Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Break, Sacred Road, Yakama

Hello dear friends,

Tomorrow, Ryan & I are leaving with 13 students to go to the Yakama Indian Reservation, which is about three hours east of Seattle on the other side of the mountains. This is a trip that the UW RUF takes every year for Spring Break to partner with the Sacred Road Ministry there on the Reservation, which is run by Chris and Mary Granberry. I'm so very excited to go on this trip, and this is primarily because of how passionate our students are about this ministry and their desire to go again year after year. This will be my first time on the Rez, and so I wanted to share some reflections that were written by a UW Alum, Randy Ferreiro, who has gone on this trip many times. Please be praying for our team and for those we will be working with on the Rez this week!


Reflections on the Rez

This is an account of the things I did, saw and thought about over spring break in the Yakama Indian Reservation and since.

Miguel- There was a young boy at Kid’s Club, starting on Tuesday, that I did not recognize. I went over to talk to him, and asked him his name. He told me he was Miguel, he was 7 years old and that this was his first time ever coming to Kid’s Club. We went over to the cement and started drawing with chalk, and I asked him a number of questions about school and his family. It turned out he was learning his multiplication tables in school (first grade), but so far he’d only learned the ones. I asked him if he liked math, and he said he did, and that he knew he needed to learn a lot, because he wanted to go to college and learn how to build houses! I called Mike D. over to meet this contractor-in-the-making, and Mike asked Miguel a couple questions. Would he build out of wood or steel? Steel, so the houses would last longer. Big houses or small houses? Big houses; but some of them would be for poor people, because they had no money, but deserved a place to live. I was blown away by his matter-of-fact tone and his absolute selflessness. And then I remembered the statistics. Very few kids from the Rez ever get to move off it. Even fewer of those go to college. In all likelihood, Miguel will never get the chance to pursue his dream. And why shouldn’t he? Enter struggle-of-the-week number one: Do I trust that God is good when He says that He is? Do I truly believe that He will provide for those in need, that His ways are pure and right, and that everything is in His hands? I am perfectly comfortable saying that I do. But when confronted with the bleak reality of a broken world, do I really?

Jason- This was my third trip to the Rez, and for the third year I spent at least part of the week playing with Jason. I’m not sure how old he is – 5 or 6, maybe – but he’s very small for his age. And he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, of probably middling severity, and can’t communicate particularly well. And he’s gotten into the habit of hitting people (and pulling beards – ouch!). And, and, and. Jason is not the only child with disabilities, issues, whatever you’d want to call them. And I must again struggle with whether I truly believe in the goodness of God, and in His provision.

But one of the greatest gifts I have received over these three trips has been Jason’s huge smile and his precious laugh. It is one of the purest, most joyful things I have ever heard. And I am humbled by the ease with which he can be amused. By how simply holding him is enough. And I am struck by the basic human needs of these kids: to eat, to drink clean water, and to just be loved, plain and simple. And if you take a second to see past the snotty nose, the defensive attitude and the unruly, unkempt hair, and just love them as beautiful children, created by God, I swear to you that the love you will receive in return will be the among the strongest, purest and most focused you have ever felt. But are you – am I – willing to sit in the dirt and blow bubbles, or sing incredibly repetitive and obnoxious jump-rope rhymes all afternoon? Can we swallow our pride enough to lose at kickball, miss the tetherball, fail at foursquare and lose some marbles? Will we, as the girl in Chris’ story did, continue to play with the girl who accidentally peed on our arm and not make a scene? What will we do?

The work site- The work site this year was a little disjointed for me; the first day I sort of helped with the scraping on the main house, and I dug up a rosebush that was in the way… Besides that, it was kind of like a kitchen with too many cooks in it. :-) Tuesday I was part of a smaller, breakaway team that went to gather and split some wood, and Wednesday we painted the benches and table legs in the dining room at the Longhouse. Friday, Chris grabbed Joseph and me to help him load up some construction debris from his house into his truck and take it to the dump. That was pretty fun, and a really good time to get to know Chris a bit better, and pick his brain about what Sacred Road is doing on the Rez.

The Longhouse- One of the things I got to ask Chris about was some of the traditions of the Yakama in relation to the Longhouse and their beliefs. And some of those things were so amazing. The one that made me think most is this: When they are having a ceremony in the Longhouse, they begin with everyone circling the dirt floor in the same direction as the Earth rotates. This is to acknowledge that the creator has set things in motion and has a particular direction, and that they want to align themselves with his direction. And while their creator may not be our God, what a beautiful expression that is, and how easily applicable it is for us.

