Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Sunrise Dance

Here on the White Mountain Apache reservation the traditions of the old days are scarce, yet a few staples of the traditional society and religion still remain. One of these staples is the Sunrise Dance. This is an intricate ceremony for a girl when she matures and becomes a woman. The ceremony takes a week of preparation as the family camps out, cooks a lot of food, and prepares all of the special pieces for the actual dance. This week I have had the opportunity to be involved with a Sunrise Dance, a special chance to see what the tradition is all about and learn about this cultural activity. The Sunrise Dance is actually debated as to whether or not it is beneficial, but whatever my beliefs are on it, it is still an awesome chance to be involved since, lets face it, I am a tall white girl.

So yesterday I went with my Apache family down to the campsite to help out, seeing as it is a relative of the family having the dance and all extended family are expected to contribute. (Here I got to pretend I was a part of the family, maybe the adopted sister or something. I think I fit in rather nicely!) There the family had built these shelters out of wood, leaves, and yucca plant. They were awesome! They kind of look like wigwams but more temporary and leafy. The extended family will sleep out there all week as they prepare for the dance. Not my idea of fun as we all know I hate camping, but super cool all the same. They have built a small shelter where they store all of the food stuffs and gifts for the dancer and the girl has many responsibilities, including making fry bread for all of us that showed up at the campsite for dinner! It was cool to see all of her special outfits for the dance and learn more about the traditions and protocol for the week. Today we will go back in order to help prepare food for the great food exchange tonight. Basically that means a big feast where the two camps come together and eat. Sounds like my kind of event!

I will post more about the Sunrise Dance as the week goes on. It has been so nice to be a part of something from the traditional culture and learn more about this part of being an Apache. I am also going to meet with all of my girls I took on the retreat a few weeks ago today. School starts on Thursday and I want to catch up with them and encourage them before they go back. Pray that the conversation goes well!

Two weeks from today my time here is done. Where did the time go? 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Rez Life Weekend

Things I love about the rez and my weekend:

1. The names of subdivisions. Shall I name a few? Dark Shadows, Lifesaver, Corn on the Cob, 7 up, 7 mile, Chinatown, Over the Rainbow, Another World, A Step Beyond...the list goes on. I just love it when I ask a kid where they live and they say, I live in another world. It gets me every time!

2. Rodeo Pageants. I went to a pageant today, but here it worked a little differently than I expected. The girls were all decked out in their Western outfits, complete with cowgirl hats and spurs, and the horses were plenty! In a rodeo pageant the girls ride their horses around the arena in a certain pattern, and our friend Raina won rodeo queen! We were quite proud of her. The crown is so cool because it fits onto their cowgirl hat! It was such a fun experience and I loved getting to be a part of the culture here. It also really made me want to ride a horse and get a sweet pair of cowgirl boots...

3. My rez family. I live with a family that is Apache and I just adore them. I have gotten to hang out with them a lot the past couple of weeks and I will be so sad to leave. They have two adorable kids (the kind that you just want to squeeze their cheeks, which I do often, much to their chagrin) and I feel so blessed to be a part of their family for the summer. They work so hard and are so dedicated to the Lord and I look forward to hopefully being a part of their lives for quite a while longer. Yesterday I took them to the Fun Park to treat them before school started. It was a crazy hour of go carts and arcade games and it was great!

4. Church. I love it when God brings you to church and speaks straight to your heart. Tonight I was so blessed by our church service. The message was really encouraging and I got the chance to refocus, to ask for forgiveness, and give my burdens and fears to God. How great is our Father that He takes the time, and has the patience, to speak to us and take care of us? Then on the way home I got to be encouraged by Alvina (who I live with) and I felt so very loved. God knows how to take care of us and I love Him for it!

I have two weeks left on the reservation and I hope and pray that I finish strong and make the most of every moment. My hope for anyone who reads this is that you have a similarly blessed weekend. Take time to thank God for all the ways He provides for you and praise Him for His goodness. Even in times of trouble or uncertainty, He is present and He is always taking care of us.

Praise God and to Him be the glory, forever and ever, amen!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Colors of Corn and Sky

Corn grown on the Hopi reservation. So beautiful! 
It has been a good week, but isn't every week a good week when you live in a gorgeous place and are surrounded by wonderful people? It most definitely should be. This week I got to visit another reservation and I was actually astounded by the differences there. The Hopi reservation is in the middle of the desert, on top of a mesa, and many of the homes are made from stones and clay. The poverty is quite apparent and here Christianity is not accepted willingly. The traditional religion is strong, as are the traditional crafts and arts. We met a corn farmer and just as an example, he wanted the visiting group to walk on his cornfield so that the corn would sense that something good was coming and grow well. The cooks of the traditional Hopi meal we got to eat told me to never cook angry, that it would make my food taste bad. I was to always cook with a smile so the love would go down my arms and into my food. 

