This is an abridged version of the report of the trip. Some details and photos have been removed so as to protect privacy of the individuals we met and served. I served dual roles this time; both director of the ministry week as well as team leader of one group.
Recap of ministry on the Omaha Indian Reservation, 2011.
I arrived in Walthill early Saturday afternoon and began initial preparations such as getting the keys to the church (lodging) and school (showers) and taking measurements at three different work sites. This is a coordinator (“project director”) responsibility that in past years had been done by a MTW staff member from Atlanta, who would arrive a couple days in advance for this purpose. This year, I was that person (albeit on a volunteer basis, and from Omaha), which also meant I had been in Walthill and nearby Macy two weeks earlier to look at some of the potential areas for helps ministry and make decisions on which to take and what we could do.
Later Saturday afternoon my team from Omaha arrived. We had arranged to purchase noon and evening meals at the nearby Senior Center most of the days we would be on the Reservation, so ate dinner there and then went up to Sioux City, IA (about 25 miles away) for supplies. It took over two hours to get everything at Lowe’s!
We then took an ice cream break and went to Wal-Mart for groceries, returning to Walthill at almost 11 PM to unload and get to bed!
On Sunday morning, we had an informal breakfast followed by a church service at the church we were staying at. We then had brunch at the Senior Center with the members of the church.
Most of the team coming from Lincoln arrived mid-afternoon so we officially began the ministry week with orientation, where all participants present were briefed on the various work sites, changes this year (mainly due to the leadership change and the new goals, directions, and policies I wanted to work to implement) as well as plans for Vacation Bible School in the park. I presented John 4:35-38 as one of the week’s theme passages from Scripture, focusing primarily on the final sentence: “Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many church groups from various denominations come to the Reservation for ministry, and while some may do more helping than hurting and others may do more hurting than helping, Christians both local and from other places are very much active there. No one group can claim that ministry there begins and ends with them. When we go, we are entering into others’ labor, as well as seeing the fruits (positive or negative) of others’ labor.
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:35-38 ESV)
After the evening meal we had Sunday night worship at the church. Pastor Ben L. from Lincoln led the worship time and then I gave a relatively short message on “The Key to Teamwork”, focusing on Philippians 2:3 – “…With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (NAS95). The best antidote to factions, whether between teams or within a team, is to constantly consider others as more important than one’s own self. That means giving up personal preferences, plans, and so on in order to accommodate others, be there for others, and help others to complete their tasks. It means making every effort to work as one team to meet another’s needs, and to bear one another’s burdens. This wouldn’t be done in a sense of identifying a weakness and then “helping” as a stronger individual, but rather helping someone to fulfill their role; being quick to uphold and slow to take offense.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
(Philippians 2:1–4 ESV)
After a 6:30 AM wakeup and volunteer-prepared breakfast, as is the tradition for our teams when in Walthill, and a last-minute 7:45 appointment to get the key to the building where VBS was to be held, we all went out to various work sites around 8 AM. One group went with J & K H. (Mi’Jhu’Wi Ministries, a local organization in Walthill) to a home northeast of town to do yard cleanup (and then to set up VBS when finished) I went with a smaller group to begin scraping paint and bleaching siding at a home in town and spent some time disassembling rotten stairs there before picking a couple others mid-morning to go to Macy.
The previous week I had learned that due to the flooding situation affecting the Macy area, we might get asked to help with evacuations. However, upon finally reaching Macy (after doing some near off-roading thanks to Google Maps) we learned that the efforts had been moved up to Sioux City due to a more imminent threat there, and that our potential work projects in Macy had been cancelled as a result.
Monday was also when I really started to understand just what past MTW staff members have had to do in order to keep the ministry week going. There were a lot of errands, phone calls, and so on that just had to get done – even if it meant slipping out for five or ten minutes in the middle of a job, or from a team activity. I definitely relied a lot on my iPhone calendar, contact list, and Evernote, despite that Walthill still has really bad cell service.
