Sunday, July 24, 2016

Loose Screws and the Love of God

Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation Mission Trip 2016 Reflections from Janet Stark

I'll admit - proud doesn't begin to describe how I felt when our small but mighty band of 8th graders from First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Kansas completed two decks with stairs during our time on the Pine Ridge Reservation near Porcupine, South Dakota this week.  I have never taken middle schoolers on a construction trip before and these youth were not only eager participants, but really, really good with tools!

This deck pictured is the first one we built.  And as Brianna and I were standing on the deck watching more than 40 young people go up and down our new stairs to the bath house, she saw it.  "Oh no, Miss Janet.  Look."  She pointed my attention downward and we discovered a screw that was moving away from the structure.  Nails were beginning to push up from the pressure of continued use.  Our structure needed maintenance... and we were leaving.  All those feelings of accomplishment were dashed with the reality that we would not be here to continue to pour into the care and attention that was needed.

Isn't that the way it always is with short term missions?  This is the 9th trip I have been a part of with youth.  Zach, Edward, Brianna, Kati, Charles and I have been a family for the week. And I have seen them address challenges and grow in ways that make any momma proud.  There is no doubt that this experience has made its mark on us, but what of the people we leave behind?

The Lakota of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are a big-hearted people, who are intentional about honoring ancient ways in a time when progress slows for no one.  

Can teams of young people really have an impact on the residents of Pine Ridge, when even in the midst of loose screws, they leave?  Doubtful.

Enter Matt Hadden.  Matt and his wife, Amanda, are a young couple who moved here from Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after Matt had experienced this sacred place during a short term mission trip with Team Effort.  While he wasn't sure what would happen next, he knew he felt that tugging to not just do something for these people, but to be with them.  He has taken jobs here as a school librarian and a bus driver while pastoring Sharp's Corner Baptist Church.  

Matt spoke with us at the camp the second night of our stay.  He laid out the statistics:  80% high school drop out rate.  80% unemployment rate, alcoholism, drug use, physical and sexual abuse, and suicide.  We were buried by the weight of the challenges here.  "This place," he shared, "is similar to Haiti in the problems they face."  And then he urged us to consider why we are here.  "You really aren't here to build decks.  That may solve a short-term problem, but the deck you build will be in ruin in a year or two.  You are here to listen to where God is calling you.  God put it on my heart to return here, to live and to minister with these people.  Take time to listen to how God is using you and where God is calling you."  

Matt and Amanda invited our team to their home for dinner on Thursday night and we laughed and talked and enjoyed their family.  They told us more stories of their time here and our young people wowed them with recordings of their sermons from Youth Sunday :)  Matt told us that his favorite bible verse is Psalm 34:8 "Taste and see that the Lord is good."  He shared that if you want people to know who Jesus was you've got to present the "deliciousness of Jesus".   Our Christian history shows we haven't done a very good job at that with groups of people who are existing on the fringes.  Matt and Amanda work to present that life sustaining tastiness in all that they do.

This is long-term work.  This is in-each-others'-lives kind of work.  This is shared heartache and shared joy.  This is mission.  We left our loose screws with the knowledge that we are not a part of this place, not really, although I'm confident that we have left a small piece of us behind.  But someone else will maintain the work of living and loving here.

In Lakota there is no word for good-bye.  In Lakota they say, "See you later."  "Toksa Ake."  I hope so!

Pictured above: Our Mission Team plus Pastor Matt and Racheal, one of our TEAMEffort leaders.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Go! A reflection by Charles

The word for the day is “GO”.  As we reflect on the last week of hard work, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, new friends and cultures, it makes me think of the poem “The Dash”.  Take a moment read the poem and think about your Dash and how you will “GO” out into the world next week, next month, next year.

The week was filled with great accomplishments that will be enjoyed by hundreds of people over the years as they walk up and down the set of steps that were created by a group of talented and dedicated servants from 1st Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, KS.  While this was a great project that made uslaugh, cry (I got a splinter), and smile, the question I have for the group is how will this change the “Dash” in your life. What interpersonal skills and life experiences will you take back to Manhattan to make the community and the world a little better place to live.  Use the experience of the week to think about what people will say about your “Dash” when the last four numbers are edged in stone.    

"We don't know how, but we know it has. Thanks, Charles, for all you taught us this week, and for being our Bernie;)"--from this morning's devotion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lakota Trip Day 2

reflection on yesterday from Zach:

First day of work done! Today was our first day of work, and we built the beginning of a deck for a door that you would open and then fall to the ground on before.   There was absolutely nothing there before we made the deck.   Here are a few "after" photos:

It will eventually have steps that will lead to the safety of the ground (hopefully installed tomorrow!) and the cross piece on the front will be removed.   We only put that cross piece up there as a safety precaution so that if anybody walks out there during the middle of the night, they won't fall off!   

