I love mission trips. Time spent together with our young people, seeing new places, experiencing new things, and finding excitement in places they hadn’t expected. The way they care for one another – giving space where it is needed, inviting the quiet ones to be part of the group, teasing and laughing, encouraging and supporting – makes my heart sing. Despite late nights and earlmornings, my spirit thrives on the energy found wherever we come together as community. Community, a people connected beyond this moment, this experience; connected in the journey.
This year our high school Mission Trip is more in the way of a family vacation. While we are working with two community agencies, one in Sioux Falls and one in Rapid City, the majority of our time is being spent seeing parts of God’s beautiful world.
Monday we spent time at The Falls in Sioux Falls. Clambering over rocks, scaling mini-cliffs, drinking in the beauty of swirling and cascading waters – these were the strong images of the day, bringing feelings of peace and joy in simply being alive in this world. At day’s end we rested well from our labors at The Banquet, a community agency providing free breakfast and dinner daily, as well as a host of other supportive services, to Sioux Falls residents.
Today we look forward to visiting The Badlands on our way to Rapid City. I give thanks for these young people and their caring hearts, for the community of faith known as First Christian Church who nurtures and supports one another in the journey, and for this glorious place in which we live. What a blessing each day is.
UPDATE #2 – June 22, 2016
The Badlands, what an amazing place. Standing in the midst of this stark beauty, it feels as if we’ve been transported to some alien world. In one moment we are traveling through rich prairie land, and in the next we are in such vast starkness as to be almost incomprehensible. We kept asking one another, “Can you imagine traveling in covered wagons and finding this? How would you get around it? How would you even know there was something different on the other side?” The connection to place and to our shared humanity was deeply felt.
With temperatures rising over 100-degrees, we explored the hills and cliffs. And some even ventured to the end of the trail, standing surrounded as far as our eye could see. And together we marveled at being able to climb and explore rather than having it all roped off and out of touch. And we knew that everything we felt was deeper and richer for being able to touch and experience it.
We talked together of the vastness of this universe God flung into existence and of our smallness within it. Of how unimportant we seem in the overall scheme of Life, and yet how important it is that we live our best and seek to do all we can to bring healing and peace. And we talked together of how desert places remind us of our need for one another. In this place, we cannot survive alone. We need one another to thrive. We need one another in ways difficult to name but understood deeply nonetheless.
Yes, God was in this place, and we did know it.
UPDATE #3 – June 23, 2016
Of all the things we’ve done Mount Rushmore had the lowest interest afterwards from the group. While they found it interesting and a connection to history, what excited us all were the places that we could physically connect to – Wind Caves, The Badlands, Custer State Park, the Buffalo … Wow, the buffalo!
Thanks to Howard’s perseverance, we saw not just one herd of buffalo, but three. 3! Sometimes a short arm’s-reach away, there were bulls and cows and calves (oh my!). Ambling across the road (or stopping directly on it!), they immediately commanded our attention, bringing our conversations to a halt. Majestic and strong, and at times defiant, it was clear they would look out for one another and we were in their place. Safely in our vehicle, at times surrounded and awed by their beauty and grace, our connectedness was strong.
Our minds drew forth images of what it must have been like when more than 3-million buffalo roamed the prairie, images of life in a different time in this place, images of what was and would never be again. And our hearts knew that the past is as much a part of us as our future, that others’ understandings of humanity’s origin and purpose contains truth for us as well, that we are called by God to honor the truth of both of these. And we carried the Lakota peoples and many others into prayers that night.This morning we worked at the local food pantry, and now we have begun the first leg of our journey home. There are so many memories, things said and done and seen, that will last a long time.
But I know it’s the subtle things that will have lifelong impact – the freedom to be who you are and to be accepted in it; how to live deeply in community, nurturing and challenging one another in turn, and still accept one another; how to enter a strange restaurant and find something on the menu that satisfies, and then how to respectfully ask for what you want; that we are responsible to one another no matter where we are, so mission work away from home is as important as what we do in Des Moines, justice matters no matter one’s home; that we are loved in our uniqueness, and it is precious and vital that each of us brings the truth of ourselves each place we are.
These and more are the learnings of our journey – not just on mission trips, but, hopefully, throughout our lives.
I wonder what memories next summer will bring…