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How Life on the Reservation will change a MAN.

You should try it too… even if you are a woman.  The life experience gained spending four days (really, it was only four days) on the reservation will never leave, nor be dismissed, and likely will assist me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined, and perhaps couldn’t even guess now.  And this coming from a guy who has spent full days racing in the woods, I have been discouraged and lost in and by those same woods, hypothermic, and do you remember that I lost an eye to a hockey puck… I have lived.  I have learned.  And through all of this, I have picked up on a crucial bit of knowledge… challenging experiences will shape us positively, immediately, and forever.

Take a moment to understand what it was that I went to do with these 23 other people (I am counting the bus driver, Carlos, too… as I believe he was paramount to our mission, and I also believe I counted right…); as we entered the Navajo Reservation.  We met the pastor of the local Baptist church on Monday evening (Greg), and Tuesday AM we were on our mission.

  1. Bring electricity to an addition to the 1940’s built home, that was no larger than 200 square feet, and the addition no larger than 150.

  2. By utilizing a pump, and a grey water leach field; provide hot water to serve two sinks, a shower, and a clothes washer.

These tasks are hardly consequential in our lives, yet to a woman who proclaimed, “I have been waiting 28 years for water in my home… my whole life”, it was obvious that this was going to be life changing.  So as we began to get to the task, digging through sand.  It started relatively easy; minimal effort and skill were required.  But in no time, the first six inches gave way to a hard packed sand that in some places resembled concrete more than the beach at 30a.  In some places, almost impenetrable, yet the job had to get done.  So a group of 11 adults figured out how to go at this with an intensity that would open the door to success.

Likewise, on day two the electric work began, and my friend Steve (we volunteer together in UpStreet at Woodstock City Church), and I were the chosen ones to wire the house, and get the outlets and new breaker panel set.  Our second day and third day were taken completely with this work.   And by the end of the third day, we were finished.

So let me tell you the real story about this story.  The reason why we went, and how that reason morphed.  I believe in any work that we are “called to” (meaning there is a divine effort to pull you in a direction), that you are also likely getting into it for a reason less obvious and more valuable.  I think the common truth for all of the parents who jumped up to sign on to this trip, is that we all knew it would benefit our relatively entitled, and somewhat spoiled teens.  Now, I know that sounds like we all view our teens as troubled, but that isn’t it.  I think we all view our teens exactly as they are, amazingly gifted, loaded with potential young adults, who just happen to be raised in a town where things come relatively easy compared to 90% of the world.  So it isn’t so much that we think we have spoiled brats for kids, but rather, that we have a spoiled brat kind of living in Atlanta GA.

I know that some of us also considered that there would be a deepening of the relationship between parent and child, and of course we all knew that we would gain perspective for ourselves.  Go to Haiti, learn how a Haitian lives, and let your personal problems sink away into less significant because of what we see in Haiti.  The same goes for the reservation… just different.

So here we are, pounding away at the sand that might as well be clay, and working in a dark environment trying to pull wires while working around a very tight space.  Meanwhile, outside there is a view that goes for days as we look out across the plateau… but in the foreground we see piles of trash around us (product of a reservation that does not have any trash service).  It is an odd combination, the sheer vastness of the view, but in small pockets there are simply too much stuff… garbage piles up, because there is simply no way to deal with it.  And it is in this that I could feel the real need of these people.  Support.

It isn’t like trash piling up really matters, but it was a sign of the lack of support for the reservation.  Imagine an area of land that is insulated from the improvements to public health, and utilities, and technology.  To some extent this is how the reservation operates.  There are cell towers, but the service is near non-existent.  There are water lines, but if you understand how public utilities work, without the rise and fall of the land, to create natural increases in pressure, it requires pumping.  Expensive pumping.  Likewise, sewer… that works on grades, grades that don’t exist in the desert.

This adds up to a life of effort, a difficult life, but one where the difficulty is lost on these people.  They only know what they know, and this is it.  So to bring a convenience that we take for granted, is life changing.  Suddenly, the ability to see into the night opens up opportunity, to have warm water come from a faucet, provides opportunity.  Time is saved, convenience is found, and a family is changed for it.

Now, leverage that moment for something big, and imagine what can happen.

A neighbor who witnessed the transformation asks the simple question, “why?”   Why would these people show up from across the country, pour into this little home for several days, then pack up and leave.  Why would this pastor of this tiny little Baptist church of 35-40 members give up his entire summer to run group, after group, to simply give to others?

The real life changing experience was for us, the group who showed up to do the work, to feel how far reaching it could be to give of our time, and to give a little of our heart away to the Navajo Nation.  To see the people around us transformed not by what we accomplished with their home, but by what we accomplished with our heart.  And to know that no amount of money could have done that.  We couldn’t have each raised $2100, sent that cash to them, and had them impacted like they were from our presence.  I mean that completely, there is no way that we could have sent them $48k, and had the impact we had by simply showing up.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson from a mission trip.  The impactful work, is the work of loving.  Of giving of oneself and serving for no other reason than to be a servant.  Christ demonstrated this in many ways during His few years of mission work, and at the end of it all, He called us to do the same.  I cannot encourage you enough, to step out of your comfort zone and do the same.  72% male unemployment on the reservation… this number is so insurmountable, that I would say there is no way to transform this number with jobs.  The only way to transform this number is by helping to inspire leaders among the tribe… leaders like my new friend Jon.  I anticipate that he will have a huge impact on the people around him over the next ten years.

I hope this article shed a little light on what could be waiting for you right around the corner.

Be well and Be blessed!  –  Dr. E

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