It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here, serving on the field for over a week now – and what a week it has been! Since I arrived last Monday, I’ve been involved in a conglomeration of different activities ranging in size from menial data entry to the planning and execution of a mock-Olympic games for nearly 40 elementary school kids. Overall, it’s been a whirlwind initiation into the world of missions on the American Indian Field.
I won’t give you a play-by-play of everything that’s been going on but I hope you’ll settle for a few highlights and stories from this past week.
Leading worship with the kids this weekend was a blast! I haven’t led motions with kids since I was working VBS in high school back in Missouri – and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I had the opportunity to do it again this weekend. Since I was flying solo as worship leader for the weekend camp, I opted to use recordings rather than live music. Who can really do upbeat praise songs justice with just a piano? Not me, to say the very least. Which freed me up to lead motions with the kids… which meant I had to learn/make-up motions to whatever songs I chose… which made me incredibly nervous. I spent most of a day watching you-tube videos, learning the parts I liked and changing those I didn’t and those I thought might be too hard for the kids.
And the kids responded really well to the worship sets I had planned. And as I watched them mirroring my movements, I realized that it didn’t matter if I got the motions “right” – they wouldn’t know anyway. It only mattered that the kids were up, moving, and praising God in their own, child-like way. I was only a model to demonstrate a physical form of worship which isn’t always practiced – and a distraction so the kids would know that no one was watching them “making fools of themselves” (if they thought that was what they were doing) because everyone was watching me make a fool of myself (which, arguably, probably was what I was doing – and loving every minute of it.)
After worship on Saturday morning, one of the girls came up to me (If I had to guess, I’d say she was around 9 years old) and told me proudly that she had mastered the motions to a section of one of the songs which we’d sung at both worship sessions. She proceeded to demonstrate the motions to a couple of lines. I smiled proudly and told her that she was perfect and doing an awesome job.
At first, my only thought was how adorable that small encounter was; how vindicated I felt in my efforts to encourage the kids to enjoy worshipping. But then I began to see myself in that little girl; nine-year-old me, working hard to learn the motions to all the VBS songs – because they were fun, because I loved to perform, because I wanted to impress everyone, because I didn’t want to look silly doing the motions wrong.
I don’t know if that camper’s heart was in the same place mine would have been in at that age – I hope it wasn’t. The look on her face was filled with joy in a way I’m not sure mine would have been in the same situation – mine would have been filled with pride. But it was a “heart-check” moment for me; a much needed reminder that worship is not a performance… no matter how much it feels like it sometimes. Usually slightly-older-than-nine-year-old-me can remember that. But sometimes it takes a small reminder to keep my focus up rather than out.
My role for the majority of the past week was to assist the camp director in planning and preparing for the weekend’s elementary camp. Since she had a sick 8 ½ month-old to care for, I was able to provide much needed – and welcomed – assistance. My main task was to plan what we called the SIMC (Southwest Indian Ministries Center) Olympic Games. A dozen planned competitions complete with detailed schedules for team and game leaders, score charts, and equipment lists later, we were ready for the big event of the weekend. We divided the campers into three teams and each team developed its own personality over the weekend – choosing their own team names, creating flags to represent their teams, and cheering on their teammates as they competed in the games.
And the games went off without any problems. At first I worried that the schedule I’d created was too detailed – too specific for kids that age to manage and stick with – but, somehow, we managed to complete every game in the time allotted, wrapping up the final round of tug-o-war within five minutes of the projected end-time on the schedule.
I was pleased with the results. As I walked between the stations, periodically checking in with each one to make sure everything was running smoothly, I noticed a significant amount of teamwork and encouragement between the kids and, since that was the overall goal of the games, that leads me to believe, overall, the Olympics were a success.
On Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to visit my first native church which, incidentally, was also my first “house church.” The congregation has met each week in the living room/kitchen area of the parsonage since the church itself closed its doors several years back. I was told that there can be anywhere from 6 to 30 in attendance, depending on the week. On this particular Sunday there were probably somewhere around 25.
The main thing I noticed about the service was the worship time (no surprise there!). Led by one man with a 12 string guitar, the missionary I’d accompanied to the service, and a tambourine in the congregation, the sound of joyous hymns and praises filled that small makeshift sanctuary in a sound that I’ve seldom heard anywhere else. It amazed me how strongly two-dozen voices can be when everyone comes together in authentic worship in a small, vulnerable setting. There was no need for amplification and there was no doubt in my mind that the Spirit of the Lord was present in that house.
Right now I’m practicing flexibility. Not just flexibility in my schedule – I don’t even really have a schedule – but flexibility in my heart. I don’t struggle with doing whatever I’m told to do; I never really have – at least not outwardly. But I do struggle with not knowing what my day is going to look like when I wake up in the morning; with wondering what I’m going to be working on and who I’ll be working with for the day… or the week. And not knowing in advance has proven to be more difficult for me than I had anticipated. But I’m working on it; I’m praying through it. And someday soon I trust that God will lead me through this challenge and I will be beyond the struggle – looking back on what was once difficult and is no more. And how I’m looking forward to that day!
(and I promise I’ll actually take some new pictures soon!)
Stay tuned – more updates to come!