Update from the north

I had the wonderful opportunity of getting to spend five days in the frozen north two weeks ago continuing the set up of the Leech Lake and Red Lake sites.  It was such a blessing to hear first hand from many different people in the community about how Youthworks had a positive impact on the community.  Now that Youthworks has been in both Cass Lake and Red Lake for several years many community friends are starting to dream with us and speak more into what we are doing in both the communities.  Several people who I met with were excitedly telling me about new ways that we can be serving in their community.  Honestly, it was such blessing to have so many people so invested in their communities who we can come alongside them and support what they are doing in whatever way possible.  Many of the dreams that we discussed may not come to fruition this coming summer, and some of them Youthworks probably won’t be able to be a formal part of at all.  Nonetheless, it was so incredible to see and hear what all is going on up north.  Here are a few highlights:

  • In Cass Lake, there is a group of people that weekly gets together to pray for Cass Lake and coordinate their service efforts in the community.  More by coincidence than anything else, I was able to be a part of this meeting and get a pulse on more services that are going on in Cass Lake.  Additionally, I was able to introduce myself to this group of leaders and offer Youthworks’ volunteers to help out with their dream for improving Cass Lake.  Exciting stuff.
  • One member of this meeting was Emmanuel who, together with his wife, is starting a monthly Christian night club event.  This event will give teenagers in the community a safe place to hang out and have a positive and fun experience.  It will also bring together Christian youth who did not previously know each other in an exciting way. 
  • In Red Lake, Keith Lussier, one of Youthworks dearest friends, is going to be able to speak to participants again after a brief hiatus away.  Additionally, he is planning on starting a cultural center in Red Lake to help teach and preserve the Ojibwe culture, and wants Youthworks to be a part of the upstart of the center.  This center will provide an avenue for Elders to pass along the Ojibwe way of life to the younger generation, as well as being able to teach visitors who come to the reservation.

As an Area Director, I am always trying to plan, organize, improve, and dream about new or better ways to serve in communities.  However, last week reminded me that it’s better to watch and learn what is going on and what the community wants, then join in what is happening. 

Why do we do this?




This past weekend I had the privilege to worship and spend time with Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Words cannot begin to describe what a blessing the trip was for me.

This past summer, Garfield Memorial spent a week serving at our Pine Ridge 1 site in Manderson, SD. I happened to be in Manderson for part of the week and was able to get to spend time with the group. I was struck by how engaged with the community everyone seemed to be, and how enthusiastic they were to be serving. Upon returning home to Cleveland, the group was so moved by the community, that they were able to raise over $10,000 worth of donations to the school and community. After the summer, I was able to stay in contact with the senior pastor, and after some conversations we were able to plan a weekend where I would come out to the church and speak about Manderson and thank them for their contributions.

As an Area Director spending so much time in communities setting up sites for the summer, it is often easy to lose sight of how God moves in the churches that are able to come and serve during the summer. I was struck by the passion of the people at Garfield Memorial whom, after only spending one week serving and learning in Manderson, had developed a heart for the community. It is every Area Director’s dream to have a church that falls in love with a community and looks to make a continued commitment to the people there. Garfield Memorial is an excellent example of this- a body of people who are completely sold out on Jesus, so much so that when they are faced with an opportunity to love and serve, they go all in.

In the middle of a cold and windy January, spending a weekend with Garfield Memorial was a perfect reminder of why I do what I do- providing the Church with opportunities to serve, knowing that God will show up and bring reconciliation and healing to our communities and to those who have come to serve.



Sweet Reminders

As the temperature continues to get more frigid it can sometimes be difficult to remember that summer happened, and will once again soon return. Last week I received an e-mail from one of our staff that lived in Red Lake this past summer that served as a sweet reminder of our purpose.

