July came more quickly than I had planned. Before I knew it, it was time to go on the mission trip I had nonchalantly signed up for at church over the winter. Even after going to the informational meeting about the trip to North Dakota, I was still less than enthusiastic. I had Signed up only as a favor to my parents so I could put some more volunteer hours on my college applications. I was disappointed to find out that only one of my friends was coming on the trip and all other participants were younger than me.
I left for the reservation of Mandaree, North Dakota, feeling sorry for myself because I would be missing precious days of summer lounging. I put on a happy face for the twelve hour car ride with the group but dreaded finally arriving at the small Catholic Church we would be staying in for the following week. Two days after arriving at Mandaree, kids from the reservation between the ages of 6-14 began to arrive. They would be staying overnight at church for the next five days. Our group put together activities such as sports games, crafts, slip-and-slides, horseback riding, and a daily religion lesson.
All I wanted was for the week to pass by as quickly as possible so I decided to put as much effort into the day to day activities as I could. When I put my feelings aside, I began to have as much fun as the kids were having and time flew by. As each day passed, I became more involved in the games and activities. I also became more involved with the kids from the Reservation. During the craft or small group religion lessons I was able to learn more about each individual child little by little.
This one on one time showed me how different life in Mandaree was than in Bloomington, Minnesota. Their culture and heritage was something I found extremely interesting, I wanted to learn more. The importance and value of family seemed much more prominent to the Mandareeans. The kids were proud to show us around their neighborhoods! I was shocked to see not only the poverty, but alcoholism, abuse, illiteracy, and unemployment. The element that shocked me the most was the obvious signs that numerous children had been beaten or abused.
I would see old scars, fresh wounds, arms and legs covered in cigarette burns, broken toes or fingers, and extremely poor hygiene. We used the little funding we had to address these problems to the best of our ability. I couldn’t help the kids with the problems that they were having at home, but they greatly appreciated any small action we did for them; whether it was a band-aid, a warm meal, a hug, or a simple smile. Soon I began to feel like I was helping these kids not only physically but emotionally as well through the faith we shared.
To my surprise each child was excited for our daily religion lesson. The lesson may have included a trip to the church, a bible song, or a reading from the bible. All the kids would say that they were Catholic but had never been inside the community’s church. I had taught Sunday school at my home church for two years, but sharing my faith with the kids of Mandaree affected me in a larger way. Everything I taught or showed them was a brand new concept. They were willing to learn every prayer and I began to hear them singing the bible songs outside of church on their own time.
In five days the number of kids that wanted to receive their first communion the following Sunday doubled. It was so satisfying to help the kids understand and develop a connection with God. I came to understand that faith is caught not taught. The week flew by quickly and soon it was time for the kids to head back to their homes. I had never expected to be sad when the kids had to leave camp, but it turned out it was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. I wanted to continue to learn more about them and help them every day, but I knew I had done as much as I could at that time.
The van ride home was full of reminiscing about our favorite campers and the funniest moments of the week. Most of the other church members came out of the experience being more grateful for what they had, but I believe I gained more out of this experience. The week in Mandaree showed me a new culture and helped me appreciate the smaller things in life. I had gone into the mission trip dreading every minute of it: the campers, my fellow church members, the uncomfortable living arrangements, and losing a piece of my summer.
I realized after arriving home that helping others is the best way I could have spent my summer; I had never felt as proud of myself as I did after I left Mandaree, North Dakota. I had helped kids who were hurting physically and/or emotionally. I shared my faith and helped them find God in their day to day lives. The kids of Mandaree helped me learn about myself and what God’s love is all about. I now realize that no matter what direction my life takes, I will always dedicate my time to helping others.