Let's admit it, I was having a ball. Learning all about growing corn in the dusty desert and seeing the traditional society was so interesting to me. The bones in my lamb and corn stew were not so interesting. It was a disappointing find to realize that "potato" was actually not edible! 

On the way home (it was about a three hour drive from our reservation) the landscape was breathtaking. The sun was setting and rainbows were forming over rocks and cliffs. At times the view seemed endless, miles and miles of land touching the sky. It was such an amazing ending to the day. After hearing about the beautiful colored corn that grows in the desert and then seeing the amazing views of the drive home I was confident, confident that God was most certainly in this place. If corn can grow in the desert, so can good things grow on the reservation. If dry ground can produce sustenance then so can God create life on the White Mountain Apache rez. In fact, if God can provide an entire show of beauty for four missionaries driving down the road, then He most certainly cares about His people. 

The itsy-bitsy Hopi Post Office
A traditional Hopi meal, all homemade. Lamb and corn stew, corn meal pudding, and bread.

This is real life. I took this picture on the way home!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Brother From Another Mother: Habakkuk

Tonight I am frustrated. Not in a way that will last for more than an hour, because, lets face it, I can't stay any negative emotion for too long, but just in a way that is normal for normal people, which I am...normal that is. At any rate, I have a lot of good things going in my life right now but sometimes things come along with just make those things fall to the back and the dumb things come forward. Probably a tactic of Satan, he is a tricky one. So tonight I plopped onto my little mattress on the floor and I opened my Bible.

Let's be clear here: this is not always what I do when I get frustrated. Just because I opened my bible in this instance does not mean I do it all the time (see my normalcy emerging?). But I wish I did, because the Bible is how the Holy Spirit can speak into our lives in moments like this. The Bible is the water that quenches our thirst and the food that sustains are soul. Without it I get a lot more frustrated, so tonight when I was pouting and I heard "open your bible" I decided I should probably listen to that voice instead of telling it that the Bachelorette finale was on tonight and I should probably check who won. In this instance Holy Spirit won and I opened up to Habakkuk.

I love verse 5 in chapter 1 where the Lord says "Look at the nations and watch- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." I recently remembered this verse and decided to cling to it, because it is what I believe the Lord is saying to the reservation. But never had I ever read the rest of the book, so you can imagine my surprise when I start at verse one and read my thoughts written down on the page. Uhhh, really? The book starts with Habakkuk's complaint. Unfortunately, I can relate to that one. Habakkuk is upset because he feels like God isn't listening. He feels like God is not responding to injustice and that God is allowing all this wrong to happen. Habbakuk sees strife and conflict and a lack of justice, but doesn't see God moving.

Uhh, hello? Sound like a post I wrote a couple of days ago? I can tell you it sounds a LOT like the thoughts in my head two weeks ago!

So then God answers Habakkuk but Habakkuk just keeps on complaining. I hate to admit it but God answered me loud and clear when I was upset with Him and I just sassed Him right back! (But thanks Habakkuk, glad to know I'm not the only one). So the Lord answers him again. Now, I might be in seminary but I don't totally understand the context of this book. What I do understand though is what God is telling me through it. Listen to the end, to Habakkuk's prayer. He is talking about the day of calamity and the lack of good things but he writes:

"yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights."

Hmm. So I started writing this post feeling frustrated, but with the help of the Holy Spirit that didn't even last an hour. Because no matter what comes my way, no matter what pain I see or hear of, no matter what complications or frustrations arise in my own life, I know that the Lord will be my strength. I know that I have seen His works and I will "stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord." Maybe Habakkuk was talking about something different, but I know how his words spoke to me today and boy am I grateful for them.

So good bye silly frustrations and stupid Satan. I have the Sovereign Lord as my strength and I will work hard for Him knowing that he is going to do a great work in this place, something I would not believe even if I were told. I like the sound of that. Looks like I am ending the night on a high note.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What a fantastic end to the week!

What a blessed day yesterday was! Shall I share a few pictures to exemplify?

I started my day with these cuties, my team for our basketball camp. My favorite conversation of the morning:
"Malachi, a gentleman always gives up his seat for a lady." "Well I am a different kind of gentleman, I am a sentleman.....a selfish gentleman!" 

Next in my day came this joyful moment! I got to see my dear friend Koral for the first time in two years, hold her amazing baby, and be reunited with two of my roommates and best friends from Spain. Amazing moment? I would say so! 

