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I’ve only been filling the pulpit. I call myself a pastor, but I haven’t really been available for my congregation when they need me.

That statement might sound harsh, but believe me, I haven’t been distant by choice. The church I pastor, Siloam Indian Baptist Church, is located on the Gila River Reservation (Arizona), so my wife, Debbie, and I weren’t able to live in the same community as the members of our congregation. At least, not until recently.

A bucket truck with workers and a pickup truck hooking up electrical service for a mobile home

Construction workers set up the Cartwrights’ double-wide mobile home.

In March 2020, right before the COVID lockdowns went into effect, our congregation voted to allow us to move a mobile home next door to the church. It was a huge gesture, and we were thrilled at the thought of finally being able to be closer to our congregation. Many people told us we could move right away, but we wanted to ask for the tribe’s approval first. The process took some time and ironing out lots of details, but after a year of paperwork and many miles back and forth to the capital, the tribe approved our request.

I’ve been pastoring Siloam Church for twenty years. That means for twenty years, Debbie and I were driving sixty miles every time we made a round trip to the church or the local community (which was three to four times a week). That’s a lot of miles! While we have been able to participate in many of the joys of doing life with the members of our congregation, living so far away meant we weren’t able to be as present or available as we wanted to be.

Steve Cartwright standing in front of a group of young people and an adult

Steve and the youth make sock puppets.

It’s difficult for a pastor not to be there for his people. In the past, when our youth group had a ball game or a special event at school, sometimes we just couldn’t make it. When someone needed help in the middle of the night, they haven’t been able to come to us. We’ve dreamed about living in this community for years, but it just didn’t seem possible for so long.

God has blessed us with many opportunities to connect with and minister to our congregation—including Victory Guitar Outreach and SOAR (Servant-Overcomer Addiction Recovery), and the drug and suicide prevention program—but living in this community is going to make such a difference. How many other people will we be able to share God’s love with because we’re here? Who’s going to come knocking on our door at midnight because they’re struggling?

Steve Cartwright and a group of youth sitting around a large table practicing with their sock puppets

The Siloam youth practice for the puppet Christmas program.

Now that we live on the reservation, our ministry has changed drastically. We’ve been able to care for the church building (turning on the water to drip during cold weather, for example), but also for the community who makes up the church. People are stopping at our house all the time just to visit or drop something off. They’re stopping us at the grocery store or gas station to catch up. We’re meeting new people in the community and lingering after church events instead of leaving early because we have a long drive home.

Debbie and I have a lot of dreams for the future of our ministry here in Arizona, but our biggest hope is to build a covered porch on our double wide. Fourteen feet wide, twenty feet long, with a ramp. We can host Bible studies, SOAR gatherings, and cookouts, and people can stay and chat as long as they want. For twenty long years, this community has blessed us by welcoming us into their space. Now we finally have the chance to return the favor and welcome them into ours. God is answering the prayer we’ve had since we first began this ministry, and it’s incredible.

Debbie and Steve Cartwright standing in front of South Mountain

Steve and Debbie enjoy a view of South Mountain in the church backyard.


PRAY: Lift up Steve and Debbie as they transition to their new home and begin ministering to those God has placed in their path in new ways. Ask God to be at work in their hearts and lives and to work through them to draw others to Him.

GIVE: Partner with the Cartwrights to impact lives in Arizona for Christ. See how you can join their efforts to help others find hope and joy in following Jesus.

Missionary Bio: Steve and Debbie Cartwright live in Arizona and are involved in multiple ministries. They are passionate about music, recovery, and community. Follow the Cartwrights’ journey on Facebook.

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