Monday evening we heard from J & K H after dinner. Though I’d been in communication with them, the Lincoln and Grand Island teams hadn’t heard any update on their ministry since June 2009 and a lot had happened since then.
The teams came out in full force Tuesday morning to get started painting. I continued to work on removing the back steps at the same house and then mid-morning transferred to a house north of town to work on removing a rotten deck there. A professional landscaper arrived as part of the Lincoln team and we really appreciated having her help guiding the cleanup and weed removal of that property north of Walthill. It was almost completely overgrown with weeds.
Temperatures were near one hundred degrees (not including heat index which was higher!) both Monday and Tuesday. Teams had to stop for frequent water breaks and we heard that even the emergency sandbagging crews in Sioux City were stopping at noon for their own safety.
Tuesday afternoon I skipped VBS to go to Sioux City to buy supplies for another painting project, and to buy food for a community picnic planned for that evening.
I made it back to Walthill at about 4:30 and we immediately started picnic preparations. Picnic attendance was about 21 not including the team members.
The Omaha team this year focused on the book of Philippians in our devotional book entitled “Pursuit of Joy” by Dr. Paul Kooistra of Mission to the World. Each day was concluded by a short lesson from the book of Philippians (and how it applied to pursuing the joy that God give us) and an opportunity for each team member to share what went well, what didn’t, how to be praying, and so on.
Wednesday was a welcome cool-down in the weather! Teams worked at three locations on Wednesday: the yard cleanup outside of town, the house being painted red-orange, and a new location. This new location was unique in that part of the arrangement was that family members would join us in working on the house!
Because of the amount of scraping needed at the gray house, some stayed there almost all afternoon to work! This was the only day that most participants were asked to return to the work site between lunch and VBS. Making things more urgent Wednesday afternoon was a high change of rain in the forecast for Thursday.
Late afternoon Wednesday, a team member and I walked a group of kids home and one little girl, upon reaching home, said excitedly, “There’s my daddy! My daddy’s home – and he’s not drunk!”
Wednesday evening we had a movie night at the church. Seven local kids came to watch the “Veggie Tales” retelling of the story of the prodigal son, an apt topic since it was the VBS lesson the next day! Many of the team members joined the kids to watch the video.
The forecast held and it rained! However, the band of storms in the morning held off long enough to get back up to the house outside of town to finally get the front steps done (almost). A line of strong storms came in before I could get the railing attached. I also realized I would need a part that might not even be available in Walthill and really didn’t want to have to drive up to Sioux City Thursday afternoon to find it…
Those who were musically-inclined went to Macy Thursday morning to do a music program at the nursing home there (for the second straight year!). Though those from the Lincoln and Grand Island teams who were not musically-inclined had a partial day off, the remainder of the Omaha team decided to finish up a few odd jobs. After this we also visited J & K H’s resource center and thrift store, borrowed their van to haul away the old steps from the orange house, and even found just the part needed to attach the railing at the house outside of town!
VBS was a little different Thursday due to a planned power outage, though the lights came back on in time for activities.
Friday was the day to finish up all the various work projects we’d done over the week. I used the part I’d found at the resource center and got the railing attached at the house outside of town first thing!
Part of the Omaha team cleaned up thousands of dead insects in the basement of what had formerly been used as a church building.
The main work location Friday was the gray house. A few people did some final clean-up tasks at the orange house and then we made an effort to do as much as we could at the gray house, before giving the remaining materials to the family of the person that lived there so that they could finish when the weather improved. Some team members also enjoyed a game of “street basketball” with some very young children that lived nearby.
After VBS the teams cleaned up the American Legion building, had one final dinner at the Senior Center, finished cleaning up the church, and then departed for home. One more week of ministry in Walthill completed!
We returned to Walthill on July 14th to assist with a carnival as part of Suicide Prevention Week. We plan to go back again in August and then in the months to follow for kids’ ministry.