This past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity of going on a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota with my church youth group. We set out early on a Sunday morning in a caravan, anxious and not knowing what to expect, and we returned the following Friday evening, joyful and surprised by how such a short period of time could be so influential in our lives. It was an exhausting and busy week full of construction projects, worship, community involvement, devotionals, deep discussions, and games, and I ended up learning more from my experiences than I could have ever predicted. Below are just a few of the many bits of wisdom that I gained during this mission trip:
- I should be extremely grateful for all that I have. Our living conditions for the week were quite different than what we were used to. The place where we stayed did not have any air conditioning, and temperatures that week were often over 100 degrees. Thus, we had to leave the doors open in order to keep the air flowing, and this caused our sleeping quarters to be swarming with bugs at night. Besides this, we were sharing a single shower with 15 females (and very little free time to shower). As I struggled to fall asleep at night in the heat or waited for hours to take a shower after a long day of sweaty construction work, I became aware of just how blessed I really am and just how much I usually take for granted. This realization was only reinforced by the testimonies of the Lakota people on the reservation. Many of them grew up with alcoholic parents who were neglectful, limited education and career opportunities, and a low chance of ever leaving the reservation for a even a glimpse of the outside world. Overall, my eyes were opened on this trip to how thankful I should be in every moment of my life. I have a comfortable home, a warm shower, a loving family, and plenty of education and career options, but unfortunately, the majority of people in the world do not have all of these luxuries. Recognizing this not only makes me feel grateful for all that I have been given, but it also motivates me to bless others with what I have in order to combat inequality.
- Hope is necessary in life. As I demonstrated above, the circumstances on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are quite unfavorable. Alcoholism, drug addictions, teen pregnancy, poverty, and abuse plague the lives of many, and thus, a great deal of the Lakota people feel overwhelmed with trials and often suffer from an attitude of hopelessness. Unfortunately, this is an extremely harmful attitude because it prevents progress and improvement. When people believe that the obstacles on the reservation are insurmountable, they do not even try to transcend them. However, hope changes everything. We saw this in the eyes of the former Red Cloud Indian School students, who were headed off to some of the most prestigious universities in the country because they had refused to give up their dreams of a better life. We saw this in the legacies of the community members who found their hope in Christ, for they were positively impacting people all throughout the reservation with their different programs and initiatives. We even saw the power of hope in the reactions that we received while doing our mission work. On my worksite, the grandma of the family that we were serving seemed very excited about our work. She was eager to help, and her eyes lit up as she saw our construction throughout the week. We gave her hope, and this hope gave her joy and the motivation to do her part in improving the life of her family. Ultimately, after going on this trip, it is clear to me that hope gets people moving towards progress, even in the shadow of overwhelming circumstances, and thus, it is essential in life. This is why I will strive to show others the hope of Jesus Christ in every situation possible.
- You are never too old to act like a kid. On mission trips, the barriers that usually separate age groups seem to fade away. This is because everyone is working, worshipping, eating meals, opening up in discussions, stepping out of their comfort zones, growing their faith, and humbling themselves together. Titles and status symbols mean much less when everyone is rowing in the same boat. I love to see the results of such a unique atmosphere. Often, adults who normally like to keep their composure in public become much more willing to have fun! For example, on the first night of the week, all of the students and all of the chaperones in our group (even the doctor, the businessman, and the computer programmer) decided to play a game of 9-square together (9-square is like a crazy game of 4-square). To my surprise, the adults were more competitive and joked around more than the kids! It was quite entertaining to watch them play! Another time on the trip, my dad, who was one of the chaperones, actually participated in a game of “What Are the Odds?” with the students in my van. The game can get pretty ridiculous, and players usually end up publicly humiliating themselves as a result; still, my dad laughed and played the game with us for almost 2 hours! In both of these situations, it was easy to see that the adults were genuinely enjoying themselves as they became more carefree and childlike for a few moments. In a serious world where people are often expected to be reserved and businesslike, it can be extremely freeing to act like a kid sometimes. As I continue to grow up, I will try to remember this so that I can find more joy in my life.