Standing Rock Reservation visited Woodridge, IL

Last summer, Woodridge UMC youth and leaders (including me) traveled to McLaughlin, South Dakota, in the middle of the Standing Rock Reservation. That was usual, commonplace, expected. We take a trip like that every year.

What none of us predicted was how significantly we would be impacted by that trip. The second night we began to sense something was different about this trip. The questions our teenagers asked and the conversations we had were deeper, more informed than ever before. Even as a professional person of faith it makes me uneasy to speak like this, but as we reflected on our experiences in Standing Rock, we could only conclude that God was speaking to us.

Our youth returned to share a new vision: Instead of picking a new location for the 2013 trip, we want to return to Standing Rock. And we want to bring the whole church with us.

So a multi-generational trip was born. In June, people of all ages from WUMC are heading to McLaughlin, SD for a week of work with the Lakota people of Standing Rock. But first, Standing Rock came here.

While in Standing Rock we met Robert White Mountain. Some from our group built a modest shelter so those working at the enormous community garden that Robert started could have some shade. Others of us pulled weeds in the garden. All of us were exceedingly moved talking with Robert, listening to him share his vision for his family, his people, his home.

That’s why we were thrilled when Robert agreed to speak at all three of our worship gatherings on January 20. For me, the best was at our Evening Worship when Robert was able to just talk and respond to questions. Don’t be scared by the one hour running time or by the moment of nothingness as the video begins. Robert starts talking about four minutes in. If you make it through the whole thing, you’re rewarded with Robert signing a prayer song in Lakota.

What did you think of the conversation with Robert? What surprised you? What moved you? What questions didn’t get answered?


Mingo County mission trip: reflecting back, looking forward

I never quite know how to encapsulate all that happens on one of our mission trips. There is just so much that happens: tine in the vehicles there and back, staying at churches on the road there and back, inside jokes, inside disputes, conversations that cannot be reconstructed let alone shared, insights shared in confidence, logistical frustrations, transcendent moments not caught on camera or phone but merely glimpsed in the mind and captured in the heart, tears shed, laughs shared, worship offered…the list is innumerable.

So, because it is easiest and most accessible, we end up talking almost exclusively about the work we did and the people we met. And it makes sense to do so, as the work and the relationships are the main reasons for such trips!

19 youth and 7 adults from Woodridge United Methodist Church spent the week of June 19 in Mingo County, West Virginia. Once there, we joined groups from Wauconda, IL and Laverne, MN for a total of 70 people.

Good and meaningful work happened:

  • An entire house was cleaned, scraped and repainted.
  • At another house repairs were made, a wall built and painted, a garden tended.
  • When rain made outside work impossible, the inside of a house was cleaned.
  • Kid’s Club for children aged 4-12 was offered with lunch, skits, games, snacks, crafts, songs, and reading.
  • At Mingo’s only nursing home the residents spent time with us in conversation and in song.

Through all of that and more, love was offered to residents of Mingo County. However we served that week, we did it with the people in need there. One of the most commendable features of YouthWorks, the organization we partnered with, is their commitment to building not just homes but relationships with the people being helped. We spent time talking with the residents, sharing our stories and listening to theirs. I believe that in such exchanges – real conversations that recognize another human being as a beloved child of God worthy of respect – God is honored.

So we want to share not just the description of what we did, but also a few glimpses into lives that touched us. People like:

  • 6 year old Alvin, who came to Kid’s Club each day at noon, having had nothing to eat yet that day. We were so thankful that the host church for Kid’s Club (First UMC, Williamson) provided healthy lunch and snacks for the children. Because of them we were able to offer Alvin something good to eat.
  • Joy, the nursing home resident who could not speak so communicated through pointing and grunting. She clearly loved being in the presence of all those high schoolers! And they felt the same about her as they laughed, sang and played games.
  • Verna, the homeowner who started the week by handing the crew at her home a list of 42 items to complete. By the end of the week she was working along side the crew as much as she could and was grateful for the help provided.
  • Joshua, the 17 year old nursing home resident. All the youth were moved to meet someone their age in that care facility. We talked with him about movies, games, music…and what we were up to in Mingo County. The youth decided to take a collection and use it to replace a game that had been stolen from Joshua.

All week long Luke 6:27-28 was used to challenge us to Be Different. In that passage, Jesus is speaking to a large group of followers. He says:

If you’re listening, here’s my message, here’s what life in the Kingdom of God looks like: Keep loving your enemies no matter what they do. Keep doing good to those who hate you. Keep speaking blessings on those who curse you. Keep praying for those who mistreat you.

Each morning we spent time in silence. As we thought, read and prayed we considered how we could believe different, act different, react different and love different. Not just there in Mingo County, but back here in Illinois. Back here in our usual routines and among our usual friends and colleagues. How will we be different?

The answers to that question are still being written. It is my hope and prayer that those answers are written over and over again throughout our lives as we love all others and serve those in need wherever we are.

What significant mission trip experiences have you had lately (or ever)?