Evan wanted to inform me that he received a letter from one of the homeowners we worked with this summer. We were able to help paint his house, white, because his deceased wife had always wanted it that way, in addition to painting three decks, taking out an old fence and putting in a new one. The community member was an elder, served as the president of the local school board, the father of eight children and 67 grandkids. Arnold quickly became one of Evan’s best friends in the community over the course of the summer, spending his time off (and confessing to a little more if he was in the neighborhood) chatting over smoked fish and the newspaper on his kitchen table. The letter Evan received was from one of Arnold’s daughters, wanting to let Evan know that Arnold passed away unexpectedly at home right after our staff left for the summer. Evan experienced a strange combination of emotions, obviously upset because he was someone he had grown close to, but at the same time, the letter expressed how proud Arnold was of his home, how he had started talking about his wife again ( a tough subject for him because after more than 50 years of marriage she passed away from cancer a few years ago). For Evan, it was another example of God’s faithfulness in using him and the rest of the team in ways unimaginable. Over the course of the summer, Arnold shared his life story, once walking 20 miles across a frozen lake to see a woman he was falling in love with, about  fishing and starting his own logging business, about struggling to recover a school that academically was in such desperate need. Without either of them knowing, it seems Evan helped bring some closure into Arnold’s life in his final few months.

Stories like the one Evan got to share remind me that we serve a God much bigger than we know. I am so thankful Evan could make himself available, and that in turn Arnold made himself available for Evan. We all will continue to celebrate and mourn the passing of an incredible man, and rejoice for conversations at the kitchen table.

A Different Story

As soon as September hits, and even as early as August, the Youthworks office is getting ready for the next summer.  One thing I have been thinking about extensively this fall has been preparation, specifically looking at how we are preparing staff and participants to work on the reservation.  The more and more I have thought and explored this topic, the more I have been convinced that educating people about the history of America is essential.  I like to think that I had a pretty good education growing up, but I must admit, prior to 2009 when I worked on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, that I was grossly ignorant about all things Native American.  Additionally as someone very passionate about education, I am becoming more and more convinced that we need to share this story, the Native American story, with not only staff and participants but anyone who will listen.  Even as passionate as I am, I realize that the best thing I can do is provide a platform from which Native Americans can tell their own story, instead of trying to tell it for them.   So I want to share this story with you and hope it that it will help you begin to understand a little bit of the larger picture of how America was formed:


An Apology, an Appropriations Bill & a Conversation That Never Happened

On December 19, 2009, the United States government officially apologized to Native Peoples, but didn’t tell anyone. On December 19, in front of the US Capitol building a new conversation is beginning. A diverse group of citizens are hosting an event to publicize this apology. The mission is to invite our nation’s citizens and leaders to gather in Washington DC and join efforts to communicate as publically, humbly, and respectfully as possible the contents of H.R. 3326 to the Native American tribes, communities and citizens of the US. The hope of the event is to establish safe and honest common ground where a national conversation for reconciliation between our country and Native America can begin.

I first heard of this event last March after a few conversations with Mark Charles, who is helping to lead and host the event. Mark invited us to participate, which at the time felt like a long shot. But tomorrow I will board a plane headed for DC and could not be more excited about the opportunity. I will look forward to sharing some pictures and stories after I get back. If you would like more information you can find it at www.wirelesshogan.com. The event is being streamed live as well, at 11 AM EST on Dec. 19, 2012 on the Wirelesshogan YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/wirelesshogan.

Please join me in praying for this event.




Getting to travel back home to Tennessee was such a blessing last week.  Family, tons of food, rest, and warm weather were a much needed break.   While I was home I was able to spend some time reflecting on what I was thankful for as well as spend some time reflecting on what it really means to be thankful, and I wanted to share some of these thoughts.

First off, I am thankful for community friends who even though I just met them welcomed me into their community and were excited to talk about Youthworks, their community, and the upcoming summer.  Seeing some of the fruits of years of invested time is a blessing.

