Updated: Aug 18, 2018
Our inaugural Fresh Path story comes from Justin and Ashli Galloway, founders of Beautiful Harvest Ministry on the Navajo Reservation. The Galloways’ story takes them from the Atlantic beaches of St. Simons Island, Georgia, to the deserts of Monument Valley, Utah, and from the comfort of family and friends to an unknown environment. Read their story and be challenged and encouraged.
1. Tell us about your background.
Justin and Ashli: We have been married for nine years and have three children-two girls and one boy. Justin is a licensed therapist, and Ashli is a homemaker. We currently live in Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo Reservation (the Rez) in the Four Corners Region of the U.S. Our ministry serves 13 existing Navajo churches where we support and equip churches to reach other Navajo.
2. What was your life like before moving out West?
Ashli: When we are asked this question, and we answer honestly, people often look at us like we’ve lost our minds. Sometimes, I believe we have and then I’m reminded that God’s plans are often off- the-wall in the eyes of the world. Before moving to Monument Valley, Justin owned his own counseling practice, and I was an assistant church preschool minister. We lived on a tiny island off the southeast coast of GA and lived literally three minutes from the beach. Most of our days were spent playing in the sand and water with our kids or going to a local park. We grilled out, enjoyed date nights, and had loads of familial and community support. Our girls attended private Christian school, Justin’s office was across from the beach, and we walked, rode bikes (or Justin’s scooter) almost everywhere we went.
3. Where did the idea to work with Native Americans come from?
Justin: In June 2016, I went on a mission trip to the Rez with a friend who serves the Rez through his ministry. As I assisted in Vacation Bible School at two Navajo churches, I connected with four youth through the week and loved the vast scenery of the West. When I returned, my daughter, Charli, began writing letters to a little girl on the Rez. About a month after returning from that first trip, I had a dream in which I was a school counselor. I was in line in the cafeteria with the students, wearing a staff ID and chatting with them asking about their family situations and grades, etc. I woke up from the dream and had a peace. I knew that God was showing me what I was created to do. I told my friend who serves on the Rez, my dream--even before I told my wife because I knew she would kill me for even suggesting it. She reacted exactly how I thought she would. She told me I could go out West as many times as I could pay for it, but she and the kids were staying right where they were on St. Simons Island. I continued to pray through it. Ashli was open to discussing what a long-term plan for the move, like five years, would look like. We kept all of this discussion from the kids because it was a far-off dream. A couple of months later, our oldest, Charli, sat at the breakfast table and told us she had had a dream the night before. In that dream, we lived in Monument Valley near the little girl Charli had been writing letters back and forth with. Ashli thought I had told Charli about the plan, but I had not. This was truly her vision.
In December, I returned to the Rez to help with pastor training and Christmas in a Shoebox delivery. An unknowing lay leader of the church looked at me and said, “So. you’re a counselor. We need good counselors. Have you thought about being a counselor in schools out here?” She gave me the number to the school district she worked for and told me to give them a call. I waited until February 2017 before contacting the district. It started with an introduction and request to mentor the students I knew from my two trips. The district was open to the discussion and three conference calls were scheduled to sort out the details, which included me applying for teaching licensure in the state of Utah. I started the process and forwarded my resume to the district. Within a week or two, they asked me to throw my name in for three positions that were coming available in the following month.
Again, I had to look at Ashli and explain that this was getting real and happening fast. I completed my application, let them know I had another trip in April where I would be about three hours away. The week prior to the trip, the district called and asked if I wanted to make it an official interview. They said I could apply for any of three positions, but they had one they preferred I interview for. Yes, you know it… Monument Valley High School. A week later, I sat in an interview for a job I’ve never done, in a place I’ve only been two times for about a week at a time, but I had complete peace. I walked out and felt like I was in God’s plan. It was not mine. Mine was a five-year plan. Two weeks later, they called with the job offer, and I accepted. Ashli and I began to plan and launch a non-profit ministry called Beautiful Harvest Project and fundraised to send all five Galloways to the Rez in June. We put together our vision, board, and obtained our legal documents to be a 501c3. Five weeks after Ashli and the kids’ first trip to the Rez, we drove 2000 miles across the country to our new home in Monument Valley.
4. What fears/obstacles did you face? Did you ever doubt that this was the right thing to do?
Justin: I think that depends on who you ask… I was all in from the get go. My only fears were what happens if Ashli says no or changes her mind after we get there.
Ashli: My biggest fear was leaving the comfort of everything we knew, everything my kids knew, and leaving our HUGE support system behind. I knew we’d be walking into a season where there was little to no support, there would be no friends and family to greet us, there would be a new season of learning to homeschool all while learning how to be missionaries in a culture that isn’t always welcoming to Anglo-Americans. I was very against moving to the Rez, initially. God had not spoken to me, had not told me this was the plan. He had told my husband and five-year-old daughter that this was how we were to walk-out the next season in our lives. I had lots of angry conversations with God and questioned His design multiple times. I was fearful and frustrated when we arrived. I was very afraid of homeschooling. Despite my background in education, there is a totally different dynamic in teaching other people’s children and teaching your own.