Then I came home to the reservation where I live after a rainstorm. Amazing, right?

So to recap, I spent the morning with amazing kids from the rez, drove through beautiful countryside to see my friend Koral (and Cassie) who lives in CHICAGO and hold the baby I have been longing to see since the day he was born, then came back to the rez to rain, worship, and an awesome last night with the visiting team. I am going to go ahead and say life is good my friends, life is good. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hoops on the Rez

It has been a busy week here on the WMA reservation. This week we are holding the annual Hoops on the Rez camp. This basketball camp has been happening every summer for eight years and some of the coaches have been coming here every summer since it started! The days are long (starting at 7:30am and ending at 9:30pm) but it is a spectacular time. It is so cool to see the elementary students engaged and listening, responding to love and encouragement. And it is so awesome to hear about how some of our Junior High and High School students have been coming ever since they were in elementary school! It is a true testament to how a short term trip can have a lasting impact.

One of the great ways God has provided has been in bringing students to the camp. The day before it started I had 80 kids registered. This week we have had over 150 kids! What a blessing to get to pour into them through something they love.

Now, lets be honest, if you know me you know my basketball skills are pretty weak. Ok, they basically don't exist. Since I usually tell people a three-legged dog would play better than me I was wary of being given a "staff" shirt for the camp. When it comes to all the basketball lingo I still am lost but I sneak in some learning at the elementary camp when I am supposed to be "coaching." I am hoping next year to be promoted to junior high camp. I'll spend the year practicing! haha :) But I do love my little elementary team and I have been so excited to get to know my elementary schoolers better as the week has gone on. And I'm becoming quite the baller, I made 1 in 5 shots the other day. (Ok I am still terrible. All my height going to waste!)

Though the days are long and tiring I have been blessed by those who have come to serve from Indiana, Ohio, and Florida this week. They have beautiful hearts for these kids and they believe in this camp and it has been such a joy to work with them. Not to mention the fact that this week's cooks cook like a cruise ship. These big dinners have sure replaced my hummus and pretzel dinners of last week!

Don't forget to keep me in prayer if you can. I am getting worn out! But as I continue to hang out with my teenage girls here I am feeling blessed blessed blessed for this opportunity. God is faithful even when I don't deserve it.

...well, off to go shoot some hoops with my mad skills...or eat dinner...yea, dinner sounds good. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

God's Love Never Left

It has been a good weekend here on the rez. God has a funny way of taking the hardest weeks and ending them with the greatest joys. Its a great reminder that He is always in control, even when things get tough. We started the weekend with an awesome collaborative project with a church from Southern California. We started with a blank wall of the Kennel and ended with this:

Basically the kids were given the chance to express themselves through art and my students chose the theme "love." It was awesome to see their representations of love through painting, their love for Christ and their fellow students that will come to the Kennel, as well as the love that was able to bring together students from SoCal and students from the rez. Let's just say that after I spent the morning crying out for God to show His love in this place I think He put the writing on the wall. 

I also took three of my students to see the movie Brave up in town this weekend. It was an awesome time as I got to hang out and continue to build relationships with these girls as well as see a super cute movie! I take great joy in any time that God gives me to talk with these girls about their stories and try to encourage them for their futures. Everyone knows I love to talk but one thing I have had to learn on the rez is to be ok with silence. Usually silence makes me nervous so I try to fill it up with noise, but here silence is common and it is ok. Driving a quiet car of girls home from the movies I get to take a moment and thank God for the chance just to be with them and to be a representation of His love. 

I am halfway through my practicum and I have to say that this has been the most rewarding, challenging, eye-opening, heart-breaking, and amazing experiences of my life. I have questioned God, depended on God, and cried out to God, and I believe my roots have grown deeper through the storm. I can't wait to see what the next half of the summer brings.

God is surely good. All the time. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Overwhelming Burdens of My Heart

I feel like in the past couple of weeks I have often come to this blog with a heavy heart. Some may say I need a tougher outer layer but the fact of the matter is, I wasn’t made that way. I was made soft. I was made with a heart that takes the pain and hurt of others and cradles it tightly to my chest, wrapping it tighter and tighter into my being until it is a part of me. Maybe I should change this if I am going to be in ministry but this is who I am. I can’t change my empathy and I trust that God knew what He was doing when He made me this way.
Some of you may remember this post where I told you about one of our students being murdered. The story of why it happened is upsetting and to this day I cannot speak of it without getting emotional. Christina was only 15 and the men who killed her will most likely never be convicted. 

