SoDak2016, part 2

Patience, Serenity, Destiny —

I interacted with all three this past week. They just happened to be 5th graders.

I met them on the side of the gym, the area where maybe I related to people the most, as those of us not-so-skilled with shooting hoops tended to cluster. I thought these three might want to keep to themselves, and maybe they did, but after a few minutes, they began opening up with fears about middle school/making it through academically, finding their fit amongst classmates, and frustrations with parents and siblings who couldn’t understand the tumultuous obstacles of being ten years old.

I listened and encouraged them as best as I could, and I think in that moment, maybe that’s all Serenity, Patience and Destiny needed. The bell rang and classes shifted, but before taking off, Serenity turned and gave me a surprise squeeze that made my heart soar. Later, after sitting and talking with them in the cafeteria for a while, they thanked me for talking with them.

Thanked me?! For talking with them during lunch?! I was happy they were cool with me sitting next to them, much less anything else!

In the meantime, my other teammates made quite the impression on the kids. I think any time a 7-foot-tall gentle giant asks about your life passions, it’s hard not to look up to him in more ways than one.

Thing is, they aren’t only tall and/or successful athletes. I watched Amanze, Austin, Seth, Darby, Arianna, Ellie, Jocelyn, Matt, Scott and Jordan run drills, conduct small groups, shoot baskets (LOTS of baskets), listen to teachers, patiently instruct and excitedly celebrate every aspect of participation drawn from kindergarteners to high-school students. Their actions truly inspired me and spoke louder than any testimonial words could.

The week progressed, and the Lord sustained our energy through mutual admiration for each other, nightly devotions and reflections, journaling, and lots of caffeine + Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Together we learned to eagerly examine the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) and live according to our callings (Ephesians 4:1), being patient with ourselves and God’s timing, as we know that God can use faith as small as a mustard seed to grow His children (Mark 4:31).

By Friday, few schools in the area still had PE classes since many had almost reached the point of graduation. So, our group headed out to the Badlands (we so bad!!!!!). Badlands National Park happens to be the closest thing to another planet I have ever witnessed. The area consists of “sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States” (…yes, I borrowed that description from Wikipedia because I could not figure out how to describe it myself).

We climbed and slipped and hiked and scurried across the gritty landscape. Rocks shifted beneath our feet as we ascended. The ground crumbled and failed to hold our weight, causing simultaneous hesitation and excitement with every peak attempted. In many moments, I felt fear that I wouldn’t be able to continue climbing or worse, I would get stuck once I had reached my goal. But we kept going, at ten distinct paces, supporting and warning each other when necessary.

Those times of physical and mental challenge united our team together, causing me to realize how special it is to travel with a group of athletes. We valued testing our bodies, pushing them a little bit, and taking calculated risks. It’s in our nature + makes up an important part of our identities. For whatever reason, God has placed us where He did on this earth to continue training and competing beyond a basic level (Acts 17:28).

— —

Another thing this week caused me to think about our mission itself. Were we simply touring the area, meeting people, then going back to our routines?

I certainly hoped not… and to be honest, it doesn’t feel that way. This month, I’ve been reading Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts, a book which analyzes the way well-intentioned outreach can often produce negative consequences because it fails to aid in an appropriate way. Sometimes a church or organization assembles a team to go and fix a people or environment that doesn’t need a formula for success, but rather a chance to form positive relationships. The society we live in, as students in ever-advancing Nashville, TN/ modern America, obsesses over efficiency and making everything fit into a universal step-by-step plan. But the cookie-cutter treatment simply doesn’t work.

1)People are people, not cookies and 2) The beauty of working with and connecting with people is that we are all different and exist in different cultures.

God made every single person in His image, reflecting a different hue of Himself. It’s a gift to experience other cultures, and a mission’s emphasis should be on learning and loving, not controlling and changing. Given that, our group got the opportunity to enter a setting different from ours and build relationships. I think maybe we were able to set positive examples for the kids, just in the fact that we are a little bit older and pursuing our passions. We gave the teachers a little break at the end of a long semester. And I hope with every fiber of my being that we left impressions of sincere love and interest with everyone we interacted with, from park rangers to the Lakota language instructor, Gloria.

As the week closed, I felt more appreciative of this opportunity than ever. Once we’d made it to the Denver airport and I had to respond to texts, the sense of adventure and going off grid began to dissipate. But it had been there for one incredible week, a week where God, through the kids, landscapes, and our group, taught me so much.

He gave me freedom from to-do lists, time to watch sunsets, reasons to get up early and prepare for a hectic day. He provided a new family. He showed me places I’d never imagined. I even laughed more than I have in a long time. Needless to say, I’m so thankful for the week I spent in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

— -

As I wrap this up, I’d like to share a passage from the Bible that stuck with me the whole week.

It comes from Psalm 61:1–5:

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you, God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.”

What a beautiful calling to the Father, the awesome Creator who provides for His people from the middle of a Southern city to the edges of a rocky Western ridge!

— -

The Lakota, (depending on the tribe for the spelling and pronunciation), prefer not to say goodbye. They don’t actually have an officially word with that meaning. They prefer to use “Toqsa Ake”, which translates to, “I’ll see you soon” or “I’ll see you again someday,” at a later date in this life or the next. A schoolbus full of kids from Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School cheerfully called out this phrase to us Tuesday afternoon as they headed home.

And so I will leave you with the same. Thank you for taking the time to read, and if you have questions or would like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Toqsa Ake.

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