Monday, July 20, 2009

On a Mission

Yes, I'm still alive. I know I've been falling behind in my blogging duties lately but the summer season usually equals busy, busy, busy for the Reynolds household.

Over the last few weeks we've spent time preparing for and going on a missions trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Our small group from church coordinated the trip for ourselves and several high school students that also go to our church. There were 8 adults and 11 youth total. The Rosebud reservation is a large reservation in the southern part of South Dakota. We stayed and worked specifically in the town of Parmelee for the whole 5 days we were there. And it was quite an eye opener to say the least. This is going to be a long post, but I really want to share our experience.....

Parmelee is a very, very poor community. The entire town consists of about two streets and has a population of around 700. It is quite common for them to have 15-20 people living in the same house together. And the houses are small. Most of them have no air conditioning and some don't even have running water. It was hard to believe we were still in the United States. The town looked like part of third world country. We stayed in a run-down community center that had no air conditioning. Luckily, they had two working bathrooms and each one had a shower. That was a relief! Our purpose for going was to put on a vacation bible school for the kids in the community. Beyond that, we were there to just hang out with them and help out with whatever we could such as fixing things around the community center.

When we first got there, kids from the community ran over immediately. Several groups visit the reservation each year, so they know that when vans or large vehicles pulling trailers show up at the community center, people are there to play with them. And they get soooo excited! It was shocking how young some the kids were that would just wander over by themselves. There were a couple of three year olds and a few four year olds that came every day. Their parents never escorted them anywhere. Unfortunately, that's how it is there. Many of the adults in the community have alcohol problems and a few of the kids told us that their parents would hit them. It was very sad. Many of the children showed up in the same clothes day after day. One little boy wore the same outfit the whole time we were there....even though he had vomited on his clothes one evening after dinner. On our last day there, we decided enough was enough. A few of the guys from our group washed him and we found some donated clothes in the community center for him.

The kids from the community were just amazing. Most of them were so sweet and just wanted someone to give them love. They would run up and give hugs and kisses and would hold our hands. They just wanted to spend time with us. They seemed to really enjoy the vacation bible school activities too. On our final day there, they kept requesting to sing more and more worship songs. On the first day, we sang 3 and on the last day, we ended up singing 10!! They just loved it. It was a joy to watch them sing about Jesus and dance around with huge smiles on their faces.

One morning, we decided to take a break for a couple of hours and venture outside of Parmelee to check out some other places on the reservation. We went to an Indian artifact museum and, while we were there, we were invited to attend a nearby pow wow. We were a little apprehensive about going because we weren't sure if we'd be welcomed or not, but we decided to go anyway. We were so glad we did. They couldn't have been more welcoming. A few guys came up to our group and introduced themselves and one of them asked if we'd like to participate in "grand entry" part of the pow wow. The grand entry involved several adults and children from the community dressed in their native clothing. They entered the main circle two by two and made their way around the entire circle while performing native dances. We got to walk in behind them and make our way around the circle as well (we didn't dance though). It was incredibly cool. A great experience!

Something else we got to do that was unexpected was attend a church service in Parmelee. One of the older kids that had been coming to the community center every day invited us to come with him to church. Several of the kids came with us. It was a tiny little church and we were crammed in like sardines but it was wonderful. I don't get "choked up" over a lot of things, but I was just overcome with emotion at the church service and had to fight back the tears. I was just so happy to be there in that moment. That may have been one of my favorite parts of the trip.

When it came time to leave it was extremely difficult. All of us had formed bonds with the children that none of us had expected. The youth from our church had the hardest time with it. They were all bawling when we had to leave. It was so hard knowing what kind of an environment we were leaving them in. And the looks on their faces when we told them we had to go was heart-breaking. One little boy I had hung out with quite a bit asked me to play a game with him a few minutes before we were leaving. I had to tell him "no" because we had to leave but that if he asked one of the other kids to play, I'm sure they would. He just looked up at me with the saddest face and said "but I want to play with you". Ugh....I felt TERRIBLE!!!

Before we headed back to Lincoln, we spent a night in Sparks, Nebraska where we did a debriefing session. We also had some fun time and went tubing down the Niobrara River. That was a riot. A couple of the high school boys from our group decided they were "pirates" and jumped into the river and ambushed many of us on our rafts. It was pretty funny. I'm not so sure the high school girls found it as funny though.

Whew, so that was our first experience with mission work. It was emotionally and physically draining, but it was so worth it. We feel so blessed that we were given the opportunity to go to Parmelee and spend time with the children there. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera on the trip so I don't have any pictures that I can post on here, but if you're on Facebook there are a few pictures that some of the others from our group shared with me that you can see in my Facebook photos. Our group plans to go back to Parmelee. We would love to go with them, but it will all depend on where we're at with the adoption.

Speaking of the adoption....we have some news, but can't quite share it yet. I know, you probably want to hit me for leaving you hanging like that, but check back in a week or so and we'll have the details!