Melissa is the first person in her family to go on to college. Her parents are very proud of her, especially since so many from her area do not finish high school. There was a time when Melissa did not want anything to do with Jesus because of the hypocrisy she saw and the suffering she saw and experienced. Today, she wants to become a pastor and perhaps a counselor who can come alongside others as God’s agent of healing.
Melissa, a third generation Mexican-American from Yuma, AZ, lived near the Quechan and Cocopah tribes. Her parents experienced spiritual manifestations outside of Christ but eventually became Christians. Melissa hid the darkness and shame of ten years of sexual abuse from an extended family member. She says, “Because of this, she came to believe there is no God.” When asked, “What changed?” She said, “One day, God just showed up when she was at a youth service just to get away from my family. My mother was at a prayer meeting, so I went and waited for her to finish. During the meeting, a woman stated, “You need to let it go. God loves you.” Melissa felt a warm embrace from the Holy Spirit and a release from her pain. She was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues. She says, “I decided to change my life at that moment.” “It meant so much to me to hear and sense that I was loved.” She continued to worship the Lord in praise, thanksgiving, and confession of sin asking Jesus to come into her life. She says, “It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Melissa was just getting ready to enter high school at this time. When she told her old friends about her experience with Jesus, they did not understand and decided she was uncool; after a month or two she found herself sitting alone at school. She dug into God’s Word and prayer. She became involved in her church youth group and developed new friends there. She was involved the church’s drama team and became a youth leader. Her drama team competed in the national fine arts convention. The next year youth from her church entered her high school and began a Bible study together. Others joined them, and the group grew. Fasting together, youth from other churches joined the group. With the group’s growth, they needed a classroom to house it. She says, “In high school, I had no boyfriend. It was just me, and God, and my friends from church.”
Melissa’s salvation and deliverance from pain were important. She had blamed her mother for her and her sisters’ abuse thinking that her mother knew and should have done something to stop it. Melissa always tried to be a protector caring for her sister and family and trying to keep them together. Melissa’s sister was the first to tell another. One night in a youth service the youth pastor spoke on hidden things that need healing. The pastor’s wife came and prayed with Melissa and told her that she knew of the abuse and were praying for her and her sister. She says, “The hardest part was telling my parents. The police got involved, my father found it hard to accept (the abuse had come from his side of the family), and our extended family rejected us. They disowned us and considered us a shame.” The abuser went to jail, but the victims of abuse are ostracized and re-victimized.
Melissa is in her fifth semester in the AIC Christian Ministry program. She is hungry to learn about the Lord and to dig into the Bible. She is an excellent student. She says, “I was shy before coming here and had a hard time looking others in the eye. When I arrived on campus, I decided I would change, come out of my shell, and begin being who I really am showing my fun side and sense of humor, etc. I was received so openly here. It is hard to explain how wonderful it feels to be free to be myself and allow God to do His thing. I was the first to leave our area. When you are here, you just know that it is God who dwells on this campus and protects us. I know I am at the right place at the right time. It feels like I have known everyone here forever—I belong here. Here, I know God is in control and that He has a plan for me.
Melissa has been involved in outreach ministry to on the White Mountain, Yuma, the Navajo Reservations, and in Mexicali, Mexico. She plays bass, guitar, the keyboard and sings. She has had the opportunity to be on the worship team at Phoenix First Assembly. She has learned to be completely honest with others when reaching out and to find areas where you can relate to others. “When we ministered in Gallup, NM I discovered that telling my story helped others to open up and tell their stories as well. Then the Holy Spirit can do His work when we allow Him to lead, guide, and bring hidden things into the open” She has also learned the importance of working with others. “I like to take control and tend to think my way is the best. But listening to others has taught me to see other options and the importance of the point of view of others.”
I asked if she would recommend AIC to others people. She said, “If you come here, you will never be the same. It is not easy to be here because of classes, needing to learn, and learning to deal with other personalities. But coming together with others of the same mission as you and wanting to reach others for Jesus… it’s hard to explain, but it helps encourage you to keep the faith.”
