Our week of service, learning, fellowship, and fun in the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is nearly complete, and we finished strong!
Thursday was, like most other days this week, a rainy day. Yet this team of young people worked through the showers to dissemble a rickety set of steps on Miss Charlene’s home and install a safe, sturdy, spacious entryway for her and her family to use. Everyone did something – in fact, I can’t recall seeing more people at work on an area that was approximately 5′ x 5′ in my life!
While we were hard at work outside, Miss Charlene was hard at work inside, and at lunch she treated us to an amazing meal of what she called “Cherokee Tacos” – the “shell” was a delicious fry bread, and the fillings consisted of lettuce, tomato, cheese, beef, beans, cucumbers… wow! It was delicious.
At the end of our work day we were further surprised to be called onto the porch by Miss Charlene’s children. Isaiah, a high school student, presented Tim and myself with some woodcarvings on which he had been working. Catherine, his younger sister, gave the two of us hand-made baskets. And every single participant on the trip received a handmade necklace made from glass and corn beads. This is an especially meaningful gift given what we have learned about the corn beads. In the 1830’s, the Cherokee were rounded up from the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains and herded like cattle to the “Indian Territory” of North Carolina. This is called either “the Removal” or “The Trail of Tears”. The legend says that as they walked, their grief was so profound that as they wept, plants sprung up from their tears. The seeds of this plant look like tears and their color is that of grief. Cherokee today wear these “corn beads” in memory of the grief and horror of that time.
Friday is often what we call the “fun day” on a mission trip. We try to take some time to learn more about the places we visit and the people who are there. This year was no exception. In fact, I’ve been on many trips to and through the Great Smoky Mountains, and I have never heard much mention at all of the Cherokee story. This year, that changed in a beautiful way. We started the day at the Ocunaluftee Indian Village, a “living museum” where re-enactors shared the Cherokee way of life before and since the Removal. We saw demonstrations of pottery making, weaponry, stonework, and more. Our group particularly enjoyed the traditional dances, and a few of us even took part in the same. In fact, the reason that there are no photos here is that your author was among those “whooping it up”! The group was unanimous in that the time spent at the village was amongst the best things we could do.
Following a quick lunch, we stepped it up a little bit in the adventure department and tried our luck tubing the Ocunaluftee River. Normally, this is a “lazy river” experience, and for much of the time, that’s what we had. However, with all the rains this area has had recently, the waters were higher and faster than normal, and so a few of the rapids were bumpy and some of us emerged with some new aches, pains, and scars. I think that at the end of the day, however, most everyone was glad that they’d tried it – whether the took the leap from the rope swing or not.
We ended our evening, and our week, with a devotion on “Wild Love” and the charge that we’ve been given to keep looking for love in the places to which we are sent. We heard from our graduating senior, Katie, and we prayed over her. Some of us might have cried… And it was good.
So now it’s all over but the packing and the long drive home… I’m so impressed with the ways that this group of young people has handled themselves in situations that were challenging to say the least. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for them in the years to come!