Mission History

A Short History of the Mission

Over 100 years ago, two bold people from the Netherlands (via Grand Rapids, Michigan) ventured into the primitive Indian village of Zuni. Burning within them was an intense desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not from the safety and comfort of a distant location, but from a home and mission within Zuni Pueblo itself.

In 1897, Andrew and Effa Vander Wagen established a permanent mission in Zuni on behalf of the Christian Reformed Church. Their passion and love for their Indian brothers and sisters made a lasting impression on all they touched. They became fluent in the Zuni language and persevered in spite of physical threats to their lives.

vander wagen


The breakthrough for the fledgling Mission came when the Vander Wagens (with their infant children) refused to leave Zuni during a serious smallpox epidemic. Instead of fleeing as did the officials at Bureau of Indian Affairs who were responsible for medical care in Zuni, the young couple went door to door caring for and administering medicine to their Zuni neighbors. In that and later acts of mercy, the Vander Wagens pioneered the then-revolutionary mission concept that in order to minister to people's spiritual needs one must also be willing to demonstrate Christ's compassion and care for their physical needs.

With that groundwork laid, the first ordained missionaries were assigned to the Zuni Christian Reformed Mission in 1906. Rev. Herman and Jennie Fryling served "quietly and carefully thru teaching and preaching thus laying a solid foundation to build upon." (Rev. J. Dolfin.)

First TeacherIn 1908, so that the Fryling children (Sophia and John) might have Christian schooling, Miss Nellie DeJong came to Zuni as their teacher. Along with the Fryling children, four Zuni children were also enrolled. From that humble beginning, the school expanded rapidly and soon claimed an important role in building relationships in the community, in educating the children and in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the children and their families.

Throughout the years, mission staff and joined in time by Zuni Christians, continued the rich tradition of proclaiming the same message of love and salvation through Jesus Christ. Supported by the prayers and financial resources of God's people across North America, faithful servants of God have served generations of Zuni people.

Zuni Fire

Although the church and school have been housed in the same location within the Pueblo since its inception, there have been many changes in the facilities. A major setback occurred in 1971 when a devastating fire raged through the Mission, completely destroying the church and school. Portable classrooms were brought in and "temporary" facilities were constructed.  Modular classrooms and homes remained in use until the fall of 2012.  The gym provided a home for the church and an activity center for the mission.

In 2010, we began an amazing venture to rebuild the entire mission campus.  We are now in the final exhilarating stage of completing this project.  Our beautiful new school was completed for the 2012-2013 school year. Two duplexes for staff were built over the next two years.   Site preparation for the final building phase was completed in 2014-2015.  The playground was completed in the summer of 2015.  The gym/ministry center is currently under construction.  Following the gym/ministry center, four residential units will be built to complete the campus.

Today, Zuni Christian Reformed Church (ZCRC) and Zuni Christian Mission School (ZCMS) continue the legacy of those who have served before. Our mission forebears looked forward to the time when Zuni Christians would provide leadership to the mission and would themselves give witness to the Gospel within the Zuni community. This has come to pass. For this, we give thanks to God.