The Quechan Tribe
The Quechan, formerly known as Yuma, have long been known as fighters. For centuries, they battled the Papago, Apache, and other tribes for control of the fertile flood plains of the Colorado River.
Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation, Home of the Quechan (pronounced Kwuh-tsan) Indians, is located along both sides of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. The Quechan population totals 2,475 members. The reservation borders the states of Arizona, California, Baja California and Mexico. The reservation encompasses 45,000 acres and is bisected on the south by Interstate 8 (I-8). Consequently, several million cars a year drive through the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation on their way to and from Phoenix and San Diego.
Largely an agriculture community, it also operates a long-term sand and gravel lease which employs 8 to 10 tribal members. In addition to farming and the sand and gravel operation, the Fort Yuma Quechan Reservation counts on tourism and related business to augment its economy. The hot summers and relatively warm winter temperatures make the site a desirable winter vacation spot from November to March. To serve this audience, the Tribe manages five trailer and RV parks, a small grocery store, museum, bingo hall, utility company and a fish and game department. (http://itcaonline.com/?page_id=1173)
Quechan tradition describes their creation, along with that of other lower Colorado River tribes, by their culture hero, Kukumat. After Kukumat had died, his son Kumastamxo took the people to the sacred mountain Avikwame, near the present city of Needles, California. There he gave them bows and arrows and taught them how to cure illness and then sent them down from the mountain in various directions. The ancestors of the Quechan settled along the Colorado River to the south of the Mohave. Little archaeological evidence of the Quechan past has survived the Colorado’s flooding. The Quechan and some of the other lower Colorado tribes may have begun as rather small patrilineal bands that gradually grew into larger “tribal” groupings. What caused the formation of these tribes is not altogether clear; the interrelated factors probably included population increase from a generally reliable and abundant river bottom horticulture; competition with neighboring riverine groups for control of lucrative trade routes between the Pacific Coast and cultures to the east of the Colorado (including, for a time, the great Hohokam Culture between about A.D.1050 and 1200); and increasingly strong social bonds between small groups living next to one another along the river’s banks.
In 1540 a Spanish expedition under Hernando de Alarcón was the first group of Europeans to reach Quechan territory. For the next three and a half centuries, the Quechans were in intermittent contact with various Spanish, Mexican, and American expeditions intent on developing the land route between southern California and the interior to the east of the Colorado River. The Quechan controlled the best crossing point along the lower Colorado, just to the south of where it is joined by the Gila. During this time, too, warfare was endemic between the Quechan and other tribes living along the Colorado and Gila rivers. Relations were friendly. On Anza’s return from his second trip to Alta California in 1776, the chief of the tribe and three of his men journeyed to Mexico City to petition the Viceroy of New Spain for the establishment of a mission. Chief Palma and his three companions were baptized in Mexico City on February 13, 1777. Palma was given the Spanish baptismal name Salvador Carlos Antonio. No permanent White settlements were attempted at the crossing until 1779 when Spanish settlers and soldiers arrived. In 1781, after two years of Spanish depredations, the Quechans attacked them, killing some and driving the others away. The tribe retained control of the area until the early 1850s when the U.S. Army defeated them and established Fort Yuma at the crossing. Just across the river from the fort a small White American town soon sprang up to cash in on the increasing overland traffic between California and the East, and to the north and south along the Colorado itself.
A reservation was set aside for the Quechan on the west (California) side of the river in 1884, but most of its acreage, including some of its best farmland, was lost to the tribe by the fraudulent 1893 agreement with the U.S. government. The government restored twenty-five thousand acres of the original reservation in 1978, minus most of the best farmland taken earlier. For most of the twentieth century, the tribe has been attempting to create a secure economic base for the Reservation, one to replace the relative abundance of the traditional river bottom farming that gave out in the early 1900s.