Mission Trip Fires Up Youth With Inspiration

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Imagine the eye-opening differences between life in Benton County and that of Native Americans in the northeastern part of South Dakota. A group of 12 IGNITE youth from First United Methodist Church (FUMC) of Warsaw experienced first-hand the differences in culture, economic stability and education between the two locations during a mission trip to the Lake Traverse Reservation from July 21 to 26. They learned that spending time with people is valued more by the Native Americans than being on time to appointments or events.  Relationships are their main focus.
“The reservation is the homeland of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, a branch of the Santee Dakota group of Native Americans,” said Peggy Laue, adult leader of IGNITE. “The nearest grocery store is 90 miles away, and one of our youth was told that there is only one book for every 10 students. It was quite apparent that the young people on the Lake Traverse Reservation don’t have the opportunities available to our IGNITE youth.”
IGNITE youth missionaries were David Bessert, Logan Bonner, Emily Bonner, Adam Cook, Alec Frost, Hudson Karr, Ashlyn Laue, Ellie Murrell, Sean Owens, Anna Siegel, Denae Shockley and Jazzmyn Swisher. Their four adult leaders were Peggy Laue, Lisa Bonner, Terry Close and Dan Bessert. After making the 620-mile trip north, they had dinner, orientation, a gathering and church group time before lights out. The next day a typical daily routine followed when they woke up about 7 AM. However, those on the breakfast crew had to be in the kitchen by 6:45 AM. Personal Devotion time was 8:25 to 8:50 AM and then they gathered, and departed for service sites where they worked, ate lunch and remained until 3:30 PM. This was followed by (open, sometimes cold) showers in the Tribal High School, snacks, adult leader meeting, dinner and cleanup. An evening activity and snack took place from 6:30 to 8:45 PM followed by devotions, church group time, preparing for bed, and lights out.
The IGNITE youth were joined on their trip by youth from three other churches in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, making a total of 50 young missionaries during the week. The trip was sponsored by YouthWorks, an organization that has been facilitating mission trips in Native American communities for over 20 years. It places a great emphasis on cultural learning and story-sharing with community members.
The youth stayed at a Lutheran Church on the reservation where they had worship services and did their own cooking. Four young ladies from YouthWorks, in their early 20s, organized meals and work projects, led devotions, music and other activities. One evening was devoted to a cookout put on by YouthWorks and most of the Native American kids attended.
Some of the youth spent their work hours painting the inside and outside of a house and all of the Head Start classrooms. Others worked at the Kids Club in an old middle school building providing activities as well as breakfast and lunch. The rest did some roofing, put up sheetrock and installed handicap ramps. An unexpected benefit from these efforts was that some Benton County youth have been able to get part time jobs using the skills they learned during their trip.
“A lady who worked at Head Start asked me what the youth did that caused them to have to perform community service, thinking they had been in trouble and were just serving time,” said Laue. “She was impressed when she found out that they were volunteers on a mission trip. We were also told that our group was the loudest, most enthusiastic group and worked the hardest of all the groups participating.”
At the beginning of the week an instructor at the tribal school talked to the youth about the history and Indian culture in general, as well as the conflict and challenges they still have. The youth missionaries were seated on concrete floors for two hours during his talk, and didn’t move as they took in everything he said with great interest. The youth learned that the reservation is like a checkerboard because there Native American settlements next to White settlements off and on with differences in economic status between the two. The Native Americans have been angered by the public K-12 school in town that is predominantly White, has more resources than the tribal school, and has named its mascot “Red Men.” 
Laue said that after about 12 hours together the IGNITE youth and others bonded. The schedule and work kept them busy and the girls began to forget about styling their hair and putting on make-up, leaving that behind while they devoted their time to what was more important to them. All on the mission trip were touched by little boys about four years old who came to their kitchen in the evenings to ask for something to eat. The YouthWorks ladies always found something for them.
“One boy said that he had never felt closer to God than he did during the mission trip,” said Laue. “A young lady who used to attend many of these trips said that she would have been a completely different person without these experiences.”
The mission trips are possible through fundraisers such as pie auctions and hanging of the green, as well as through support from the church family. Any youth who participates in enough of the fundraisers can go on the mission trip free of charge.
Laue said that some of the recent mission trips taken by IGNITE have included two trips to Houston, Texas’s Third Ward to revitalize and educate children and provide community support. She said their services were very much appreciated. Last year a young group of IGNITE youth served in a food pantry in Branson, and other youth have been to Pennsylvania, Gulf Shores, Memphis and made three trips to Indian reservations in Oklahoma.
The IGNITE program at FUMC is growing and had 27 students in grades 6 -12 attend its opening meeting of the school year. Laue said that the group is happy to have new youth in that age group join them from 6 to 8 PM at FUMC on Sunday evenings. Residence in Warsaw is not required. Additional information is available by calling Peggy Laue at 660-723-5306.