LIFT Club in Arizona

The Highlands University LIFT Club did service work with the Navajo community in Fort Defiance, Ariz. From the left are Biljana Niklovic, environmental science, Rody Engler, psychology, Okana Stephane Ira, finance, Duong Nguyen, business, Lizbeth Contreras, biochemisty, Randy Campbell, First United Presbyterian Church, Usman Munawar, business, Regina Umarova, biology, and David Cash, a CNM student. Standing is Khanh Pham, business. Not pictured are Jacoba Tapiheru, business, and Estevan Maestas, history. 

Las Vegas, N.M. ­– A group of New Mexico Highlands university students spent their midterm break in Fort Defiance, Ariz. working alongside Navajo Nation members to help cut and haul wood to build an hogan.

The students, most of them international students, are members of the university’s LIFT Club, an inclusive interfaith group that includes Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, among others. Carol Litherland is the current faculty adviser.

“The LIFT Club this year has so much initiative and enthusiasm,” Litherland said. “This Navajo hogan project in Arizona was a wonderful service-learning opportunity.”

Jacoba Tapiheru, 22, an MBA student from Indonesia, is the club’s student coordinator. She earned her undergraduate business degree in finance from Highlands.

“We respect all faiths in LIFT, which stands for living in faith together,” Tapiheru said. “As an international student, it was especially interesting to learn about traditional Navajo culture, language and spirituality from a Navajo medicine man named Phil Bluehouse.

“He taught us about the spirit world of the Navajo people and how the location of the hogan on the land is spiritually important. I admire how the Navajo people are very grateful for all aspects of life,” Tapiheru said.

The hogan will be built in Fort Defiance at the Good Shepherd Mission, where the majority of the congregation is Navajo.

Litherland said the LIFT Club members are also active volunteering locally in the community at service organizations like Samaritan House and Habitat for Humanity.

“At Highlands, there are many opportunities for students to do community service work. I enjoy helping others,” Tapiheru said.

Litherland said that the university’s LIFT Club grew out of the three churches that border Highlands, including St. Paul’s Peace Episcopal-Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church, and First United Presbyterian Church. Biology professor Carol Linder established the club.