By Sara Kraft
This summer, 18 youth and four adults from the St. Joseph community traveled over six hundred miles to Eagle Butte, South Dakota where they spent six days helping members of the Lakota tribe on the Cheyenne River Reservation. The mission trip was co-sponsored by St. Francis Xavier Parish which sent six youth and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish which sent twelve young men and women.
The mission trip helped the students grow both in faith and service. The community lives in extreme poverty, and hunger is a problem. There are not many jobs on the reservation. The reservation is thousands of acres, and no major cities are nearby. Pierre, South Dakota is two hours away and with the exception of working for local farmers, is the closest place for jobs. Unfortunately with hilly, windy roads, and harsh winters, commuting is not a viable option.
“The mission trip helped the youth experience Christ in the disguise of the poor,” explained St. Francis Xavier Pastor Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S. “It allowed the youth to experience people living very simple lives. Whether our youth were doing child care or painting a house they discovered the fun of helping someone less fortunate than themselves.”
During the mission trip, everyone saw a different side of the Lakota community. The youth broke into four teams to help serve in different ways. One team helped with a summer program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade with crafts, games, and bible stories. Another team helped clean up the local community center by cutting grass and doing other odd jobs.
The third group helped at a food pantry run by a generous woman. They prepared food at the local Methodist Church, and proceeded to carry it over to the woman’s house to serve. Since the lady was mostly funding the food herself, meals were inexpensive like hot dogs. Because homelessness is a huge issue in the community, it is not uncommon for the woman to have twenty people sleep in her house a night.
“Each night, we would talk about our ups and lows (of our day),” explained 16 year old Madison Gertner. Learning of this woman’s sacrifices to house twenty people in her three bedroom home “made me more humble and closer to God. I want to be Christ-like in that way.”
The fourth group worked in a subdivision of old Habitat for Humanity homes. The houses needed some work. The youth worked on a house that a woman had inherited from her mother. When the woman moved in, the water and all utilities had been shut off. The youth scraped the outdoor paint and repainted. Because temperatures can get to 40 degrees below zero in the wintertime, many of the double paned windows were broken. The youth took them out, and replaced them.
When the owner of the house invited them in, the youth were shocked to see no furniture. The owner was using a foam-like substance for a bed. The floor was simply plywood – no carpet, laminate or hardwood covered it.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Youth Minister David Chunn explained, “That’s the life some people in America face. She was just lucky to have a roof over her head, and to have a place to sleep at night.”
There was a stark difference in the service opportunities and resources compared to those found in Saint Joseph. “In the Saint Joseph community,” explained Chunn, “through donations and community organizations such as the cold weather shelter, our community can help the homeless here. It’s not really a possibility there.”
Despite the difference in material goods, Madison discovered, “Things weren’t that different. We dressed the same, and had the same interest in music. This trip was a great experience. A lot of my friends went. We grew in relationship with each other and God.”
“The trip got them out of just going through the motions of being a Catholic,” explained St. Francis Xavier pastor Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S. “and got them to intentionally help God’s people.”