The young people from the First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights are engaged in our annual pilgrimage in mission and service. This year, we are spending time with some friends in Western New York, particularly in the communities that comprise the territories belonging to the Seneca Nation of Indians.
Our second day looked a lot like the first, at least to start: we got really dirty pulling down old drywall, digging in the mud, and doing what we can to help the Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church become a little bit more structurally hospitable. We continued to work on the wheelchair ramp as well as a few projects indoors.
Because this church building, like most, doesn’t have shower facilities, we had to go down the street to the Cattaraugus Community Center, a fantastic resource for the residents of this community. In there we saw great recreational rooms (like an indoor lacrosse field, basketball, weight room, and more) and, most importantly – showers. Some of us showered more quickly than others, which led to a certain amount of waiting around, which led to…well, photos below.
When we arrived on Sunday, one of the neighbors invited us to a “revival” that his church was conducting on the other portion of the reservation – in the town of Salamanca (about an hour away). We assumed, naively, that it would be an opportunity to immerse ourselves more deeply in the Seneca community, customs, and religious outlook. We were wrong. We arrived at the Central Street Baptist Church and we had an amazing cultural experience – just not the one we’d expected.
We’d been told to arrive at 6 for a community meal. Being led by folks like me, we got there hungry at 5:58. The church was locked up tighter than a drum. As we wandered around, a car stopped, and it turned out that it was the Pastor of the church. He was asking if we were lost. No, I said, we were here for the revival. He said, “Really? Are you sure?” It turns out that it was not supposed to start until 7 and there was no meal. So, off to Little Caesar’s for a quick bite of pizza, and then back to the church. There was a yellow striped tent set up out back and a few dozen hardy souls gathered underneath it as we listened to the fiery (and, the kids would have me tell you, LOUD) message offered up by “Preacher Don”, a wiry Southern Baptist evangelist from Virginia (or maybe West Virginia). I’m not kidding you, except for the fact that the music was done from an iPad via bluetooth – it was like a trip back 125 years.
I’m proud of the ways that our team not only dealt with the challenges and disappointment of seeing their proposed trip into Native American spirituality be transformed into an entirely different experience, but at the ways that they were able to thoughtfully reflect on which aspects of Preacher Don’s message resonated with their experience and which were foreign to them. We gathered after the day for our time of de-brief and it was so encouraging to hear them be intentional and thoughtful about the things we’d said, heard, and done throughout the day. Thanks for your prayers!
Here are a few images of our time thus far…