.

This is a picture of Elijah (11) and Eliana (5) running with the schoolchildren along the cul de sac that runs through the center of the mission. The teachers take the kids outside for ten minutes of running daily. They say it makes the rest of the day run (no pun intended) more smoothly–brilliant!

This ancient, twisted tree has been here for hundreds of years. It is the tree Chris Driesbach sings about in the song Apache Rain, written by the principal of the school, Darrell Dobberpuhl. It’s also where the first Lutheran missionary camped and shared the Gospel with the chief of the tribe over a hundred years ago.

Another event was held at the Addiction Recovery Center at Open Bible Lutheran Church in White River. I’m not sharing photos of attendees…except for this guy.

There are dogs everywhere on the reservation. This one is Buddy. He has claimed someone. Many of the dogs are homeless while others have a territory they run and head home at night.

Eliana is holding a puppy that one of the Apache brought in his jacket to the concert at the center. We call her Chica-lovely. She loved Ellie…she tried to bite Christy. Go figure.

Sunday morning we drove a couple thousand feet further up into the highlands of Arizona to McNary, still on the reservation.

We were glad we weren’t the only ones on the road.

It was seriously like entering Narnia–the snow was thick,heavy, and magically delicious!

This is Shepherd in the Pines. It’s so charmingly beautiful, it deserves another picture.

It was a chilly, snowy, beautiful morning.

In many parts of the country, nobody shows up if the weather isn’t nice.

We wondered if anyone would come to worship that morning.

They came.

It was a full house once again. That’s Pastor Ditter presiding. Both the pastors I mentioned so far are retirees who help out whenever and wherever they can–they are true servants!

The altar at Shepherd in the Pines.

Most of the places we sang fed us.

If you’ve never had Indian fry bread tacos, you’ve never lived.

Doesn’t it look like Narnia?! Snow, snow, magical snow!

We didn’t get any pictures of the Canyon Day church where we sang for worship–rats! But we did get this nice shot of Open Bible where we sang a concert and shared a meal.

Do you see Buddy there, checking the doors with his master?

One interesting fact about the reservation is that people let their horses loose to forage for food.

There were horses everywhere–not as everywhere as the dogs, but definitely everywhere!

I’m going to leave you with a few more random pictures from the Whiteriver Apache Reservation, but not before I ask you to pray for these people. There are many good people there, but so many that need direction. There is a 70% unemployment rate on the reservation, a low life expectancy, and a high suicide rate. They need work, hope, and prayers…and Jesus.

Some parting shots:

Heading off the reservation…


  1. Don and Jo Pelischek

    Again we enjoyed your adventures! Love hearing from all of you! Blessings! Don and Jo Pelischek

    1. Thank you so much! We sure do enjoy all the encouragement you share with our family. Blessings to you as well!

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