Whenever we take youth on a mission trip, there are always a couple things we as youth leaders worry about. The most dangerous potential of any mission trip, especially from suburban white churches, is the “white savior complex” that can often arise from the work that is done. Many churches often sweep in for the week, eager to help those less fortunate, without considering their own privilege or even what really may be needed in the community, and head home after a week of work feeling better about themselves. The other concern is that, even if the week has meaningful moments, the youth will go home and back to the exact same life before, rather than be changed by the mission trip in a positive manner by being challenged by things that make us comfortable.
I can firmly say that, after this week, any of these concerns for our UPC youth were put to rest. Our youth had many struggles throughout the week, including suboptimal living conditions (20+ people to a room, no pillows or blankets for the first two days), getting preached to by a much more evangelical type of Christianity than they were used to, and struggling within their hearts at understanding both the historical and current problems the Native Americans communities have faced. They were able to handle the first problem with grace, accepting the conditions as best they could with minimal complaint, but the last two struggles are where I believe the growth was most significantly made. Often at chapel, these youth heard language about God and God’s work in the world that neither them nor I agree with. The mission site was run by a group a Baptists, who at times suggested such ideas as a male God, that only Christians go to heaven, and placed an emphasis on evangelism that the youth were not used to. However, though these youth were frustrated at times by these religious differences, this sparked what was the best and most thoughtful discussion on religion I’ve seen these
youth participate in in my three years here. The youth used this as a growing opportunity to think introspectively about the language they would use to describe God, and how they understand how God is at work in the world.
The other significant growing point I saw was during our home group (where the churches split into individual youth groups to talk about their favorite and least favorite parts of the day) on Thursday night. The youth showed a level of compassion and empathy beyond the capacity of most people. They expressed their emotions, struggles, and fears for the pain and struggles evident in the Native American community. As they learned about the history of America’s interaction with the Native American’s throughout the week, this only intensified their desire to help. Their was a clear expression of our youth’s hurting for these people, and wanting to help even beyond the week, but simply not knowing how or feeling unable to solve the larger problems these communities continue to face: a struggle of seeking to retain their own culture amid hundreds of years of the United States seeking to assimilate the Native Americans into our own culture.
This was easily the most powerful, impactful, and incredible week I’ve experienced working with the youth here at UPC. It’s hard to put into words the joy, love, and pride I felt for these youth as they not only did important work throughout the week, but thoughtfully and critically engaged in many of the difficult questions we as Christians have asked for centuries. The future is so bright with these young people, who serve not only as our future but also our present. Thank you to everyone and anyone who supported us in any capacity on this trip. We could not have made such an incredible journey without you.
-Austin, UPC Intern
Saturday, July 2, 2016
This is my last mission trip as a youth of UPC, and that’s pretty crazy. I feel like youth mission trips have been a constant in my life in a way, but that’s not really true. The reason why it feels like that is because the mission trips I’ve been on have affected me in such a profound way. Even though they have only been a week a year for four years of my life, each one has contained so much life and memories that I end up viewing four weeks as something like four years. This mission trip has been no different. Travelling is always a great thing to look back on, and this makes it something that I end up looking forward to, but it still is quite painful when it happens. This trip combined two different forms of travel that I have experienced before: plane flight with the youth and long car rides with the youth. Of the two, the latter is by far the more uncomfortable because for this trip we were driving for close to seven and a half hours each way. After our long and arduous drive, we finally reached our destination, Chanku Waste Ranch. The place that we stayed is a beautiful place that took my breath away every time I stepped outside. The outside sky was such a huge space that it was always full of activity and interesting things happening at the same time all across it. The nights were pitch black and filled with stars, the sunrises lasted for hours and were complex enough to stare at for as long as they occurred, the afternoons were either filled with clouds that shifted in intricate patterns or were dominated with huge rainstorms that could be seen from miles away, and the sunsets were my favorite and something that cannot be expressed even in a picture. The weather shifted drastically from night to day with temperatures typical of a Texas summer in the afternoons and one typical of a Texas winter during the night. When rain came, winds sprung up that were strong enough that we would often run outside to experience the wildness in the air. Our campsite was made up of a number of different buildings. There were two that we generally used, though. The first was our general building where we slept, ate, and had chapel. The other was our bathroom and showers and this had an uncomfortable distance from the first. Our work was mostly construction and I worked on a house owned by one of the families on the reservation. What my group and I worked on was completing the roof and siding on one of their houses. We finished the roofing in the first two days and got more than halfway through the siding on the house by the end of our working. It was hard, fulfilling work. On Thursday, we transitioned from labor to sight seeing. After working in the morning, we headed to the heart of The Badlands. Similar to The Grand Canyon, this is an area that is both transformative and deadly. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen. After an afternoon of exploring and staring about slack-jawed, we headed back and ended the day. At the end of every day that we had during the week, we would have chapel and home group. This was a time to hear about and discuss the mission of Team Effort and the people we were here to assist. Friday was the day we were going to see Mount Rushmore and The Crazy Horse Monument. At Mount Rushmore, we found a government-run place with impressive buildings and pricy restaurants and gift shops leading up to a monument that seemed too small, and at The Crazy Horse Monument, we found a compelling story of a man who stood up against rampant racism against Native Americans and dedicated his life to building something tangible to remind everyone of the true origins of The Black Hills. The Crazy Horse Monument is a project that goes much further than stone. It is a project that is still in motion and it involves education programs and opportunities for Native American artisans to have an outlet to sell their art. The statue is a project that is still in progress, but already contains so much meaning. This trip is something I will treasure for my college years and for as long as I can remember. I know how much this has meant for me, and I can see how much this trip as meant for the people around me. I can’t help but be sorry that I won’t be going next year as well, but I can be quieted with the knowledge that a group will go and more people will get the same experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Friday, July 1, 2016
I have been going to my Presbyterian church for my entire life. Whether it was the one back in Midland or now in Austin at Westminster, I have always felt completely at home in my comfort zone. Through those churches I’ve been sent to camps and other offsite places for extended periods of time where they’ve all had the same line of thinking as I have had for all my life through the Presbyterian belief. I’ve been accustomed to a general line of thinking with little outside influence on my faith.
After our first day of working Matt, the “Team Effort” leader for the Porcupine, South Dakota branch gave us a sermon during our chapel time. Matt is originally from Atlanta and he’s what I think you would call a typical southern Baptist. I’ve always known that there are multiple denominations throughout the Protestants with different beliefs on what worship should be like or how they interpret the bible. However after hearing Matt speak I felt like he had struck a nerve with me where he was saying things that were fundamentally different than what I had grown up with and been around for my whole life. I felt almost offended that he was just about discounting my faith and a lot of the rest of the youth’s as well. His main message, however was about being the hand and feet of God and that we were here to do his work which resonates with a lot of what I’ve been taught and what I believe.
Throughout the rest of the workweek I realized after spending more and more time with Matt was that he cared the most out of all of us. At the end of the day whether we were nailing on roofing or stacking firewood was that all of the work we were doing was to god and through him as well. It didn’t matter that Matt was from a separate background with different views than me. All that mattered was that we were sharing the love of God by helping the community and letting the Lakota people know of the good news.