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James Calvin Schaap


Righteous acts, filthy rags, and a mission cemetery.

The cemetery at Rehoboth, New Mexico, is hardly a tourist stop, even though thousands of travelers pass it daily, thousands more each summer. Just a few miles east of Gallup, New Mexico, a city sometimes dubbed "the Indian capital of the world," the village of Rehoboth sits quietly off legendary Route 66 and its hurried descendent, I-40. Beneath the hogbacks a mile south rests the town's century-old cemetery.

Should travelers happen to glance out their windows when they pass by the village, they would see a circle of homes and school buildings, two churches (one brand new, the other abandoned), a spacious, new athletic field, and, all around, fairly significant ongoing construction. A century ago, Rehoboth, New Mexico, was a dedicated mission compound, the very first significant outreach of a young North American denomination composed almost exclusively of immigrant Dutch, the Christian Reformed Church—my church, my people. By 1920, the place would have resembled any of a dozen other mission compounds on or adjacent to Native reservations throughout the West: school and hospital, dormitormies and staff housing. But even today you have to make a point of seeing the place. It's not hard to miss Rehoboth.

The hospital is gone now, moved west a few miles into the city, where in the early 1980s it was merged with McKinley County Hospital. Today, the new system's centerpiece facility is a 69-bed acute care campus that stands proudly atop the city, the home of Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Systems.

The oldest stories that rise, even unbidden, from the beguiling cemetery are those intimately connected to the hospital that stood for years on the north end of the mission. According to Rehoboth's own historians, the idea for some kind of medical care facility on Rehoboth's campus grew from an early commitment to holistic ministry. In fact, Cocia Hartog, the first full-time teacher at the school way back in 1910, took courses in nursing, in all likelihood to prepare ...

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