Maricopa Mission School
“For ten years our Maricopa members have waited and prayed for a school where their children could have the advantages of a Christian education. During these years some of their children have attended the church school and academy in Phoenix, but this has been difficult, expensive, and unsatisfactory, especially since it has been impossible for but a few to avail themselves of this plan, and those who have done so were not always able to keep it up.
At the Arizona Camp Meeting Camp Meeting in July, Prof. A. C. Nelson gave a stirring lecture on the importance of Christian education, and the imperativeness of having all our children in Christian schools. Some in the audience asked how church school advantages could be had in cases where the parents are not financially able to bear all the expenses involved. Prof. Nelson gave a clear-cut reply based upon the plan outlined in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, and upon the faithfulness of God’s people in working to the Scriptural standard for Christian education.
We are constrained to ask if this program might apply to our long neglected Indian field, and he replied that it should. We asked if such a school could be arranged for this year. Prof. Nelson replied that he believed it could, if we could secure a teacher. The Union Conference was at that time short of twenty-five teachers for schools already established, so there seemed a serious question whether it might be possible to secure a teacher for an Indian mission school in so short a time.
Immediately, we began searching for a teacher, sending air-mail letters to every prospect we knew or could learn of from California to Washington, D. C. The replies began to pour in: “Interested, but already contracted.” “Have dropped teaching and entered other word.” “No teachers available here”, etc, etc.
Then came a letter from G. B. Boswell of Stillwell, Oklahoma, a teacher of sixteen years experience including public schools, church schools, and a number of years with the Lake Grove Indian mission school among the Navahos. Brother and Sister Boswell had just sold their home, disposed of their effects and were ready to leave for California when our letter was received. Immediately they replied that they would come if called. Bro. B. said in part: “I am anxious to get back into the Indian work. If you would like to have us, we would be glad to teach the school for the Indians.” Just sold out, ready to leave, the call came. No wonder they believed the Lord had answered their prayers.
And others had been praying. Upon hearing Brother Boswell’s letter read, a sister who had given many years to the Indian mission work and whom the Navahos called Glae-ni-Bah, said, ‘The Lord has answered our prayers.’ And indeed He had. The Arizona Conference committee got together, passed their recommendation on to the Union, and the Union committee authorized the school and is giving it very substantial support. It was suggested that those among the patrons who are financially able give it some support, the local conference is co-operating, and the school has opened with Bro. Boswell teaching. Elder Andross, president of the Arizona Conference remarked to the writer that the whole affair was rushed through the local and Union committees on record time, quicker action than he had before witnessed on such a program.
In the words of the prayer believing missionary Glae-ni-Bah, we can respond with hearts filled with gratitude to Him who doeth all things well, ‘surely, the Lord has answered our prayers.’ And we believe our Indian parents and children will continue to rejoice with us over this wonderful blessing Heaven has granted them, and that precious jewels will be garned into the Kingdom as a result of this Maricopa Indian mission school.” – Orno Follett. (The Indian Missionary, Vol V, Sept.-Oct. 1943, No. 6)
The school established by the mission in 1943 was called the Maricopa Mission School. Classes were conducted in the church chapel which was erected in 1936. A partition was created to allow for the school and church to operate in the same building. The school and church quickly outgrew the facilities at which time 3 army barracks were purchased from the government in 1945 to serve as the school, medical clinic, a large meeting place, community services room and a shop in which boy could receive vocational training (carpentry, roofing, electrical). The barracks were arranged in an L shape for maximizing use space. Years later, the barracks were repurposed on the reservation for other uses and replaced with mobile facilities. In the early 1940s, the Stahl family constructed a house on the grounds to live among the native Indians. It was later used by a teacher as a schoolhouse.
The school’s maximum enrollment reached 49 with a waiting list of 15 due to staffing constraints in 1954. In the coming decades supplies and funding were hard to come by, and the school suffered many closures during those times of staff turnover and funding shortages.
But the school was dramatically blessed in the year 2000, when Steve Morris, a genuinely mission-minded Seventh-day Adventist pastor, revived the since-neglected school grounds through good old fashioned hard work and perseverance.
He and his wife, Geneva, moved to the area without the intention to stay for long. They originally planned to move to the Philippines to start a private school that catered to the needs of the area. Those plans were soon reworked into establishing a private school in the Gila River Basin, as it didn’t take them long to observe the even greater need for such a thing right there, “literally in their own backyard.”
With many of the Maricopa families unemployed or disabled, education options were few, and the district public schools were often observed to operate lacking sufficient discipline for the students, and kids even complained of violence.
“My kids would come home from school saying people wanted to fight them,” shared one Maricopan father of seven, Travis Mercado.
Morris had substitute taught in that very school that Mercado’s children attended, and confirmed that kids demonstrated a rather serious lack of self-control, and classes were often “chaotic.”
The Morris’ made it their mission to build up the school, as well as the local congregation that acted as its supporting organization.
As the church slowly grew, Morris’ sons, along with an adopted family member of a local out-of-work machinist, transformed a donated trailer into a functioning school building. Wells Fargo Bank donated 11 computers, and Morris gathered a coupe thousand books to stock the library. Morris’ determination to meet the needs of the Maricopa community fueled the fire for the ongoing work.
Since then it has stayed open consistently year to year, providing not only book education but life skills, meals, and transportation assistance to the reservation children.
Miracle after miracle sustained the school from a variety of common nonprofit setbacks, and the school remains a strong ministry to the Gila River Indian Community with 14 students and a long waiting list. It is fully accredited by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Commission on Accreditation of the Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges and Universities (NADCAAA), and serves K-8 education for Native American students.