My third mission trip to an Indian reservation was my best so far. I hesitate to even call these "mission trips" because it implies something that I don't intend. I always feel that I gain so much more than I give. I returned from this recent trip on Friday night.
Here's my story: six of us from my church traveled to Rosebud Reservation in southern South Dakota. It was my second time there, the first for about half our team. I was so happy to be back. Each time I go there, I fall in love!
The volunteers are organized through Tree of Life which is a relief agency sponsored by the United Methodist Church. They have done a fabulous job there, and we who were second-timers could see positive changes since we visited two years ago.
The Tree of Life directors, Russell and Donna Masartis, have worked hard to respect the Lakota culture and to work in cooperation with the local Tribal Councils, doing work that is requested and doing the work in a respectful way. The work has paid off and has resulted in increased trust between the Lakota people and white people/the church. This is exactly the kind of work I want to be involved with.. respectful and cooperative. It was an uplifting experience.
When we arrived Sunday night we had orientation. There were three or four other groups from around the country also in attendance: all were United Methodists which is not always the case. The work there is ecumenically supported. Groups were from Ohio, Kansas, Indiana, and Minnesota. We were impressed with all the groups, including the youth in attendance who were high energy and also polite, well-behaved, and hard-working. I didn't hear one single complaint!
Monday I volunteered in the Warm Welcome food service area. They serve breakfast and lunch four days a week to anyone who comes in the door. They serve over 100 meals per day. I like working there because of the one-on-one contact the volunteers engage in with the local residents. It's a wonderful experience. It can be a very busy place, and the volunteer can be kept quite busy (translation: tired out), but it is so worth it. I got to talk to a few people and to hold a cute little baby!
The night before we left, I stayed up late making this little wall-hanging for the Warm Welcome area. They loved it, which made me happy.
Every night we had cultural events. Monday's was Hand Games. I didn't know about hand games before, and didn't know how popular they are among native people across the country. They have national tournaments (which our local teachers had won in 2009)! By playing these games we forged friendships with some of the other volunteers. It was totally fun, silly, and light-hearted.
Tuesday I was lucky to help tutor in an elementary school summer program. What a blast! The kids were adorable and loved our extra attention. Here are some pictures of our work and our fun.
Tuesday night was a sweat lodge which I had planned to attend, and then decided not to. I attended a sweat lodge two years ago and was not able to complete the whole process. I'm a fair-skinned, wimpy white lady and found the heat pretty hard to take. So I begged off this year. I'm sort of sorry I did and wished I had gone. Next time I will!
Wednesday was our day off.. another fabulous day. Amy and I decided to go to Valentine, Nebraska (35 miles away) to visit a couple of nature spots. One was this wonderful waterfall.. Smith Falls, the highest waterfall in Nebraska. We stood under it and screamed from the cold, but oh, did it feel good on a day that hit 98 degrees F!
Thursday I worked in the sewing room. Part of the Thrift Shop work includes distributing layette kits to families of newborns. While I was there, a young man came in with his 5-day-old son. Both were so cute: proud daddy and his adorable baby. He was given a layette, but with some pieces missing. So my mission on Thursday was to complete at least one quilt to be added to a layette kit. I took along nine-patches that I had made at home, then found other fabrics in the sewing room and finished the quilt. There was no proper quilt batting, so I used a polyester knit piece that was fairly light weight and had a soft drape to it. It actually made a rather nice-feeling quilt!
I also started a second quilt, which I will finish at home and send to them as soon as I have that and a few more to fill a box.
will finish this at home
Some of our team on Thursday helped unpack and re-bundle 10,000 lbs of frozen corn-on-the-cob! Now there was a physically taxing job! They seemed to enjoy it, though, and at the end of the day felt very pleased with how much they had accomplished.
Thursday evening was full of activities: an art fair where we purchased beaded work and other art work done by local native artists; a dinner of Indian tacos (yum, yum, yum); a presentation by a local flutist/story teller. He was so funny and under-stated yet profound. He brought several of us nearly to tears with his beautiful stories and music.
sticks used in hand games; these tips are carved from deer antlers
Friday was another work day, but we had to depart early because of 4th of July commitments some of our team had... it was both good and bad to leave a tad early. We were all tired from our hard work, and happy to get back home to our own beds.
Already I am thinking about next year. I can hardly wait to go back. This year's experience was uplifting because of the spirit of change that I sensed on the reservation. The work being done by Tree of Life is helping make positive changes. The native people are working hard to bring about change. The problems still exist, the poverty is deep, the challenges can seem overwhelming -- but the positive energy and hope are palpable. I am thrilled.
The things they really need that anyone reading this could donate, if interested, are the following:
* diapers of all sizes
* baby clothes, used if in good condition, and new
* shoes - all sizes - walking/running shoes, not fancy work-style shoes (very few people have jobs, and job opportunities are scarce.. they need comfortable, every day shoes, used if in good condition, and new)
* books - I saw many families checking the book shelves for new arrivals, and there were very few, I'm sad to say
* teen boy clothes
If any of my readers feel moved to send donations to Rosebud, here is the address. If you send any of the above items, they will be GREATLY APPRECIATED and will be put to use immediately.
Tree of Life
Attention: Donna M/Thrift Shop
PO Box 149
Mission, SD 57555