Friendships Made through Mission
Note: This is one example of how EYE impacts youth from local congregations and dioceses in connecting with one another and the wider church through mission.
On Sunday, June 26 many of the groups attending the Episcopal Youth Event left for a three-day mission experiences. Caitlin Peabody from St. John’s Cathedral along with Alexis Burnham, Patrick Dobbins and chaperone Boyd Evans from St. Stephen’s Oak Ridge joined a group totaling 51 teenagers (rising sophomores to college freshmen) and 30 adult leaders from the Province IV Southeastern Diocese to travel to Northern Minnesota for a mission experience at the Red Lake Nation. This trip was coordinated by Cookie Cantwell and Beth Crow from the Diocese of North Carolina. The Red Lake reservation is home to the Ojibwe tribe of Native Americans. The Ojibwe are sometimes referred to as “Chippewa” as this was the pronunciation of early explorers to the area.
On the five-hour bus ride from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Northwestern Minnesota, the youth and adults learned about the history of the Ojibwe in Red Lake and watched the video “Unseen Tears: A Documentary on Boarding School Survivors”. Unseen Tears tells the story of how children of Native American families in the early 20th century were removed from their families and sent to off-reservation boarding schools in which they were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their native culture in an effort to assimilate them into American society. Tragically, many cases of abuse and neglect were documented from these schools as well as a loss of native language and culture for a generation of Native Americans.
Our group settled in to their accommodations in the dormitories of Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN early Sunday evening. Following dinner, we gathered for discussion with Episcopal priest and Ojibwe Nation member Johnson Loud to learn more about the culture and history of the Ojibwe in the Red Lake area. Rev. Loud also described the geography of Red Lake which is rectangular in shape and is 25 miles long by 10 miles wide, the largest lake entirely within the borders of Minnesota. We were somewhat concerned to learn that some tensions still exist between the Ojibwe and the people living in the vicinity of the reservation. We prepared for our work of reconciliation and service on the reservation the following day. Fr. Loud served as a liaison for the remainder of our stay in the area.
The next day we began our mission work at St. Antipas in Redby, MN. The weather was cold and drizzling rain, but the group began the process of cleaning and staining the exterior of St. Antipas. St. Antipas is a log structure constructed with lumber from local forests. The weathered structure was ready for a fresh coat of stain. Since we had a large group, some of the group stayed indoors to fabricate handmade gifts for the Diocese of North Carolina’s mission trip to Botswana in July. We worked as quickly as possible to get the first coat of stain on St. Antipas, but our work was cut short as the weather deteriorated. Also during the day we visited the primary industry in the area, a fishery which processes the walleye, great northern pike, muskie, and sturgeon caught on Red Lake and is shipped throughout the United States for consumption.
Monday evening the Rev. Robert Two Bulls, Vicar of All Saints Indian Mission in Minneapolis, presented his artwork to the missioners on the campus of Bemidji State University. Two Bulls, an Ogala Lakota Oyate, uses pop art to describe stereotypes that persist regarding Native Americans. Some of the artwork reflects difficult times and events for both The Episcopal Church and Native Americans in U.S. history. One particularly moving work was the “38 Tears of Bishop Whipple” which depicts the sorrow of Bishop Whipple following the mass execution of 38 Native Americans who were also baptized Episcopalians. Following his presentation, he and Rev. Loud participated in activities led by the youth aimed at helping us to understand and overcome our own prejudices. These activities resulted in very moving discussions among all, and the evening concluded with Rev. Two Bulls giving each attendee a poster of his icon of Pocohantas, which he also signed.
On Tuesday, the weather improved and we got an early start finishing the first coat of stain on St. Antipas and continuing with a second coat. We also vacuumed and cleaned the interior of the church and painted a set of new steel doors – red, of course! The weather had improved to the extent that we sent a crew to paint the white clapboard of St. John’s Episcopal Church nearby. This crew also worked on cleaning the interior of St. John’s and formed an impromptu “altar guild” to polish the altar brass. Both crews worked very hard and finished applying the second coat of stain to St. Antipas and thoroughly cleaned and finished most of the first coat of paint on St. John’s.
Basketball is a favorite sport of the Ojibwe youth and a group led by Caitlin Peabody took several dozen basketballs to be delivered to the local boy’s and girl’s club. At the end of the day, everyone was astounded at the amount of work that had been accomplished, and we were treated to Indian Tacos prepared by the women of St. Antipas, followed by a large celebration of the Eucharist performed by Johnson Loud.
On Wednesday, we headed back to the campus of Bethel University stopping at Itaska State Park to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi, being blessed to have a mother black bear and her three cubs cross the road in front of us we made our way from the visitor center to the headwaters. Once at the headwaters, we were amazed that we were able to walk across the Mississippi river on a log foot bridge. That evening, we returned to Bethel for our closing service and reflected on the remarkable experiences and friendships that we had made. Early Thursday morning groups from the Southeastern Diocese made their way to the Minneapolis airport for their return flights. Overall, it was a very enriching experience for all involved.
Boyd Evans is the Lay Youth Minister at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This article is a reflection on how the Diocese of East Tennessee participated in “Three Days of Mission” following EYE (Episcopal Youth Event) in July 2011 representing Province IV.