A Modern Day Shepherd



Sweet Lambs

Sweet Lambs

The Flock

The Flock

I met a man today who is one of the last of his kind in our country, a nomadic shepherd.  He is Navajo and his anglicized name is Jonathan Tomtom (his Navajo name is only known by a few close family members).  He can’t find anyone who is willing to do what he does and become responsible for the flock, so he states,”this is probably the last year I can make this journey to the high country.  I had to start earlier this year due to last years drought.  I can’t afford to feed them and they don’t have enough grass to graze on at home.”  At one time he had over 2000 sheep and presently he owns only 190. He stopped to answer my questions and allow me to take his picture, and said, “many people will snap my picture or video me as they drive past but rarely does anyone want to talk.”  He seemed grateful for a moments companionship.  I asked him if his wife worries about him when he leaves each spring/summer, and he smiled and said, “I have a cell phone!”  I live in a place where cell phone reception is not always reliable and I’ve become reacquainted with Ma Bell, much to my chagrin, so cell phone coverage didn’t occur to me for his journey!  I asked him if he had ever read Bible accounts of shepherds, especially David and he told me there are many differences in Navaho beliefs and in our Bible.  I encouraged him to read about David as a shepherd boy, thinking of Psalm 23 as a point of interest, because his life experience as a shepherd mirrors David’s life .  He brought a box of books to read and said he might look at David’s story.

I was curious as to whether he had to save the sheep and goats from mountain lions or bear as we have plenty of both.  My thoughts were still focused on David as he rescued his sheep from both predators;

I Samuel 17:34-37, “But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” 

Jonathan told me the mountain lions are afraid of his dogs and don’t approach the sheep.  On the other hand, he lost 60 of his flock to bear last summer and predicted his losses will be comparable this year.  He places his bedroll in the middle of the flock at night to protect them, but bear still take the sheep on the outlying edges as their own.  I am reminded of Jesus who is our shepherd,

John 10:1-18,”Very
truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by
the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the

The Good Shepherd 31 Del Parson

The Good Shepherd 31 Del Parson (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.The
hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he
sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” 

Who are we but Jesus sheep, and He is our shepherd.  He protects us from the evil one and gave His life freely to protect His sheep, i.e. me!  I’m pleased to have met Jonathan and hope to see him when he returns through this valley in the fall, on his way back home.  I hope I will have another opportunity to learn about him and share my love of  The Shepherd.  Jonathan shared, “I have a picture of Jesus and His sheep hanging in my home.”


4 thoughts on “A Modern Day Shepherd

  1. Hi Rebecca – I’m an NYC-based Development Producer, and I’m working with a major cable network on a new docu-series that will feature folks who are still working the jobs of their ancestors (e.g. shepherding, cattle ranching, etc.) I was intrigued by your post and would love to learn more about Jonathan and his lifestyle. At your convenience, please feel free to reach me at the address provided. Looking forward to it!

    • Hi Simi-It was great to hear from you! Jonathan was an inspiration to me and I’m sure to many others. I saw him as he passed through our valley again this year both in the spring and in the fall, but unfortunately was not able to visit with him. I was glad to see that he was still able to make the trip since he told me last year he is diabetic and it is becoming a very difficult journey for him. He shared with me last year that he is based out of Aztec, NM. I hope this information will help you in locating him. I would enjoy seeing his story in a docu-series!

  2. I would have enjoyed meeting this shepherd. We take so much for granted. To sleep with sheep knowing bears may come takes a lot of courage and love for his sheep. Thanks.

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