After this happened Christina’s friends went into a downward spiral. They couldn’t deal with the pain so they disappeared from the youth center, they began drinking profusely in order to mask the pain, and doing any number of other things. I was recently told that one of the girls hasn’t been around for a while because she has been in the hospital. After Christina’s murder she couldn’t stop stabbing herself. Two of my girls that went on the retreat were best friends with Christina. I wondered why they were so standoffish to me and so disconnected from the group, and now I know why. But I am watching God transform them. I am watching the life creep back into them and the smiles return. I am hearing of the good decisions they are beginning to make and I am building a relationship with them both, a relationship I thought neither of them would ever want to have with me. 

So the other day I was talking to my mom on the phone and I kept referring to the White Mountain Apache as my tribe or my people. After a while I caught myself, but now I think it was fitting. I may not be White Mountain Apache, in fact I don’t have a single drop of native blood in my body, but the WMA are my people. These are my brothers and sisters. Their stories are a part of my story. Their pain is my pain. Their hurt is my hurt. 
I will admit, I question why God allows these teenagers to feel so much pain. I question why He let that happen to Christina and why He doesn’t protect them. My heart breaks for their stories and tears come to my eyes as I think of these things and write these words. But I know that His heart breaks too. I have to believe that my tears are His tears and that He has not forgotten about my people. I have to remember that it was the sin of humanity that is at fault for their pain, and I have to pray for redemption. I have to pray that I may be whatever healing He allows me to be in this place.
So my heart is overwhelmed, yes. I love these students with all that I am and I want to do everything I can for them. I am choosing to be hopeful and to believe that He will be in this place and that He will not forget about them like so many others have. But this is my heart, vulnerable, raw, and burdened. Maybe by sharing it with you I can take a little of the weight off, sharing the burden one little piece at a time so that I don't collapse under it all. 

I have to learn to release the pain and burden over to my Savior for I wasn't made to hold it all. He alone can handle it and I have to trust that He will cradle it as close to His heart as I do to mine.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Letter Writing and People Watching

Today I sat outside the local post office manning a table so people could sign up for our Hoops on the Rez camp. AYM does this basketball camp every year and it seems like a pretty big deal. I even mailed a letter at the post office. A real, handwritten, heartfelt letter with a stamp and everything. (I'm singlehandedly trying to bring the art of writing letters back. I'm a big fan. You should probably join the trend.)

Sitting there for a few hours I got to experience a lot of what life is like on the rez. By just observing the people walking by I felt that I was getting a better sense of the culture and I was grateful for the "people watching" time, although not all I witnessed was positive. At noon there are already a lot of people who are drunk roaming around and I wondered if they ever stopped drinking at all to be that out of it this early in the day. I started to think of their families, wondering how the drinking affects their kids or their relatives. We did laugh when a lady in her sixties came and asked Ethan, the other intern, if she could put him in her pocket. I told her he was my brother and she told me to watch out for all the girls that will want to date him. She was pretty insistent about putting him in her pocket but I held my ground and convinced her that he wouldn't fit. As funny as it was, it was also very sad to me. Another young guy came up who was so drunk his words made absolutely no sense. I didn't feel unsafe, but I had the sense that this place is not a safe one.

My heart continually breaks for the rez because the problem here is one of generational poverty. We can't just blame the people for the condition their society is in. We have to have a heart for them, we have to work to understand them and not just have judgement against them. One of the reasons I think I am here this summer is to raise awareness of this place and the problems that exist on the reservation. I believe that those who live on reservations are a forgotten people group in the United States and I refuse to be a part of the problem. If we all took the time to understand their pain, maybe there would be less of it.

Please keep my teens from the retreat in your prayers. Most of them are still doing really well and working hard to live their lives for Christ despite the opposition. I have almost been brought to tears by the hope and life I see in these kids. This experience is a fruitful one and I praise God daily for the chance to be here!

Love to you all!

P.S. After I wrote this I received not one, but TWO handwritten letters in the mail. What a joyous addition to my day to receive some mail! Thanks Casey and Jess!!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Travel (written from 30,000 feet)

Yesterday I was in Los Angeles celebrating the wedding of one of my dearest friends and best blessings at Fuller. Today I am in Phoenix and tomorrow I will be back at the reservation. I fly a lot in my life and as I was in the air this is what came to my mind.

To travel is to truly live.

To sit above the ground and see the fields and mountains below is to glimpse just a piece of the world we live in. From this high I look down and I see no pain. The hurt and suffering is obliterated by the clouds and the bigger picture that I can now view. This seems to be just a taste of another perspective, perhaps God's perspective? Flying over the states I am conflicted with feelings of hope and sorrow, but maybe the bigger picture is the beauty that I see from 30,000 feet. It is the beauty of our Savior that covers all the pain and suffering, the sorrow and sickness. He has come to redeem the world, to take away all traces of bad and cover us with beauty. Just as the beauty of His creation from my view in the sky covers the pain of the world below so will He do the same in our lives.