Dancing- There were two stories of dancing that were shared over the course of the week. One was a negative view of the ways that white people treated the Indians, and one was a beautiful story of the ministry of Sacred Road.

The first story goes something like this: There was once a mouse who was befriended by an elephant. As the mouse’s birthday approached, the elephant, with the best of intentions went about planning the greatest party he could conceive of. When the time came, the elephant invited the mouse and all his friends over for the party, and they started to dance. They danced and danced, and the elephant thought everything was going swell. He cried out to the mouse, “Mouse, isn’t this the greatest dance party you’ve ever been to? Mouse?” As I’m sure you can surmise, the elephant had stepped on the mouse, crushing the life out of him. And I’m sure you can also surmise which animal represents Indians and which represents the white folk. Trying to force another culture to “party” like we do can never result in the continued vitality of that culture.

The second story is of Chris Granberry and Chuck Clevenger having gone to, I believe, a powwow. At the powwow, Wendell, one of the elders of the tribe, asked Chris and Chuck to come forward, along with a respected dancer from the community, and dance. Blankets were placed upon the ground, and the dancer led Chris and Chuck around them in a dance, eventually lifting the blankets off the ground. Days later, Wendell explained to Chris what that all had meant: Wendell saw Sacred Road as dancing around the Yakama people and lifting off, as the blankets, the sorrows of the people.

The dichotomy here is clear: When we come to someone who is different from us, in whatever way, Christian or not, do we try to force them to be like us, and so trample them, or do we learn about them, and love them, and so demonstrate to them the gospel of Christ?

History- As most of you probably know, I am somewhat of a sucker for history. I find it fascinating, especially when I can learn if from the source. And one of the things I thought about a lot on the Rez, and really have thought about for a while is this: It is difficult to know where one should go when one has no real concept of their past. I strongly believe that the almost paralytic state of white society as a whole is due to the fact that very few of us have any real concept of our history, familial, cultural, national or racial. And something that I took away from what Wendell was saying is that some of the identity crisis that the Indians face is the tension between not forgetting the past and not living in the past. But I think that the not-forgetting-the-past part is key; for without the past, the future means very little.

The Team- One of the best parts, to me, of being part of the Church is being able to go nearly anywhere and have instant community. Whether you’ve met someone before or not, if you both love the Lord, there is an automatic aspect of fellowship that is unparalleled. It doesn’t mean you’ll always get along, but it does mean you’re on the same team, as it were. And every year, the place I recognize this phenomenon most is on the Rez. People from across the country come together for one week and leave with bonds and relationships that are maintained year-round. Crossing the boundaries of age, hometown and denomination, these 40 people work together hand-in-hand and are able to love one another and the Yakama people as a single unit. And every year it blows me away, and every year I love it more.

Beauty and Brokenness- One of the main themes that Chris and Ann Marie talked about this year was seeing the dual reality of the beauty and the brokenness on the Rez. Each year that I go, I think I see more and more of the brokenness of the people, and less and less of the beauty. And yet neither one is the whole story; both are there. And if I look closely, I see much, if not most, of the brokenness reflects that which I already know. Really and truly, the brokenness of the Rez is not so different from the brokenness of Seattle. It is simply more obvious and more easily observed. When I think of the brokenness on the Rez, I think of abuse, suicide, drug and alcohol addictions, fatherless children, homelessness and hopelessness. Tell me those aren’t problems here. Hidden they may be, but I have, in my relatively short lifetime, encountered all of those things numerous times. I’m not saying the Rez is not in desperate need. What I am saying is that so is our very own city. Our neighborhood. Perhaps our very own home. My heart yearns to go back to the Rez, to serve and love the people. I know that many who have gone feel the same. But do not forget, in the meantime, that you are here in Seattle for a very specific purpose. Do not focus so much on where you are not that you forget the importance of where you are. And remember: Christ has come to perfect that which is beautiful and redeem that which is broken.

I could ramble on for many more pages, but those are my thoughts in short(ish). My final encouragements are these: pray for the Rez, Sacred Road and its staff and God’s will to be done. And, if you haven’t been … go.

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