Peridot, Becoming a City on a Hill
Every season has its unique sight, sounds, and smells. In Wisconsin cooler weather and pumpkin pie mean fall. The smell of sunscreen and lake water mean summer is here. For teachers, it’s the sound of children filling the hallways on the first day of school that ushers in the start to another year.
And while most teachers begin that first day of school with a drive to work, teachers at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Peridot, Arizona have a much shorter commute. Just a short walk up the hill. This is because working in Peridot means living on campus. Seventh and eighth grade teacher Chris Mundstock explains why, “Because we are guests on the Apache reservation, we are not able to live anywhere else but here on campus.”
Peridot, Arizona is roughly two hours east of Phoenix in the San Carlos Apache Reservation.
If you’ve never heard of Peridot Arizona before, don’t worry, neither had I until just a few months ago. Peridot is located about two hours east of Phoenix on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Our Savior’s Lutheran sits nestled into a hillside overlooking cacti-filled plains that flow into towering mountains colored purple by the haze and distance.
I was curious to learn exactly how a Lutheran school ended up here in the literal middle of the desert. Ben Pagel, Principal at Our Savior’s, explained it to me. “The first missionaries for the WELS were here in Peridot, that was in 1893.” Those missionaries established a relationship with the local Apache chiefs who gifted the land for Our Savior’s Lutheran to them.
Since then, teachers have come to work in Peridot with the goal of doing all they could to provide children on the reservation with an excellent education centered on God. It’s what drew Chris to the school seven years ago, “I wanted to be a Lutheran school teacher because the gospel is the thing that changes people’s hearts. Being able to share that with the students and their families—it’s how I enjoy living my life.”
That enthusiasm to share the gospel is vital in Peridot. Not only do 30% of people live in poverty, but 60% of residents say they have no religious affiliation. This provides teachers like Chris with the blessing of sharing the healing message of Jesus with kids—some for the first time.
"I wanted to be a Lutheran school teacher because the gospel is the thing that changes people's hearts. Being able to share that with the students and and their families—it's how I enjoy living my life."
But the living requirements at Our Savior’s mean the school can only hire as many teachers as they can house. The school’s budget kept them from being able to provide comfortable housing to attract additional educators. Things seemed stuck, but then our Kingdom Workers Construction team heard about the need.
“Initially I was on the Apache reservation working with the DIY Home Repair Workshop program,” explained Jeff Ulman, Director of Kingdom Workers Construction. “Dan Rautenberg, the director for all the churches on the Apache reservation, asked if our Builders For Christ could get plugged in and help build a duplex for Our Savior’s.” After learning about the need, the project was added to the list.
The work itself was unique for Builders For Christ, Jim Bublitz, one of the Builders For Christ Volunteer Project Managers, shared why. “We did this from the ground up. We built the foundation, did the plumbing and electric. The only thing we didn’t do was the AC and heating.” And that wasn’t the only unique part of the project. Volunteers had to travel over 20 hours to reach Peridot. Once there, scorching heat, supply chain issues, and shipping delays made the project take longer than anticipated. But thanks to the dedication of the volunteers and support from the staff, teachers, and even some students, the duplex was completed in early 2022.
Chris now lives in one of the duplexes. It’s a big step up from the trailer he and his family of four used to share. It’s a space that has allowed Chris to fully focus on his work because, “When the teachers are comfortable, they’re able to put more work into prep and it comes off in their attitude and goes into the classroom and students are more prepared to learn the gospel.”
For students like Kyle Elthie, having dedicated teachers makes a huge difference. Kyle expressed, “I’m just really glad that teachers from MLC are willing to come down here and teach. They don’t have to, but I’m thankful they are willing to come down and teach kids on the reservation.”
Top left to right: Ben Pagel, Principal at Our Savior's Lutheran; Chris Mundstock, seventh and eighth grade teacher.
Bottom left to right: Kyle Elthie, student; Jim Bublitz, Volunteer Project Manager
With the new duplex, Our Savior’s is now one step closer to meeting their goal of having one teacher per grade. The housing means they will be better able to provide individualized attention to their growing student body. As Chris told us, “When I got here 7 years ago it was a staff of 4 and 75 students. Now we’re at 150 kids with almost one teacher per grade. It’s great to see how the Lord has blessed the mission. With this blessing came the need for more housing and Kingdom Workers was able to provide it.”
Ben Pagel echoed Chris’ words of thanks. “I really need you guys to know how much Builders For Christ and Kingdom Workers has aided us. You’ve set us up well with the duplex. We couldn’t have even looked at doing this without you guys.”
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The finished duplex building provides teachers like Chris with a comfortable and safe place to call home.
But we’re not done just yet.
This winter our Builders For Christ volunteers will be heading back to Peridot to build another duplex. As Jim puts it, “Once you visit Peridot, you get addicted. You get to know the people there. It’s a wonderful project and you get this feeling that not only are you doing it for the Lord, but you’re doing it for all the people there.”
We’re thankful to be part of this work, and look forward to what we can do, together, to help further share the gospel with people living in Peridot, Arizona, the United States, and beyond.