Believe me, to travel is to truly live. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The best day is a day spent together.

When Sarah got the text we admittedly were a little confused and curious. As we drove down the country road past the corn fields and horses we felt slightly giddy with anticipation and hope. We kept wondering, had these teens really planned an event on their own? Were they bonding even past the retreat? Sure enough as we pulled up they were all there (minus 2 or 3). My teens who had been on the retreat were all sporting their conference t-shirts and a bunch of snacks bought with their food stamp rations. Uncharacteristically for them, the teens who had gone on the retreat had planned a get together, and Sarah (AYM staff and my roommate) and I were graciously invited.

It was the perfect scene. Water balloons were flying, everyone was laughing, people were jumping (or getting thrown) into the river and a smile was plastered on my face like my clothes were plastered to my skin. There were my two girls who had been the most closed off to me at the beginning of last week. They had been in a whirlwind of drinking and drugs since their best friend was murdered two months ago and here they were laughing, giving me a hug, and hanging out with the other teens. There was my student who had decided at the retreat to stop partying and drinking. When I asked about how it was being home he told me that he was about to go out drinking with his brother this morning when the other AYM teens showed up to get him to hang out. I praised the Lord for His timing is intentional. He is fighting for these teens. I watched these students laughing and full of life. I rejoiced that they were spending time with each other, talking about their journals, and responding openly to my questions about their goals. It was just the first day of their battle, but they were going in strong.

After 24 hours home they were working on their lives, they were loving each other, and they were planning many more summer events so that they could be together Community is essential in the Christian walk, we can't do it alone, and these teens are learning that the battle is easier if they go in together. Sarah and I were amazed by our teens but more than anything we were thankful and hopeful. Our prayers were being answered, but we knew this meant that we must increase them.

I must say, this was the best thing I could have asked for today. I have faith that we can be a supporting force in the lives of our teens and that if we continue to challenge them and pray for them God will move in their lives and this place. As we drove away (soaking wet) I was making so many plans. Plans for sustainable farm land, plans for field trips and experiences. But I knew that the most important plan was the plan God has for this rez, and for now, that is the plan that I will be immensely grateful to be a part of.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Power to Win the Battle

I'm back!

What a week it has been. I have to say that our God is amazing. 1 week ago I left for Missouri with 12 kids, knowing none of them very well and feeling a little overwhelmed. Today I sit here praising God for His faithfulness for He is fighting for the hearts of my students. I watched this week as each of them broke down, realizing their wrongs, and understanding the truth of God's love for them. I grew in my relationships with these 7 girls to the point where they began to open up to me, telling me of their worries in returning to the reservation and confessing their sins to me, asking me what to do. My heart broke for them but my spirit soared because God was ripping off the layers they tie so tightly around their hearts and bringing them to vulnerability before Him and their peers. God was tangibly in this place as they worked through years of pain and sin. God even spoke into me and brought me to raise my hand during a session with hundreds of native teens to tell them of how God changed my life in bringing forgiveness into a heart filled with bitterness and pain towards my sister. The next day I was approached by a girl who felt God was telling her to talk to me as she too was dealing with a tattered past and the need of forgiveness for the wrongdoings she had done to her sister. After talking for over an hour I was absolutely broken-hearted for the pain this girl had been through, but I was so blessed because God had brought us together and allowed my story to speak into hers.

Coming to the reservation I wondered if I could have an impact here. My life has been privileged, my needs have been provided for. But at the WLS conference God showed me that my story does have value here and that I am here for a reason.

The thing I kept telling my girls over and over again this week was I am proud of you and I love you.
These kids have just come back to the battlefield. Yes, God has won the war, but the fight is not over. My twelve kids need prayer warriors fighting for them. Fighting in prayer that they would not give into the addictions of drinking and smoking. Fighting in prayer that they would change their friends, change their attitudes, and be bold in their faith. They need people to fight for them because on this reservation all they have to lean on is themselves and God. Well, that and a beautiful ministry called Apache Youth Ministries, and a place called the Kennel, where they can come and be loved and valued. Where they can be taught in the ways of Jesus Christ and taught all the things no one ever bothered to tell them.

After one week I love these twelve kids. I know you don't know their names or their specific stories, and maybe one day I will share them with you, but for now I am asking you to love these kids too. Love them enough to pray for them and fight for them. Love them enough to be on your knees for them.

I do believe my heart now belongs to the rez.