I wrote the following 10 years, and 10 mission trips, ago. This Sunday morning 35 of us will head to San Ramon, Costa Rica, and once again will have the profound experience of sharing God’s love with the “least of these.” May we be respectful of their culture, loving and giving, and, always, awed and humbled by the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us.
Our camp took place over a thousand miles from Christ's Lutheran, in a community called Two Strike, on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Two Strike faces the same problems that plague the whole reservation: rampant alcoholism, unemployment, depression and despair. Daily, a large assortment of Lakota children of all ages waited outside the decrepit community center as our team of leaders drove up. Few parents were ever in sight. The ten year olds held tiny siblings on their backs; the five and six year olds arrived alone, having traveled from one of a collection of tumble down houses that lined the community's single, winding road.
These children came to camp hungry. They came to camp exhausted. Many of them arrived dirty, wearing the same clothes day after day. Some also wore fresh bruises and cuts from beatings they had received the night before. Because their toys were normally sticks, and the mangy dogs they played with in the road, these children clutched their new markers and crayons with wonder. While there were planned activities throughout the day, they would have been content to sit and draw, or be carried around by the teenage counselors. These children needed massive amounts of love, and they soaked up the care and attention they received like flowers in the sun.
We couldn't call our Two Strike Camp a Bible school, indeed were asked not to mention Christ at all. Many of these families bore the scars of the Christian boarding schools, where their ancestors had been systematically abused, stripped of their language, their culture, and their dignity. The deeply beautiful and profound Lakota spirituality had, until recently, been practiced underground. Now they are beginning to reclaim this part of their heritage, and do not want another kind of religion forced on their children.
We didn't sing about God, but I have never felt His presence more strongly than in that small, dusty building. We never mentioned Jesus by name, but our teenagers fully lived their faith that week, bringing nourishing food, playing games, telling stories, and most importantly, hugging and holding the poor little ones who are so very close to His heart. None of us who were there will ever forget them: Baby Joe, Taytum, Sonny, Ashke-win, Outlaw, Skyla. They will haunt our dreams. Will they have a chance, even a chance for a decent future? I think they will, because Someone has brought them into our lives, Someone who loves them more than we do.
Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.
God bless Two Strike, San Ramon and everywhere.