SoDak2016, part 1

A couple of months ago, I was given the chance to join a crew of Belmont athletes on a mission trip to a Lakota Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. First reaction? AH! YES! WAIT… I’m not sure about a short-term mission trip… BUT THAT SOUNDS INCREDIBLE… but WHY ARE WE DOING THIS/WILL IT ACTUALLY BE OF ANY HELP?

Fortunately, our fearless leader patiently answered my questions and encouraged me to bring my excitement as well as my concerns before the Lord. And after doing just that… I began to see my path leading directly to this trip, mostly because the idea/opportunity wasn’t one of my own creation.

In the weeks prior to being asked on this trip, I had been placing before God a longing to follow Him wherever He wanted me to go — to join His adventure, whatever that looked like. And so, this past week, I ended up landing in Denver with a crew of 7 other athletes, 2 grad-assistant coaches, and our leader. We didn’t really know each other, and we didn’t know what to expect from this week.

But by the time we’d found burritos (at Illegal Pete’s) in Denver, nearly gotten towed, and set the tone for the trip with our car playlist on the way to Pine Ridge, something began to click. We spent the next 5 hours asking each other many questions, listening to stories, making a vital Walmart grocery run, and swiftly getting passed the awkward beginning stage.

That night, our group settled into Sacred Earth lodge, a solar-powered housing situation with bunk rooms, a hodgepodge kitchen, not a lot of heating, and most importantly, twinkle lights. Although, the sky full of stars (yes that was a s/o to Coldplay) which greeted us outside each night blew away any indoor rigging.

The next morning, a foggy Monday the 9th, swept us away to the Black Hills. The schools we’d be working in later that week didn’t have sessions that day, so we got to know one of the most important areas in the legacy of the Lakota tribe. [The Black Hills are a small, isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, United States.] Harney Peak, which rises to 7,244 feet, is the range’s highest summit and a place of pilgrimage for the tribe.

We hiked it that morning. Naturally, a little off-trail detour happened for a couple of us, and for the first time, I heard the muted crinkling of a cloud coming in. YES. I HEARD A CLOUD. TALK TO ME ABOUT IT SOMETIME, OKAY?

15 minutes later, we’d reached the top with our heads literally in the clouds. Looking out over this expanse, I could hardly believe that the same Creator of those majestic ridges made me… and loves me… THAT IS CRAZY STUFF.

We clambered over more boulders and through bushes and up hills after heading back down through the rain…

The park really rocked our hearts, challenged our bodies, and set our minds on things above: the perfect preparation for the next early morning with 4th graders, basketball, and relay races.

Before this week, I’d many times expressed my hesitation regarding kiddos. Not that I don’t love them; I still AM one, honestly. But being the youngest child and not much of a babysitter made for less experience in this department than some. I felt insufficient and definitely fearful of messing something up or failing to engage the kids. But somewhere in between running around with basketballs, doing jumping jacks, dancing, and meeting in small groups, it started to make sense. I learned so much from watching my team members take the lead, spark conversations and love on everyone there. By lunch, a group of 3rd grade girls were asking me to sit with them and tackling me with questions from all sides — an overwhelming and absolutely delightful experience for someone who just 4 hours earlier had no idea how it would go.

They just love life so much + that is unbelievably contagious.


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