The evening's priorities were taken care of: inflating 15 air mattresses and setting up the kitchen--sleep and food being among the essentials of life, after all. But the first priority for some of us was finding out the wifi password. Our friend Kendra gave sobering news--the internet at the school had been turned off for the summer. It was a moment of some adjustment to discover that fact. That is a bit of an understatement.
Paul was so exhausted by the preparations and journey that he sank onto his air-mattress the moment it was blown up and was not heard from until the next morning, but Susan pulled the rest of us together around the yellow oil-cloth covered dining table, for an initial meeting.
First we talked about about our group's approach. This is our 12th year of connection with Mish. We go with an agenda to befriend, support and show love to the community in any way we can, sometimes responding to specific needs they mention. Our discipline is to show our faith rather than tell it.
The First Nations peoples have a history of devastating wounds and abuse by those who came in the name of Jesus. They disrespected their culture, silenced their languages, and scorned their spiritual practices--generations of family bonds were broken almost beyond repair and unspeakable things were done to helpless children.
So while some of us come in his Name, we come with stilled tongues but open arms. In doing so we have discovered the deep spirituality of the people, and many who have faith in Christ, in spite of everything. At times there are opportunities to pray with people, or give bibles to children, as we did this year, but we are careful, and work to be respectful of a people who are too polite to push back against pushy people. And it isn't hard to "simply love."
We thanked everyone who had joined the team and acknowledged what it meant that they had come. To a person there had been sacrifice--for some, precious, paid work was given up--yet everyone was ready to serve with all their heart. It felt like a commissioning when we told the 7 young people that being here was a privilege, that they were about to get a better education in Aboriginal Studies than any they could get in school, and that they would have a responsibility to bear witness to what they saw over the week--to tell the truth when they heard facts distorted and prejudiced words spoken.
Next each person shared why they were there--what they hoped to gain from being on this trip. As we listened, we got to know one another better. One young person made me smile, and nod in agreement, when he said that going a week without electronics would, he thought, be, "cleansing."
I had been on the team two years before and it had felt like a physical and spiritual boot camp. The intensity of the long days, and being together with people in such close quarters, surfaced every weakness and selfishness. I shared that experience with the team that evening to be helpful, but felt immediately as though I had been a giant wet blanket! I wished that I had not been so unintentionally negative in my "encouragement." For the rest of the evening I worked through letting go of "Me," and being as forgiving of myself as I try to be of others. Oh my! It was really time to get a good night's sleep. The waves lapped quietly on the shores of the Albany River as our air mattresses rustled and squeaked us all to sleep.