Mission trips always surprise volunteers
The preparation is the same every year for the missionaries of the Basehor United Methodist Church - fundraising and collecting donations, packing tools, donated clothes, personal belongings and food into trucks and trailers, then making the more than 500-mile trek to Fort Thompson, S.D., to help the residents on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation.
But the uncertainty of the annual mission trip always lies in the work they will be completing and the experiences they will have. The nature and intensity of the projects is a mystery until the group arrives at the reservation and meets its guide.
"We can't plan, so we just go with anticipation," veteran missionary Margee Castle said.
"And you learn to be creative because they don't always have the tools or supplies you need," missionary Ferna Mosher added.
In past years the group has worked together on one collective project, but this year, the 12 missionaries - seven women, three men and two teenaged girls - were split up to work on a variety of different jobs.
"We were divided up into four groups the first couple of days and then three groups the last couple of days," Castle said.
Located in Buffalo County, S.D., one of the most poverty-stricken counties in the United States, Fort Thompson is home to high unemployment rates, depression and a sparse population. Missionaries work on projects through the Tree of Life Ministries, which are chosen based on the needs of the people on the reservation. Those residents that would like some help have to ask for it, then the projects must be approved based on the need and the resident's behavior, the BUMC missionaries explained.
The Basehor group worked on everything from cleaning and replacing the tile floor of a kitchen and putting screens on windows to painting bunk beds another missionary group had built the week before and sorting through the 2,000 pounds of clothes BUMC and Lansing United Methodist Church members had donated at the women's shelter.
One of the most difficult projects the missionaries revealed was gutting a black, mold-infested bathroom and replacing all the plumbing fixtures.
"The floor was rotted out," missionary Cheri Gallion said. "It was really nasty."
A project the group enjoyed most was building a wooden front porch deck and ramp for a wheelchair bound woman. The woman gave the missionaries a warm and unexpected thank you and even cried because she was so happy when the project was complete.
"She was very appreciative and gave us all hugs and all that," Gallion said.
A certain amount of distrust because of the history of the country still lingers between the missionaries and the Native Americans, which is why the outward appreciation the woman showed was so unexpected. However, even though the missionaries sometimes receive a bit of the cold shoulder despite their efforts, they still said the work is rewarding.
"The words don't come out thank you," Castle said. "It's very low key. I imagine they appreciate it more than they ever show."
The evening hours and one day out of their five day stay on the reservation was used to explore the land and the culture. Some of the children performed a Pow Wow and a few of the missionaries were given the opportunity to participate in a ceremonial Sun Dance. Speakers, including the group's project manager and his sister, came to share the history of the reservation.
Another favorite of the group during down time was working on what was to be a Children's Cultural Center and visiting with the owners - a reservation couple that had been working on it for 10 years.
The couple had put all their money towards the dream of creating a place for people to gather and a place for visitors who were helping out on the reservation to stay.
The missionaries helped install a tongue and groove ceiling on the second story of the center putting a dent in the couple's still heavy workload.
"He said, 'what you all have done would have taken me months to do,'" Gallion said about one of the owners. "It's a project you can't do by yourself."
"The cultural center was rewarding," Mosher said. "I wish I could have stayed. If I could have had somebody stay with me, I would have stayed up there and worked until it was done. You could just feel the appreciation there."
A stroll around the couple's property overlooking the Missouri River, which was deemed the "meditation place" and feeding one of their buffalo calves was something a little extra the missionaries felt grateful to have experienced.
Each year, the group is able to come back and share different stories of the work and people to the rest of the congregation in hopes of recruiting new members to join in on the experience. And, each year they will continue to make the long trek to spread acts of kindness with anticipation.
"So far, even though we've gone to that area for five years, there's some similarities, but it's always a different experience," Gallion said.