I have been back from Rosebud Reservation for a few days now–the laundry is done, the clothes put away, sleeping bag stowed in the basement, sleep caught up on! When you embark on a mission trip you are never really quite sure what is going to happen. At least that has been my experience in the past. Sometimes you go and things are well laid out ahead of time–you know exactly what you are going to be doing when and where you will be and other times you have no idea whatsoever what you will be doing and where you will be. I went into this trip pretty blind. I decided at the last minute to go when a trip to Mexico that I had hoped to be a part of just was not coming together like I thought it would. Judging from the posts of my friend, Teresa, on Facebook–they are doing great and the trip has been a great thing already so I am glad that it worked out for her and Maggie to go. But I know that this trip to South Dakota was where I was supposed to be!
The people from First UMC here in Mason City really took care of me and made sure that I had as much information ahead of time that I could have to make it an easier experience. When I arrived it was pretty much what I expected. Poverty everywhere. Not a big surprise since Todd County where the reservation lies was the 5th poorest county in the US in 2008. I doubt things have changed much. Unemployment is rampant and the school drop out rate is astronomical. Most of the kids look at their parents–many of whom are alcoholics and unemployed—and see no point in an education if that is what lies ahead of them. There are, however, exceptions to the rule and that is what the hope of the reservation is—to nurture those youth who can see past the circumstances around them and cast a glimpse of a bigger picture where they can be successful. We met many Lakota who are associated with the college there (Sinte Gleska University– http://www.sintegleska.edu/) who have reached great personal success and achievements who are serving as mentors and examples to the youth on the reservation. Those examples are who those youth need to be looking to and my prayer is that they will.
It is just so amazing to me how the Tree of Life operates—-this is a ministry that gets over 1500 volunteers each year and puts them to work on fixing housing, working in the Warm Welcome, doing general clean up and even making gardens. One of the neatest things that I would love to be able to witness is this summer when a group of Amish are bringing their plows and horses to work the land into some huge gardens for the residents to use. What an incredible sight that will be!!!
The Lakota way is not one that I totally understand but I understand so much more than I did. Here is a people with great pride, a true connection to the earth and what it can provide and probably some of the earliest recyclers. They waste nothing when they kill an animal. They use every part of it and realize that that is the way to live –not wasting or throwing something away just because it is not something that they themselves would use. They are happy to pass it along to someone who can use it. Great lesson to be learned there I think!
I have been thinking of what my lesson to be learned this week was and I am still pondering that. Perhaps the obvious one is that even though I was “white man” I was accepted far better than I had anticipated. Of course the directors of the Tree of Life have paved the way for all the volunteers and have established a great relationship with the Lakota people because they are not trying to convert them—they are serving God by helping to provide for basic needs of a people who are still suffering. And that is what I think God has in mind—taking care of one another. When you give without an ulterior motive I believe it is blessed work. As Pastor Jo kept asking us—“Where did you see God today?” I can honestly answer that I saw God everyday on the reservation in the eyes of those who give unselfishly of themselves. Amen.