Today was such an amazing day! I am so blessed to be walking alongside these four wonderful youth as they grow in their self-understanding and in their faith. We have finished the fourth day and we have journeyed far and grown a lot in these four days. I am proud of how they have cheerfully served, opened their hearts to the people of this community, and grown in the knowledge and love of God. These youth never cease to amaze me, and for that I am thankful.
With that being said today was a lot like the other days, except for one simple fact…it is our last day here. And so let me tell you about our last day in the Blackfoot Nation.
Our day began the same way that last three had, with a 7:00am wake-up. We sluggishly rolled out of bed and dressed for the day. We had breakfast and were ready for our final morning devotional. Our theme for the day is The King, and our scripture is from John’s gospel:
13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,[b] but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
John 13:1-17 (NRSV)
For Episcopalians and the larger Anglican Church this is a very familiar passage as we read this each year at the Maundy Thursday service during Holy Week. While the three synoptic gospels narrate the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, John takes a different path with his narrative. Instead of the Eucharist we hear the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet the night before he was arrested. For the past few days we have been breaking apart this idea of the upside down Kingdom of God, the kingdom in which we see the great reversal of our human structures and values. Gabby, the Program Director, told us about how we are to be servant leaders like Jesus was in this story. The scandal of this story is that Jesus should not be washing anyone’s feet. As an important person and honored guest his feet should be washed by a slave or servant upon entering a home. This is why Peter freaks out about Jesus washing their feet and he asserts that they, the disciples, should be the ones washing Jesus’ feet. However, in this upside down kingdom Jesus tells us that if we are to lead then we must be the servant of others…or as the first rule of leadership in the Boy Scouts says, “lead by example.” Jesus reverses the social structures and expectations and teaches us that as Christians we are to serve others, and through that selfless service and giving we will experience the radical Kingdom of God, as it was intended to be, rooted in love and not in selfishness and greed. The staff have been on-point with their themes and messages, while I love the message for today and the scripture, I am not sold on the theme of the King. If we are and have been talking about the Kingdom of God then Jesus is not the King but the Prince, as in Prince of Peace, and God the Father is the king. Perhaps I am just nitpicking here but I was confused enough to think about this in more detail.
Anyways, forgive my theological ramblings, after devotionals we went out to the house we have been working on and hoping to finish the project. For two hours we worked hard in the growing heat of a cloudless day. We painted walls with broad strokes and finely painted the trim. While I would like to say that we finished what we started, we did not. The staff were careful to tell us when we started that it is not about finishing the project, though that would have been nice, but that we undertook the task and gave it all we had.
Now do not think that we slacked or could have tried harder. Allow me to put this into context. A normal week would have 50-80 youth and adults participating, which would be broken into three groups of 20+ people; one for the work project, one for Kid’s Club, and one for Sports Campe. In a normal week the work project group group would spend the whole day painting a house and doing lawn care and they would do this for the four work days. We had seven youth and adults, plus four to five staff members…so twelve people maximum across the four days we worked on the house and we finished 85% of the project. That is (bleeping) amazing! I am so proud of our youth, who faced nearly impossible odds to finish the project on time, and nevertheless accepted the task and came so close to finishing. It is a testament to their willingness to give of themselves, to do the jobs that needed to be done without complaint and without distraction. They rocked it and I am just still amazed by these four youth…and Ms. Katie and Rev. Lauren, who also rocked it each day.
This is what mission is all about. If we look back at the action verbs in the Five Marks of Mission, our youth nailed them all. Our youth proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom through their selfless service to others. Our youth taught and nurtured believers each day in Kid’s Club and Sports Camp as they played and reflected God’s love for us all to these kids. Our youth responded to human need with loving service in almost every interaction they had; whether it was physical need in their work on the house or emotional need with each kid they held and loved. Our youth sought to understand and transform unjust societies as they heard the personal stories of the Blackfoot people. Finally our youth strove to safeguard creation and renew life on earth as they learned about the deep reverence that the Blackfeet have for Creation. Wow.
After finishing our work on the house we went back to the school for lunch. We then proceeded down to the Brown Building for Water Day. We were told rather last minute that today was Water Day, which is very similar to the Water Carnivals I would coordinate for the summer camps I worked at. While we worked on the house two staff members, Brad and Katie, spent two hours filling water balloons. We put on clothes we didn’t mind getting wet and were ready for whatever this was going to be. What it turned out to be was controlled chaos, with water. That meant everyone got soaked as the kids ran around throwing water balloons. When the balloons ran out they grabbed anything they could that would hold water to fill up and then soak us all. I saw coolers, pitchers, and even an empty Cheetos bag being used to have fun. It was refreshing on a hot day and the kids loved it; absolutely loved it, especially since there is no pool or body of water in town to swim in.
After two hours of wet fun the kids went home and we had the job of cleaning up. This was made even more difficult since this is the last week of YouthWorks and therefore they were also cleaning up the building and grounds for the summer. But we had a helper; Paris, one of the girls who came to Kid’s Club stayed behind to help. Another example of selfless service.
We piled into the van, completely soaked and went back to the school to rest before the Community Cookout. Each Thursday YouthWorks puts on a free community cookout open to anyone in Heart Butte. We saw a lot of the kids we played with all week, their families, and even a lot of families and teens whom we had never met. The staff did the cooking. We did the setup, the serving, and the cleanup. We got a few more hours with the kids before we had to say goodbye. Some of them got it that we were leaving and they would not see us tomorrow, while others are expecting to see us at the Heart Butte Pow-Wow next week. All of the youth lamented that we had to leave and everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to stay. That was how strongly they bonded with the kids, the people, and the landscape of this beautiful and remote town.
Just when we thought we couldn’t top today’s experiences we had a great final worship tonight. We once again sang songs and prayed. We heard the story fo Jesus washing feet and then out of nowhere the staff appeared with buckets and towels and washed Ms. Katie, Rev. Lauren, and my feet. The staff laid hands on us and prayed over each of us as they washed our feet. Then we did the same with each youth. Only one opted not to have her feet washed, but she did allow us to pray over her and I caught a glimpse of teary eyes after the prayer. All of the youth were moved by that experience.
After the foot washing we went outside for our last Compline together. With the full moon shining and the last rays of light on the horizon we once again used the Compline service from the New Zealand Prayer Book and bid the day and each other goodnight. We had a few final conversations about our experience this week and once again I am amazed at the depth of our youth; of how they were touched by the people, how they felt the presence of God here, and how their hearts and minds have changed because of this trip.
All of us would not only do another YouthWorks mission trip again without hesitation, but each of us would love to come back here, to this place again next year. Hopefully more youth will come and share in this transformational experience. It is now almost midnight and we have an early start to begin our journey home. So I leave you with this:
“Give wisdom and understanding to my leaders.
Protect my warriors and bring them back safe.
Give to the young, love and contentment.
Give health and long life to my old people
so that they may remain with us for a long time.
Make my enemy brave and strong,
so that if defeated, I will not be ashamed.
And give me wisdom so that I may have kindness for all.
And let me live each day, so when day is done,
my prayer will not have been in vain.”
Big Lodge Pole, Blackfoot