Like many a biblical dreamer before her, the Rev. Sharon Selestewa heard God call her name while she slept. And not just once, but three times.
Raised by devout Christian grandparents of Native American heritage in Salt River, Ariz., Selestewa had at first distanced herself from their faith community and traditions. “Growing up, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the church,” she says. “I was in the world for quite a while.”
Her first dream changed all that.
“About twenty-five years ago I had a dream of a light next to my bed, and a voice was calling my name,” she recalls of the dream she had in 1986. “I looked up and I wasn’t scared. It was soothing and warm and comforting to be in the light.”
In her dream, the voice told Selestewa to go to Cook School.
“When I woke up, it really bothered me, because I didn’t know what Cook School was,” she says. “I thought the voice was telling me to go to cooking school.”
In a second dream several months later, the voice again told Selestewa to go to Cook School and begin her training. When she later researched it and found that it was a theological school in Tempe – one of seven racial ethnic schools and colleges related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – she grew even more concerned. “That’s not where I wanted to be,” she says.
Selestewa’s third dream the following year was just the same, only this time she saw herself walking out in the desert. “The voice told me to look for a table made of stone and there the people would be,” she recalls. “In my dream I was in the desert for a long time and I said, ‘Lord, I can’t find the table made of stone. I am lost and can’t find my way back to my children. I will die out here alone.’ I was crying with my arms raised up.”
The voice told Selestewa, “Hush, be still. I am with you always. Open your eyes and see.” She opened her eyes and found herself standing behind a table made of stone, where there were hundreds of people standing in the desert. In the dream, the voice told Selestewa, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will guide you with my eyes.”
Eager to discern the meaning of her dreams, Selestewa decided to seek out the wisdom of Narcisse Bighorn, a commissioned lay pastor in her grandparents’ congregation, Salt River Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale.
“It sounds like the Lord is calling you into ministry,” Bighorn told Selestewa. “Do you want to learn more about it? Have you ever heard of Cook Theological School?”
But Selestewa told Bighorn – and herself – that she didn’t want to go to school. Unmarried at the time, with children, and working as a secretary for Johnson-O’Malley – an educational organization designed to address the needs of Native American students – Selestewa told her boss about her dreams and the visit with Bighorn. “My boss said, ‘Pray about it. Mr. Bighorn knows what he’s talking about,’” recalls Selestewa. “After that, everything happened so fast.”
Immediately upon selling everything, Selestewa left behind two of her daughters, ages 18 and 19, and relocated with her youngest daughter to the Cook School campus in Tempe. Selestewa was again filled with doubts. “I hadn’t even opened a Bible since my grandparents were alive,” she says, “and even then I didn’t read it.”
Knowing that she would have to familiarize herself quickly with its contents, she flipped her Bible open to Psalm 32:8. “When I read it, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” she says. “I cried and cried. It was the same passage that I heard the voice speaking to me in my dream. It confirmed for me that the dreams were real and that I was called to ministry. From that point forward, I put my faith in the Lord.”
After graduating from the Cook School – now known as Cook Native American Ministries – and the Native American Ministry Program of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Selestewa received a call to serve the Vah-ki Presbyterian Church in Bapchule, Ariz., which is comprised of the Vah-ki and Stotonic churches, both of which are now growing and thriving. “I help people feel comfortable with their journey and their walk with Christ,” she says, “and am happy about that growth.”
A tentmaking minister, Selestewa also serves full-time as a curriculum development specialist for the Pima tribe.
“Because I love the people and I love what I do, it’s all very exciting,” she says. “I try to remind our church members of their baptism and their call. When people are just going through the motions, we need to be reminded of what it all means.”