Background: On Sunday, August 5, a team of young people and adults from the The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights journeyed about three hours north to the community of Irving, NY, where we will spend the week in relationship with our friends from the Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church. This tiny congregation is located in the midst of the Seneca Nation of Indians Reservation and we are eager to not only come alongside these folks in service, but to also learn more about what the world looks like from this perspective.
When I first started leading these trips with kids, we called them “Work Camps”. We did that, well, because we thought that the most important thing we would do would be to “work”. And so we bundled up the vans and we headed off to someplace exotic like Slippery Rock, PA or Tennessee or Maryland and we told the kids that they had a duty to work. We scrubbed, we painted, we dug, we drywalled. And, every now and then along the way, we studied the Bible, sang some songs, and worked on relationships within our group.
Gradually, though, we came to see that maybe it wasn’t in everyone’s best interest to simply have a bunch of strangers show up in a place, work, and then leave – still as strangers. We didn’t want to train ourselves to be “helpers” who took time out of our busy schedules to go and be nice to some poor soul who was down on his/her luck and lend a hand because we were so stinking nice. We have been growing in our ability to see ourselves as partners, who have something to offer in terms of time and energy and relationship, and who are in a position to receive something in terms of knowledge or energy or skills or relationship. And so we call them “Mission Trips”, because we assume that God is already at work in Slippery Rock, Tennessee, Maryland, or wherever… and it’s our job to get in on what God is already doing and offer who we are.
Wednesday would have been a spectacular “fail” had we been operating under the old “Work Camp” model. We didn’t do a blessed thing (full truth: Lindsay and McKenna helped Tim and me to install TWO furring strips for drywall….) but it was a phenomenal day. We took the morning easy, and then we traveled to the other part of the Seneca Reservation – the Allegany territory – and visited the brand-new-not-even-open-to-the-public-yet Tribal Museum and Cultural Center. We had a private tour with a team of guides and really learned quite a lot of the Seneca story, and are deeply grateful to the folks within the tribe who helped us gain access to this experience.
We took some time off to wander through an Antique Mall in Salamanca, and then headed home to a phenomenal dinner cooked for us by members of the Wright Memorial church. Afterwards, we had an extensive and informational presentation on some of the Seneca experience by Mr. Rick Jemison, who serves as one of 16 Tribal Councilors for the Seneca Nation of Indians. He brought along a number of items that helped us to grasp some of what these folks have been through, and he and some of the other elders who were here shared very moving personal testimony as to how they have been affected and shaped by both the adversity and the opportunities that life on the reservation has brought to them. Some of us listened to a wonderful tribute to the Seneca as sung by the late Johnny Cash, entitled “As Long As The Grass Shall Grow.” You can hear that by clicking on the link below…
We ended our day with our typical debriefing session – singing, laughing, looking at photos… and we talked a little about the story of Daniel, who along with his countrymen was kidnapped and removed from his home. Although Nebuchadnezzar tried to give these young people new identities (new name, new language, new food, etc.), Daniel refused to wear the labels that someone else had put on him. He maintained that God alone had the right to name and shape and form him. We talked about the fact that most of us have people who would be more than happy to tell us who we are and what we are about; that people will judge us for our worst mistake or try to tear us apart if we let them – but that each of us can choose to wear the identity that God is offering us as his beloved children.
Here are a few photos… and as always, thanks for the prayers. Astute observers will note that there is one more participant on the trip: our friend Karlena, who was unable to join us when we departed on Sunday, met us in Salamanca, and we’re the better for it!