Oh, the sweet sound of the train whistle coming down the tracks toward you in the wee hours of the morning, as it is over 4 1/2 hours late. The comfort you feel as you eagerly board the train knowing that very soon you can sit and rest in your seat. Your mission team is dreadfully tired and it’s funny how one late train can push you to a breaking point.
It makes me wonder if those dear sweet children in North Dakota on Spirit Lake Nation feel that same sense of comfort when they see the ministry bus coming down the road to pick them up for Day Camp. What comfort they must feel knowing that they will soon feel the love that the staff and volunteer mission teams have for them. Joy in knowing that they can soon play games like soccer, basketball, or capture the flag. Joy in having someone read books to them, color with them, or even just blow bubbles with them. Joy in knowing that they will soon get a warm meal. All of this while learning of God’s love for them.
The children are bussed 3 days a week to the mission center to take part in a VBS like setting and learn about Jesus. They are fed lunch and then split into 3 groups according to age. They then rotate through 3 different stations including Bible story time, games, and crafts. They end the day gathered as a group to work on journals and receive a snack before loading the busses to return home. So much of what the Spirit Lake ministry tries to emphasize is “relationships”. That does prove somewhat challenging when you have a short 3 days to get to know these kids. (And actually we only worked at the day camp 2 days as another group wanted the opportunity and they worked the 3rd day.) Of course kids are the same all over the world. You will have some children that simply “cling” to you right away and don’t want to leave your side. Other kids will barely acknowledge you when you speak to them. Then of course we had the “rambunctious” ones who when corrected for some misdemeanor will call you “granny” to try and get under your skin. You want to question yourself – “Am I making a difference? Am I making any relationships? Am I showing the love of Jesus?” After some reflection about the trip I’ve come to the conclusion that we may never know but that it’s really not in our hands anyway. It’s in God’s hands. Maybe one of those children someday will say – “Why did those people from Pennsylvania come all the way to North Dakota to play kick ball with me?” And then they will do some investigation and want to learn more about this Jesus that we serve. We may have planted seeds that we will never know about. If we felt the calling to go then I have to believe there was a reason and that God will take care of the rest.
There were four teams of strangers from Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan, and Indiana. At the beginning of the week we were given our work assignments and on Monday morning we loaded up tools, materials, and team members. We drove around to each of the work sites to assign job duties. Texas was assigned a house to replace the roof shingles. Pennsylvania was split into two teams; one team went to another family home to replace roof shingles and the other team, along with Michigan and Indiana, was sent to the Pow Wow grounds to replace the roof at that facility. One member of the roof team commented than he really enjoyed working with everyone, especially the youth. They worked very hard and asked questions so they could work on their own to help pull it all together and not stand around. It was fun to interact with the kids at the house – one little boy was very happy that water was not going to get in his room anymore! Another day there was a water battle with a little girl that resulted in lots of smiles and laughter!
The Pow Wow was a big circular “arbor” in the middle of a field. One group spent the week ripping up the old, leaky roof. Then 2 and eventually 3 teams of skilled laborers were on the roof measuring, cutting and nailing down the new roof. The rest of us who were “non skilled” laborers were the clean up crew. Again during the week the thought went through my head several times – “What am I accomplishing here?” I was a non skilled laborer and sometimes felt as if my help wasn’t really needed. But again upon reflection I looked back over the week and thought about what I did. I helped clean up all the old roof and shingles and loaded it onto trailers. I helped unload it at the dump. I made several trips back to the ministry center to help load and unload sheets of new plywood to take to the sight. I helped pick up nails and broken glass so the children at the pow wow this summer won’t step on anything in their bare feet. None of that seems like much. It didn’t take any skill – just some muscles. But had we NOT been there to do those jobs the skilled workers would have had to stop what they were doing much earlier each day to clean up and do those odd jobs that we were doing. If they would have had to take care of those things as well as putting ON the roof then the job would not have gotten done by the end of the week. So in reality – we were there for a reason. It’s really true that “many hands make light work” and that EVERY part of the “body” is necessary and needed.
By Wednesday the roofs on both of the family homes were completed and those work crews were sent to the Pow Wow grounds to help with that work assignment. Four separate work teams who were strangers to each other just a few days earlier were working together for one common goal. There were cheers celebrating each milestone reached. It was the largest work team on any on site in the eight year history of the Spirit Lake Ministry Center. A humble group of volunteers working through different weather conditions; skilled workers patiently teaching others how to accomplish the tasks. When we focused on one goal as one mission team we magnified the blessings that were accomplished for the work of God and for the people on the reservation. We built those relationships with the team members and the children, with Jesus as our foundation.
As a bonus we got to enjoy the glorious North Dakota scenery, so different from our own. We could see miles across the plains, with just small hills, ponds, and clumps of trees to accentuate the beautiful view. On our way to the work sites we passed herds of buffalo, flocks of white pelicans, jack rabbits, prairie dogs, and other unfamiliar wildlife. Devil’s Lake is all through the Spirit Lake Reservation and added so much beauty to our days (and also provided the challenge of many mosquitos, ticks, and other bugs)! On Tuesday evening we were privileged to have someone from the Lakota Tribe come and talk to us about their customs, beliefs, and way of life, and how so much prejudice, injustice, and misinformation causes poverty and dysfunction within the reservation. We enjoyed traditional music and dances and we came away with more sympathy for and understanding of these proud and majestic Americans. We also had the privilege of seeing how Mike and Libby Flowers are giving their lives to serve God at the Spirit Lake Ministry Center, by helping the Lakota people have better lives and learn to know Jesus.
It really is easy to let our attitude turn sour when obstacles get in our way; the devil will put obstacles in our lives to set us up for failure. It is important to focus on maintaining a good attitude, for it is easier to maintain it than it is to regain it. We need to focus on the good things and enjoy our lives. What you focus on you magnify! Learn to celebrate! Go and be a blessing to someone else and do good things that produce fruit!