Since UW gets just one week off of school in the six months between January 3rd and June 3rd, spring break is a nearly sacred time of rest and relaxation for the campus. The week before is final examinations from winter quarter, and the week after is the start to spring quarter and a whole new set of classes. For a lot of students, this vacation is just about the only thing keeping you mentally and emotionally intact as you deal with the stress of school and the bleakness of winter in Seattle. Despite this need for respite, 13 students from our RUF volunteered to raise several hundred dollars each and travel to central Washington to spend their vacation working to serve the Yakama people on the White Swan Indian Reservation. This is a trip that a group from UW RUF takes every spring and one that I had heard about all year long as the students love to go. I mean, really. They love it.
When we go to Yakama, we work with a mission called "Sacred Road." SR was started by Chris and Mary Granberry, who have been working with the Yakama people for about 9 years. The Granberrys moved their four children to the reservation from Alabama after Chris took a trip there in 2001 and was struck by the overwhelming needs and heartbreaking brokenness of the people there.
Our team of 15 (students + Ryan and I) met up with teams from Alabama and California to spend the week in White Swan (there were about 33 of us altogether). We were able to participate in several areas of Sacred Road's work and ministry there on the reservation, the first of which was a worship service at their new church building on Sunday morning. Their church is very appropriately named "Hope Fellowship," and this became something of a theme for our entire week working on the reservation.
After church and lunch on Sunday, we were able to visit the museum of the Yakama tribe there on the reservation. This was a somber time as we got to hear about the ways the tribe has been very, very wronged and how the ramifications of that continue to have devastating effects on their way of life and their ability (or inability) to thrive. Wrongs perpetrated by Christians have left a bad taste in their mouths toward Christianity, and they continue to be plagued by the effects of rampant drug and alcohol abuse and an inescapable cycle of generational poverty. Combined with our Sunday morning study on Micah 6:8, we ended the day Sunday with a great longing in our hearts for justice to be mercifully done in this place.
Some ways that Sacred Road is seeking to do justice is to meet some of the physical needs of the community. For us, this meant we spent the week working on a couple of construction projects that involved providing brand new roofs for two families in White Swan. It was hard work, and I couldn't help but be moved by the students' willingness to work hard and was wonderfully delighted at how much fun we had working and serving together. We finished both roofs earlier than planned, and were able to help Sacred Road get some other projects done in the community - including chopping and delivering firewood to a number of families, installing a new window at a home, and cleaning up some outside areas by picking up trash. It was cold and windy most days, and at one point even snowing, but everyone pushed through to help get done as much as we could.
One of the most profoundly beautiful parts of the week was getting to see the relational ministry that Sacred Road does day in and day out that is so central to the work being done there. At the heart of this work is an inspiration found in Ezekiel 37 - where the Lord breathes life into a field of dry bones. It is no stretch to think of the Yakama people as being in a place that seems to hold no promise of life for them - it is a place where death is too close a friend, and most families have experienced the death of a close family member often and recently.
But as we were able to participate with Sacred Road at youth group and at kids club (their youth group has been meeting for 3 weeks and has 50-60 students coming and 20-25 in small groups; kids club is a VBS fun time at a park that met every afternoon where we could play with and love on kiddos for a few hours), it was a time where I found myself, for the first time on the res, staring hope in the face. In Ezekiel, the Lord breathed life into bones that were dead - long dead - and when I stood back and watched kids club happening around me all I could see was life. What is so beautiful about what Sacred Road does is that they are not seeking to have the solutions to every problem the Yakama people face, nor do they pretend to be able to right every wrong that has been done against them. But what they can offer them is hope - and this hope comes only through the gospel of Christ that can say to them "You have value, you are loved, you are redeemed, and this life is not the end." And what I saw in the youth, kids, and adults we were able to spend time with was that there is life being breathed into them. What a beautiful picture of the hope we must have when it seems all else is lost - even we who "have so much" have nothing if we don't have a faith in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
Chris Granberry very beautifully said to us the last night we were in Yakama that we "did not need to worry - the Lord is still at work after you leave." This is so important for us to remember - because the Lord's work does not depend on us! That makes it all the more important to not drown in our despair when we think of these things, but to be encouraged and to rejoice to see the Lord working and changing lives. As I thought about this and reflected on the week, the future, my ministry with RUF, and the ministry of Sacred Road, I was reminded of this beautiful promise of the Lord from Jeremiah 29 that I believe, more than ever, is true for the Yakama tribe:
"for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."