Lilakai (Lily) Julian Neil, a full-blooded Navajo, was born near Crownpoint, New Mexico, in 1900. At eighteen she began working in the home of a Seventh-day Adventist missionary couple, Pastor and Mrs. Orno Follett, at Lake Grove Mission. In their home, Lily studied and eventually accepted the Adventist faith.
Lily became increasingly influential among her people as a result of her untiring efforts to improve the lives of the Navajo—she even became the first woman elected to the Navajo Tribal Council. But her greatest dream was to build a permanent Seventh-day Adventist mission near her birthplace at Crownpoint, close to the Tsaya-Lake Valley area.
One night Lily had a beautiful dream. She saw a big circle of light with Jesus standing in the center, clothed in shining garments. As she gazed at Him in adoration, He turned to look at her and smiled. Then Lily heard footsteps—many, many moccasinned footsteps—marching endlessly in the darkness, just outside the circle of light.
Then the scene gradually changed. Soon she saw more moccasinned feet, but this time they were young, dancing feet. Many of these smaller feet paused and turned, then walked into the circle of light where they were gladly welcomed by the smiling Savior. Lily understood that the vision depicted the young people and children of her tribe as the hope of the Navajo Nation, and that many of them would turn from the old ways into the light and happiness surrounding the Jesus she loved. From that time on, all her energies were dedicated to this cause. Due to a terrible car accident that permanently impaired her health, Lily didn’t live to see her dream come true. But she did see the birth of La Vida Mission.
Veda Scholder was another woman instrumental to the creation of La Vida Mission. She and Frankie Christensen made the drive from Farmington to the Tsaya area many times to put on Vacation Bible School and give Bible studies. La Vida Mission is named in Veda’s honor; in Spanish, la vida means "the life."
The property of La Vida Mission was once an abandoned trading post owned by Little Billie Bicente. In this one-room trading post, the little mission was born. School was held for six students in the crumbling, mice-infested building by Neal and Tillie Scott, who lived in the school building with their two tiny sons, Steven and Tom. Each day Tillie drove the rutted reservation roads to pick up her students, then returned them to their hogans at the end of the day. Their first year was a success.
The next year, Vic and Doris Starrett and their daughter, Barbara, arrived to share the burdens and responsibilities of the growing Mission. The school was moved to another rock building and the trading post, mice and all, was converted to a dormitory for the students so that they could stay at school all week.
A medical clinic was held for students and the community by flying in doctors and dentists from nearby Farmington and from Colorado. In 1964, the clinic moved into a small, donated trailer.
By 1966, a clinic building was built by volunteers—just as every building at the Mission has been built by volunteers. This building also served as a girls’ dorm, kitchen, and dining room. That same year a new school building was built. It housed two classrooms and a boys’ dorm. Though there were times the Mission struggled, it survived because of the concern and generosity of people who felt compelled to share the message of Christ with the Navajo.
Over the next few years, a new dormitory and a cafeteria were built to house the increase in students attending the school. Many of these Navajo students accepted Christ and brought their families into the Church as well. It soon became necessary to expand the school building by adding a library, a preschool and kindergarten room, a music room, and a solar collection room to facilitate heating.
It was a joyous day in 1978 when La Vida Church was completed by a Maranatha group. The church was named to honor the original dream of La Vida Mission: the “Lily Neil Memorial Chapel” has seen hundreds of baptisms, as the feet walking into the circle of light grow more numerous.
In addition, eight other buildings have been built: two for staff and guest housing, two for housing students in a loving home environment, four staff housing duplexes, and a gym for children to play in during the winter. All of these buildings were built by volunteer groups who gave generously of themselves to help the work at La Vida Mission.