5. What did your friends/family/coworkers/kids think about your decision?
Ashli: We had some friends and family who were super supportive. We had others who were, and still are, very against the move. Our kids were excited about the new adventure; however, after the first few months, the kids and I all dealt with a lot of grief. Making friends in a place that is so remote where a majority of the people you come in contact with have VERY different ideas about who Jesus is can be very difficult. Throw in the added element of homeschooling; there were times when the kids and I felt trapped. Justin went to work each day and was able to have an outlet. For the kids and me, that wasn’t the case. Play dates don’t just happen out here. The park is forty-five minutes away, and the nearest Navajo village that has children is thirty minutes from our home.
Justin: I agree with everything Ashli said. My co-workers back on St. Simons really wanted me to to stay at the practice. I too enjoyed working there and was successful in that business. I don’t imagine it made much sense to leave a thriving practice and move 2000 miles across the country to become a school counselor and missionary.
6. Was it hard to leave home, and move to a new place?
Justin: It was not hard to leave the place. Don’t get me wrong, I love St. Simons, but I knew where we were supposed to be. I was also quite excited about the adventurous West. For me, it was hard to leave people. I am not one to have a lot of friends. I have two close friends that I miss hanging out with. Because of my trust in them, I was able to invite one to be on the board of Beautiful Harvest, our nonprofit, and the other is who I came to the Rez with initially. While living on St. Simons, I gained a set of “parents.” Nana and Papa filled a void in my life as well as my children’s. The hardest thing to do was to tell them what I felt God was calling me to do and that it would take us away from them.
Ashli: Man, it was so hard for me. My very best friend has stage IV, metastatic inflammatory breast cancer and leaving Hollis was probably one of the hardest parts of this transition for me. It also meant giving up on my dream of raising my family on the island. Moving West, to a place you’ve only visited one other time, to an area where a grocery is literally three hours and three states away is overwhelming. It causes you to completely revamp your way of life and your family’s rhythms. Giving up those rhythms was really difficult for me. I liked our comfortable life, but God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.
6. Describe what you are doing now?
Ashli: This is such an all-encompassing question. I am homeschooling our kiddos. I have started and am leading a Christian homeschool co-op where I’m mentoring Navajo families who have a desire to homeschool their children. Our ministry is spearheading Christian education in a place where there is no other option than public school. Through generous donors, we have been able to start a scholarship program for these families to aid in purchasing homeschool curriculum. As part of the mentoring process, I teach these families how to reuse and resale their curriculum to purchase the next year’s curriculum. We are serving in and with 13 Navajo Christian churches and I am working with the women leaders to develop a Sunday school curriculum written by and for Navajo children. I have developed close relationships with several Navajo ladies who have become our core network of support and family here on the Rez. Through these relationships, I am working towards developing a culture of women who are learning boundaries, learning to lean into the strengths God created within them, and helping them to feel confident in the gifts He’s given them to lead both their families and churches well.
Justin: Ashli and I have different roles when we meet with the 13 Navajo churches. I have found that the men are more guarded in their interactions but are also fewer numbered in the churches. I am working to build relationships with the men, seeking to understand what their goals are for ministry and spreading the gospel. We seek to understand then to see how we can come along side and support their efforts. This looks like assisting with curriculum development or strategies for starting a program or special events. We are concentrating our efforts on churches that are more open to our involvement. It will help us get some early wins and develop a positive relationship and reputation with the other churches. We also realize we are one family, and there are 13 churches. We need to be consistent with a few churches at a time to make progress. I am also changing jobs in June. I had a fantastic year year with Monument Valley High School. I have taken a position back in the mental health field with a local non-profit, Utah Navajo Health System. I will remain at MVHS but as a therapist. This still fits the vision God shared in 2016.
7. Would you do it again?
Ashli: I feel I can answer for both of us when I say, “Absolutely.”
Despite the hardships, despite the hard days and the hard questions, despite the tears and the sadness, there has also been such joy. We have seen our family become more tightly knit, we’ve seen our children begin to walk in a new strength of who they are and who God created them to be. We’ve learned the true definition of grace and mercy.
Justin: Agreed. I have nothing to add but that God has also given us a Navajo family. I know where we belong.
8. What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating a “crazy” change of direction?
Justin: Pray about it. When you have peace, clarity and direction… Start running towards it. With great risk, there is great reward. There is nothing like using ALL your talents and energy for a God-sized dream.
Ashli: God-sized, indeed! I would say don’t fight God. Even when its hard, even when you are so unsure, His plans and promises are all “Yes”and “Amen.” He wants only good for those who love Him, and we have seen that time and again since our move here. Not every day is easy; however, we know what it is to walk in His will and the peace and security that comes with that is greater than we could ask or imagine.