Everyone has a story. The Lakota people on the Rosebud Reservation are no exception. Their stories may be different that the stories that we may hear here in Mason City but they are important stories nonetheless. Everyone needs to be able to tell his or her story. Last week at Mission I was a small part of the story that has been going on for many, many years and it was a privilege to be a part of that.
I was the “New One” on the trip this year from First UMC and I had jumped in at the very last minute due to another mission trip that I had planned to go on not quite coming together like I thought it would. Thanks to the rest of the team I was welcomed and encouraged every step of the way and went feeling pretty prepared for waht was ahead of me. Was I a little nervous? Sure—anytime you join a group of people that you dont’ know there has to be a little bit of apprehension but that quickly disappeared, as I became part of the story.
There is much to be done on the reservation and the Tree of Life Ministry is working tirelessly to do all in their power to reach out to the people there. I was amazed at all this ministry is able to accomplish in circumstances that are really beyond comprehension. 85% unemployment, homelessness and alcoholism are the norm and the high school drop out rate soars. Suicides are commonplace. So where do you go when this is the story that is playing out around you?
The Warm Welcome is a store/restaurant that the TOL operates for the Native Americans. Crammed in small quarters, Gwen, Kathy, Sonia and Jay operate a place where food items, clothing, personal care items and a hot meal are served–all for $1.06 per adult per day. This is where I spend most of my week. My jobs included sorting and packaging the undies that our church sent from Undie Sunday, helping girls pick out prom dresses, stocking shelves, repacking bulk food items for give away in the store (I wore the essence of summer sausage one day when a large shipment came in and it had to be broken down into small packages), and I even ran the till though I warned Gwen that I was sure it would be off that day—it got a little crazy at times!
I saw God so many times during the week—when the girls found a perfect dress for prom–God was there. When I was able to hand a pack of diapers to a mom for her baby–God was there.When I took a handful of chance in exchange for food and clothing–God was there. When I packaged non wedgie underwear (YES!) from our church–God was there. When Gwen and Kathy opened up to me and started sharing their stories—God was there. When I looked in the eyes of the shy children –God was there. So many times God was evident in the people around me and hopefully He was present when people looked at me.
So this week I was part of a much larger story. The story of hope. Volunteering has always been an important part of my life and will continue to be. Being a part of this group is now part of my story. Giving a hand to someone who needed a little help, smiling at and acknowledging an individual who has a life so different from mine definitely made my time there helping worthwhile. Did I do anything that was a major life-changing thing in someone’s life? Probably not. But for one short week I was a part of a ministry that is trying tto make a difference. It is trying to provide basic assistance for a people who so need a helping hand. Without preaching and trying to convert people to “our way” of life this ministry offers the basic essentials that this poverty stricken people cannot quite get on their own yet. The Lakota people are now part of my story and in some small way I pray that I am a part of their story. The story of love and hope. Thank you for the opportunity to go on this trip and for the opportunity to share today.