Mission Trip Musings

Last week, I journeyed to a Native American reservation in South Dakota, like last year. We lived in a town with an inner city atmosphere, unlike last year’s decidedly rural feel.

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This year, we had showers, bathrooms in the church where we were staying, a sink to wash thedishes in, and a place to do laundry. The town where we stayed had a gas station, grocery store, and Dairy Queen. It was paradise, compared to last year.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still a third-world country. Trailer parks, kids with lice, shocking percentages of the population involved in drugs and alcohol, most girls sexually abused by the time they are teens. Don’t worry—the week went fine, and God protected us. I honestly didn’t expect anything bad to happen, but the statistics and stories and sights of so much depravity did sober me. I realized then how broken this world is and how blessed I am.

But there was still beauty.

A group of siblings followed us around for the last few days. They lived in a run-down trailer, the girl had lice, and their parents didn’t care that much about them. They had nothing, really.

But one day we were eating at a little picnic table in the church parking lot, and they looked across the street and noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk. He’d been there most of the day, but none of us had thought anything of it. These kids, though, immediately turned to us and asked, “Can we give him some food?”

Can we give him some food? Don’t you want more food? I doubt you get half this much at home. You should be gobbling it up, hoarding it. But you want to give it away?

So another teen on the team, the kids, and I brought him food and a tract. He smiled at us, and we chatted about his tribe and where we were from. It hit me hard, that these kids would think to give food away, when I didn’t—I, who am rich and spoiled and well-fed every day. It struck me, too, how the man smiled as he sat on the side of the dirty street.

At the beginning of the week, we did VBSes in two outlying villages, tiny clusters of houses nestled among South Dakota’s buttes. One produced only four children on the best day, one of whom had a mental disorder and was abused at home, as his brother informed us. The other boasted an average of eight kids. But that’s something I learned from this trip: numbers don’t matter.

No one had gone to those settlements before. We asked the kids if anyone else had put on a VBS for them. They shook their heads shyly. When we started planning this trip, our pastor had asked the pastor there where he wanted us to go. The pastor replied, to the places no one else goes.

See, everyone stays in the larger city where the church is, because more people will come to their outreaches. Lots of numbers look good on reports back home. Lots of numbers seem to mean success. Lots of numbers make you feel like all your efforts weren’t wasted. But numbers don’t matter, ultimately. People do. If you were to ask the most important lesson I gleaned, it would be this: your money, time, and effort are not wasted if you spend it on just one child, and not fifty. Should we forgo sharing the gospel with the kids in small villages simply because there aren’t enough of them?

So, yes, the VBSes went well. The other teens and I planned it all, basing it off of the Wordless Book. I taught Gold Day, about God, His holiness, and heaven, and I co-wrote the puppet scripts. Others planned the crafts, games, and snacks, worked on the puppet team, and taught memory verses. I really felt God’s hand on those VBSes.

Later in the week, we had community meals in the villages. Less adults came than we would have liked, but again: it’s not about the numbers. I loved being able to connect with the kids one last time. That was one hard part about the trip—we didn’t live with the kids. Last year, we lived in the town where we ministering, so the kids who came to the VBS were the kids we played with all day long. This year, we had to travel forty-five minutes to the settlements, so we only saw those kids for an hour or two each day. Still, God has a plan, and I do think we blessed them.

Then there were work projects, when we weren’t doing VBSes. I found that I really enjoyed those and was good at organizing. We re-organized the church (oh, those awful cabinets!), removed some graffiti, painted a porch, organized school curricula, and did a giveaway of clothes and other items the church had amassed.

But it wasn’t all work. After one of the community meals, the local kids took us to a river. I found the guts to climb a rocky cliff-side and jump off it, sliding down loose gravel into the river. By that time—our fifth day there—we were all in desperate need of a break. I think the long drives in crowded vans each day made us irritable. However, spending an afternoon outside, the fresh air of the South Dakota plains filling our lungs, helped our spirits immensely, and we finished the week strong.

Sunday morning, we worshipped in the local church where we’d stayed all week. Last year, it had hurt so badly to leave those kids. There was no one to remind them of what we’d taught them. But this time, I felt comforted. There was a church that could minister to those we had, a body of Christians that would continue what we had done. I realized what a beautiful treasure the church is. I so often take churches for granted. But when you go to a place where few exist, you realize how important they are.

{Thanks so much for all your prayers and support this past month, everyone. I should be getting back to my normal schedule, so expect a Miscellaneous Mondays post in a few days!} 

7 responses to “Mission Trip Musings”

  1. […] trip. I blogged about this previously, so I won’t go into much detail again, but it was an amazing experience full of […]


  2. Judith L. Livingstone Avatar
    Judith L. Livingstone

    Dearest Abby,

    Thank you so much for the quote from John Adams. I was lying in bed thinking about it last night. I am sure you had a great celebration of Sadie’s birthday. I hope she likes the poems. I hope you have been able to start your swimming teaching.

    All my love,


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad that your ministry was fruitful and that you had the opportunity to go and touch others’ lives! Thank you for posting–there so many truths in here that I often don’t think about. I especially love the story with the kids and the man–it makes me so grateful for what I already have. May God continue to do great things in you and through you even though your trip is over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed that story and were reminded of truth. Thank you so much for your encouragement and prayers; it really does mean a lot. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for these reflections on your week. The truths you share are beautiful and inspiring to me. Just as Jesus said, “If you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me.” As you say, the number that seems to matter is one – at least one person. I pray that these children and families will be blessed now and in the future by your visit, and that you will be as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! That’s a great verse, and one I need to remember, not only on mission trips, but also when serving here at home. (=

      Liked by 1 person

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