We have breakfast at 8:00 am every morning, leaving for our worksites at 9:00 am.   We take a break for lunch around noon, followed by departing the worksite at 3:00 pm.   We have a couple of hours for leisure activities, and dinner is at 6:00 pm.   We finish off the day by having our little version of church, or worship (take your pick of wording), in the small little chapel they have here.   The chapel also serves as a dining and commons area for us.   Everything about this place is small, including the chapel/multipurpose room!   Here is a picture of our chapel:

I am enjoying connecting with God and the people around me, in this very remote place. The scenery is beautiful, and the sunsets and rises are spectacular.   I have had a very productive, encouraging, exciting, busy day today, and I can't wait to see what God has up his sleeve for us during the rest of the week!

Note from Kati: 

Did you know that there are over 500 tribes on record in the United States? Last night we learned that Pine Ridge Reservation was set aside for the Lakota Tribe. These plains Indians were called Sioux by the French settlers. We discovered that the term Sioux was quite derogatory, meaning something like the "snake in the grass" in French. So, we decided to change our t-shirts which called our location "Sioux Nation".

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day One Sioux Nation South Dakota 2016

No you are not looking at a google image of the Badlands National Park. This is where we are staying for the week. Our surroundings are amazingly picturesque and definitely unique. We drove past Wounded Knee and from the road you could see a gravesite with several memorials. We drove past several mobile homes. Communities full of mobile homes. We were looking for a bathroom and kept passing places that had been closed or were not businesses. Finally we reached a gas station which had almost a full grocery store. We stuck out like a sore thumb at the "happening" place in the badlands. Tons of families and car loads would pull up and someone would run in and get some groceries, all of them Native American. We were eating our sandwiches we had packed for dinner. An older man came up to us to sell us some herbs. He told us their names in Lakota and how they used them for ceremonies. He told us about the area and the animals here. Later when we were sharing our concerns or expectations for tomorrow, someone wondered if the people we work with would speak our language. At first I thought this was kind of silly, we are still in the US, but the more I think about it, the more I'm fascinated with how different the community here is from our community. I definitely feel like we are in a sacred and reserved land. The Pine Ridge Reservation is so beautiful and striking. The homes are very meager, and the schools look very new and well funded. We saw several Headstart buildings and a few hospitals. The classic church we saw may in fact be the one we visited when I was in high school. 

Today we will be building a deck for the TEAMEffort Volunteer Facilities--where we eat sleep and worship. Looking at this scenery, I've been yearning for a place to sit and enjoy it. I guess this is how we will get it!

"Now we are ready for what God throws at us next."

Friday, July 15, 2016

On the Road Again!

Sunday morning I will head to South Dakota with a rockstar youth mission team from our church! We will be staying and working on the Pine Ridge Reservation with members of the Sioux Nation, right in the heart of the Badlands. A huge thank you to our congregation at First Presbyterian Manhattan, KS for their financial and spiritual support of this transformational opportunity for our youth! Several have agreed to be prayer partners for our team, and I want to invite all of my readers to pray for us too! 

Throughout the week I’m hoping to post some updates, so czech back to see what we see! Grace and Peace;)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Prayers of Our People

Photo Credit: Natalie Bender; FPC Manhattan, KS
Recently our denomination finished the final steps needed to accept the Confession of Belhar as part of our cumulative statement of faith in our Book of Confessions.  This part of our constitution shares the history of the church and the response of faithful people expressing their faith amidst wars, political transitions and persecution. The Confession of Belhar was written by the Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa in response to the period of Apartheid in their country, declaring that Christianity was opposed to "a government that imposed strict separation of the races and domination by members of the white race." This confession expresses that community’s understanding of God’s calling for the church as an instrument to carry the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ to the world. Our denomination has accepted it as a way of expressing our understood responsibility and desire to be people of reconciliation especially when it comes to issues of race and oppression of people groups in our own country and even throughout the world.  Therefore, in light of the events of the last several days, I will use their confession as a foundation for our Prayer of the People on Sunday. Here’s a link for those who want to read more about the Confession of Belhar.

Please pray with me this prayer for reconciliation using the witness of the people gathered at Belhar.

Calling to "the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit." This, You have done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end. And we call you to come and gather us, protect us and care for your creation again. 

We believe that you have entrusted us "with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ"; that we, as the church, "are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called “blessed" because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.  That Your lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that Your lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world;  that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity; that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine." 

Therefore, empower us today to gather together with people of other races and colors and cultures and seek to mend the wounds left by the violence we have seen and heard over the last several weeks. We continue to lift up the people of Orlando, Baghdad, Istanbul, Baton Rogue, Minnesota, Dallas, and the dear people of our own community. We pray for the police officers who continually seek to create relationships of trust with the same people they are charged to protect. We pray for those who feel the effects of our troubled American history as a country which pushed aside the native peoples we discovered and then abused the native people we purchased and brought here as slaves. 

Strengthen and embolden us to share the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ. Soften our hearts to respond with compassion, harden our feet to walk the treacherous road before us, and open our hands to receive the friendship and companionship of our fellow Americans, our fellow Christians, and our fellow Earthlings. Lead us by your son, Jesus Christ, we pray, as he taught us, Our Father...