I’m going to let you in on a bit of secret. We preachers don’t always believe what we say. Some things we fully believe. But there are other things that we say but are only working towards believing. This week has been the 12th mission/service trip I’ve lead from the Naugatuck church. In preparation for each trip, I pontificate relentlessly about how the trip isn’t really about the things we building but rather about the relationships we build. I know this to be true...intellectually. Yet, it has always been one of those things I’ve been working towards believing. I will relentless preach relationship, but I secretly obsess what’s being accomplished as far as tangible things left behind. And I’ve always marked our “success” with such things. In La Romana, there is a hospital. In Oaxaca, Casa Hogar has a computer lab, the dump community has one more house, and 2,500 plus people around Santa Maria Tepexipana had an extra months worth of food.
After one week at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation, I am now fully a believer. We have worked hard - both on construction projects and on running after school camp for the children of La Plant. Our major construction project all week long has been digging a 250 plus foot trench to run electrical and phone cable through. It has been grueling work. We’ve been digging through thick hard clay. Thursday afternoon we finally completed the trench from end to end. The electrical wire and phone cable has been run. I even got to see the power turned on for the first time. The electric and phone will support the Simply Smiles office and staff housing on the back of the community center property. Digging this trench was a major accomplishment for nine of us, plus Smiles Staff and some local helpers. But it’s not exactly the type of thing you say where you feel we made a major difference in the community by digging a trench for office electricity.
No, for me this week, the real miracles of this week have all been relational. In any of our previous mission trips, we always made meaningful relationships. But it has never been quite like this.
Bryan and I cooked made to order omelets yesterday at a community breakfast. For a people who history has been that they have to scrounge just for “leftovers” to be served a breakfast and to know that people cared enough to make it the way they wanted, you could let that we were feeding them not only a good breakfast but feeding their need for dignity.
Yesterday at camp our craft was fabric painting some canvas drawstring backs. Many, many of the kids brought the backpack around for all the members of our service team to sign. It was such a symbol of the relational impact we’ve made in the lives of these kids in just a few days.
Camp usually end at 6:30 pm. By 7 pm the phone in the community center rings off the hook. The kids from town call wanting to continue to talk (usually to our teens). The community has known us only for days...and they know we will soon be leaving...yet they want and crave that connection. They want and crave that relationship.
The truth is there are many types of projects that make an impact on a community, but none of them are as impactful as letting people know you love them. This week the people of La Plant have made an incredible impact on our lives. But we also know that we have made an impact on theirs. That relational love is foundational to anything and everything else that happens here. That love is what mission/service work is all about.
Oh, and by the way, I don’t want to underestimate the importance of that trench we dug. That trench to supply electricity to the Simply Smiles office and staff housing are a critical symbol to the people of La Plant. It let’s them know that Simply Smiles is here to stay. And the at people will be coming to love on them for years to come.