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Minister returns to his Navajo hometown, shares faith with his Indian friends

Folks in the Navajo community of Kayenta, Ariz., knew Josh Austin as the white kid who helped lead their high school to the state basketball championship in 1993 — the first for a reservation team.
“At that time, religion was not my top priority,” Austin said. “So, basketball was my idol.”
Four years ago, freshly graduated from Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver, Austin returned to his hometown intent on showing a different side of himself.
His message to his Navajo friends: “Maybe you knew me for basketball, but I want to show you something else.”
“Hopefully, they won’t see it as just white man’s religion, but as something that has changed my life,” he told The Christian Chronicle. “To choose to come back, I hope, has made a statement for some.”
Austin was born and raised on the reservation as the son of longtime missionaries Fred and Susan Austin, who retired in 1997.
After attending the University of Denver on a basketball scholarship, Austin worked as a sales manager for a cutlery company and met his wife, Divine, a Filipino. They have two daughters: Aaliyah, 3, and Alyssa, 1.
Somewhere along the way, Austin said, he found himself longing to know more about God and the Bible. The Bear Valley preaching school was just two blocks from his office, and he enrolled in a class on the Book of Romans.
“Halfway through the semester, I finally got what I needed to do,” he said.
He quit his sales job and enrolled full time.
As for what he would do after graduation, he said, “I knew the only place to go was back home.”
The Kayenta church had died after his parents left, so Austin worked first to restore four Navajo women who had attended. Then, he set out to teach others.
Since returning, he has baptized about 20 Navajos, he said. Sunday attendance averages about 40, including children.
“Being from the town itself, it helps tremendously,” the one-time basketball star said. “They’re familiar with me, and I think that has allowed things to move quicker than they would have otherwise.”
July 1, 2006

Filed under: People

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