I am thankful for youth and adult leaders that are willing to give up their time and resources to go, serve, learn, and take what they have learned back to their homes.   In November, the previous summer seems forever ago and the upcoming summer feels quite distant, which can make it easy to forget the people who are actually coming on trips.  I know that no community or youth is changed in one week, but I am thankful that the youth who do come are willing to step out, try something challenging, and watch and see how God shows up.  I’m thankful for those who have been so impacted by a trip they have taken and those who will be impacted in the future.

Finally, I am thankful for summer staff who give up their entire summer for one of the hardest jobs they will ever have.  I often think they will never be thanked enough.  For any alumni or future staff members who are reading this, hear this:  There are hundreds of people that owe you a big thank you.  The hundreds of youth who come on a trip, the adult leaders who have no clue what they are getting into and are blessed by the service provided by staff, the community members that look forward to staff being there all year round, and all the office staff that year round work in preparation for the summer.   On behalf of all of them, thank you.

This year, I am most thankful for people whose faith moves them to action.


Adventures in SD

Last week I traveled to South Dakota to our sites in Lake Traverse, Standing Rock, and Cheyenne River.  I tracked 1300+ miles, met tons of new friends, and survived 60+ mph winds for two days.  It was an exciting, busy, and fruitful week. I heard many stories from the summer, how the community was blessed by the staff and participants in various ways.  Many community friends were already talking and planning for next summer with excitement, which is always a good sign in October.  I had a full week of stories and exciting happenings, but would just like to share a few stories about our communities and what we hope to be doing there.

  • While I was in Sisseton on the Lake Traverse Reservation, the most exciting couple of hours of my trip happened in an abandoned building which is in the process of being renovated.  There, in that building, I met Lindy, a woman who is passionate, knowledgeable, talkative, fun, and encouraging.  Standing in a room which had been stripped entirely bare for over two hours, I listened and talked with Lindy about Sisseton, what Youthworks has been doing there, and dreaming of what Youthworks should be doing there.  Lindy told me about greenhouses, community education, dance classes, soccer programs, ESL, tutoring, and everything in between that we could work with while in and around Sisseton. I’m not sure who left the meeting more excited; I left thrilled that we had so many potential partners and programs  to work within the community, and Lindy left glad that she got to share so many ideas and had people willing to work with her.
  • The acting director of the Boys and Girls Club in McLaughlin, SD (Standing Rock Reservation) has a strange office arrangement.  The chair which I was sitting in was surrounded by various objects so that it could not be easily moved, and was also positioned so that no eye contact can be made between the two people speaking because of a large printer in the way.  So we sat talking, me staring into the backside of printer and her staring into the front side of the same printer.  Despite not being able to see each other whatsoever, we had a great conversation.  She told me about the summer, talked about how we can work together next summer and just generally about life in McLaughlin.  One of the most interesting parts of my time at the Boys and Girls Club was that her granddaughter was there.  Her granddaughter had been to Kids Club for several summers and absolutely loved it, and as I was sitting there talking with her grandmother, this 8 year old girl began to serve me as a guest without any instruction from anyone.  She brought me water, offered me a snack, and shared her pack of gum with me and her grandmother.  As I was sitting there being served by this girl who had been served by so many staff and participants over the years, I wished that all the youth, adults, and staff who had loved on this girl at Kids Club could have seen her serving.  We don’t always see the fruits of our labor, but occasionally, we are gifted with a glimpse.
  • By the far the most pleasant evening of my entire trip was Friday evening, the night before I was going to leave.  I showed up at the house of Margaret and Joel at a little past 5 and did not leave till past 9.  I was going there to discuss housing at the Episcopal Church for next year, and Margaret and I talked about that for probably 5 minutes.  The rest of my time was spent just relaxing, talking, and connecting with Margaret and Joel, and we had a fabulous time.  Anyone that comes to Eagle Butte, staff or participant, will be blessed by any time that they get to spend with either of these two wonderful people.

Overall it was a really great week; meeting great people is hard to beat.  Next week I will be traveling to Yankton, our new site in South Dakota, to find out more about the community and I am really excited to what all is happening in this unique community.