Sunday, July 27, 2014

Montana mission trip reflections

It is with no small sense of regret that I prepare to leave the place that has been my home for the past week. The melancholy descends in waves upon my spirit. It has been a difficult week but a good one. Our team has perhaps not accomplished all that we had hoped to achieve. The reality that confronted us upon arrival was different than our (or at least my) expectations.

The task was to participate in a summer feeding program and then host a Vacation Bible School immediately after lunch. We had kindergarteners and pre-K through sixth grade.

My expectation was that the children would have already learned some basic behavior. Lessons like don't hit your neighbor and sit down for class were replaced by open defiance. Several of the kids were more proficient at acting out than at reading, listening or using inside voices.

Our real task was to provide positive adult interaction - behavior that many don't have at home. We were to provide a safe environment where the children learn, play and be cared about for awhile. This summer feeding program is a way for children to escape the realities of their home lives and made to feel special for a few hours.

We arrived at 9:00 am each morning to begin preparing lunch. I can't say how many potatoes were peeled on the day that meatloaf and mashed potatoes were on the menu! I can say that we sliced and diced in record time.

The food was served to kids who would then ask for hot dogs or chicken nuggets. For a lot of the kids that we served, homemade food wasn't in their life experience. Fast food and quick-cook foods seemed to be the norm for these children.

I think that most of the kids enjoyed Vacation Bible School. Several kids didn't want to listen during storytime and made their displeasure known. The kids would act out horribly and then give an impish smile that could melt the hardest of hearts. Seeing a glimpse of childishness amidst the angst that we were seeing was emotionally wrenching.

The situation improved dramatically by the third day. Behavior was better. There was more willingness to eat. By this time most of the kids had gotten used to us and us to them. That we had such a limited time with them was not lost on our group. It made the difference between these children and the ones that we had left at home even more stark.

Hungry Horse, Montana is a rugged, beautiful place. It is only a few miles from the vast natural wonders of Glacier National Park. The contrast of natural wonder with poverty (financial and emotional) was not lost on our small group. Our team spent every available moment decompressing in the park or exploring the area. The rich landscape provided and strengthened our resolve to work harder to bring light into the lives of children who are surrounded by encroaching darkness.

All too soon, it is time to say good-bye to the children, the landscape and all that is in this portion of Montana. When we return here, or if we do, is in the hands of a much greater power than I, my husband or any team member.

Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. The children, and their plight, have touched my soul deeply. I leave with the comfort of knowing that we loved the children as much as we could while we were here.

Although I work with hurting children and adults at home, the experiences that I have had and the lessons learned here will always stay with me. They will serve to strengthen and guide me in the work that I do in my own back yard.

This is the purpose of a mission trip. No one who comes will leave untouched. We will forever carry poignant moments from the trip within our hearts.

We learned from the children and from each other. The experiences strengthen our faith and shape us into people who have more compassion for humankind. We leave with a greater understanding of who we are and how small our place is in the large world.

I depart with the knowledge that problems cannot always be fixed; but, that people can always be loved. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all?

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