The farthest church

Only way to visit is by foot, helicopter or horseback

Published: Saturday, April 17 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Havasupai Bible Church is in the village of Supai in Havasu Canyon, which is a branch of the Grand Canyon.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

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SUPAI, Ariz. — Eight miles from any paved road and some 2,000-feet down in the majestic Grand Canyon is a lone religious building, the Havasupai Bible Church. Welcome to the most remote chapel in the lower 48 states and the only church inside the Grand Canyon.

There are no paved roads to or in this Havasupai Native American Village of some 450 residents. The only way to visit the area is by foot, helicopter or horseback. Automobiles are nonexistent.

Supai is located about 35 miles southwest of the regular South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The church is a landmark to the 25,000 hikers who visit the spectacular waterfalls in the area; they must pass by the church en route to the falls and campgrounds.

Sunday services are held at the church at 9:30 and 11 a.m. There are no weekday services, but visitors are welcome to the Sunday meetings. It is a modest structure, but its cross reaching heavenward seems to blend well with the towering natural red rock walls behind it.

There's no official minister for the church, and details about it and its history are hard to come by. Most Supai residents don't talk openly to visitors, and religion is no exception.

Beamus Uqualla is one of the regular church members of Havasupai Bible Church. He's also reluctant to talk about his faith. However, he said a mixture of tourists and American Indians attends Sunday church services. Attendance may vary widely from week to week. He's been a member of the church for about 12 years and said it was an independent Indian congregation but declined to say anything further.

However, there are a few Web sites that mention the Havasupai Bible Church and Uqualla.

There is a Wycliffe Bible Translators project currently under way to translate the Old and the New Testaments into the Havasupai language. However, this project is slow going because this American Indian language has only existed in a written form for just more than 20 years. But the Havasupai language remains the preferred way to communicate among the American Indians here. Their tribal religion remains the predominant faith here.

Uqualla is apparently only one of several dozen Christian converts in the tribe so far. He's also been helping the Bible translation work since 1994.

UIM International, a ministry that strives to establish churches among Native Indian, Mexican and Hispanic peoples of North America, did send some of its missionaries to Supai a few yeas ago. Some other evangelical ministries have visited Supai, too.

Also, some church groups in Arizona that have visited Supai have wondered many American churches spend so much money preaching overseas, when there's a remote area like this that has such a small Christian presence.

For more information on the Havasupai Tribe, go online to: www.havasupaitribe.com.

Additional details on UIM are available at: www.uim.org. More information on the Havasupai Bible translation can be found at: desertpalmschurch.org/wyclif.htm.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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