God moves in small things and big things, small people and big people. God has called us to be his people, to exhibit the message of Christ, and to live our lives for him. Those in Asia and in Europe, those in North America and South America, those in Kentucky and Arizona, and every believer in between, we are all part of His Body. A passage that I thought about a lot on this trip, Colossians 3:1-17, speaks to this.
This May, New Hope took a team of eight Asbury University students to Southwest Indian Ministries Center in Peoria, Arizona. Having met in Cincinnati, the eight of us stepped out of the mild, humid air into the Airport. Several hours and a few thousand miles later, we stepped off the airplane into the hot, dry air of Phoenix, Arizona. After a short drive, we arrived at our new home for the next few weeks: Southwest Indian Ministries Center. Formerly a Native boarding school, SIMC is now a hub for Native ministry in the area. Home to many WGM missionaries, SIMC is also the site for many child and adolescent camps.
While at SIMC, our time was split between helping prepare campus for a summer full of camps, ministering to kids on the reservation, or having “team-bonding” (i.e. playing crazy games). It was inspiring to see God’s hand moving through all of us on this trip. God’s work was clear in the way our team drew closer to each other, and let that energy, closeness, and affection spill over to others.
A lot of the time we were in Arizona, we were helping prepare for summer camps. SIMC is a busy place in the summer. By the end of the summer, SIMC will have held camps for high-schoolers, middle-schoolers, and even elementary kids. God’s love will have been shown to children of all ages throughout a weeklong camp for each age group. SIMC recently finished the construction of a new recreation hall on campus. The building is in the finishing stages, but needs approval by the city to be used. Our team helped do some cleaning to prepare for inspections. We also spent time cleaning and preparing other buildings around campus for the barrage of children they will see this summer. We also had the chance to help decorate the buildings for this year’s theme: The Armor of God.
In addition to preparing the campus for the summer, we also got to meet some of the kids who will be attending (along with many others!). Our team went to a church on the reservation, that one of SIMC’s staff pastors. We drove through the reservation until we came to a small church. We got out and went in to start getting ready for the children. After we had set some stuff out, we waited in eager expectation for what was to come. The van arrived, and what seemed an endless number of beautiful native children came rushing into the church. Some were shy, and some we personable, but all of them were grinning and smiling. While we were there we hung out and ate pizza with these children of the area.
We had several Education majors on this trip, and so being good Asbury students, we naturally had a nice, organized night planned out for the kids. We were going to have three stations of games for the kids to play, and have it all tie back into a devotional thought. Yeah. That didn’t happen.
We learned how to go on the fly. I think that we were planning about how we would do it in our churches. The problem is, we were in a different country. We may still have been in the United States, but it was explained to us, the reservation and the people are totally different. In a lot of ways they are different, but there are some similarities. Most of the kids there at church that night came from broken homes and bad situations. They may have rough lives, but they play, laugh, and smile just like any other kids. They also still need love. Love is a universal language. Kids everywhere can respond to people showing an interest in them and loving on them. We had plans. God showed us how to be; not how to plan.
We picked it up quickly, and were better prepared for what was to come that Sunday when we led children’s time again. Our team split into two groups. Each group went to a different church pastored by SIMC staff. By showing kids love and spending time with them, God’s love was shown through us. It was amazing and humbling to see the changes in the kids from the beginning of the time to the end. Both times there was significant changes. The way the kids who were shyer opened up was wonderful to see. Witnessing the joy that something as simple as our presence brought to these kids, is beyond words. As hard as it was to leave those kids behind, we had to go back to the Center.
Another way we helped out was through training. We had the chance to witness and to help minister to upcoming leaders in the Native Church. Several “Leaders in Training” participated in an overnight training seminar. These teenagers were selected for training because they showed promise as leaders in the church. They are going to get first-hand ministry experience this summer when they are counselors at the young kids camp. We went around campus with them listening to talks on leadership, doing service projects, and hanging out. It was really something special to see all that God is doing throughout the Native Church in Arizona, and especially amongst the children. The Churches there are helping to provide a warm, safe environment for the children to help them and show them God’s love. This is clearly reaping benefits, as seen by the fact that they are able to have teenagers in positions of leadership.
Sadly, we had to say good-bye to Arizona. This time when we stepped off the plane, the humid Kentucky air greeted us. We returned, only ten days older, but our hearts were still warm as Arizona with God’s love. We all miss the time we had in Arizona, the laughs with each other, and the kids to play with. We hope that this trip will always stick with us; just as we know that the love we showed will always stick with those kids.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, But Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put of love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
May God continue to bless Southwest Indian Ministries Center,
~ Caleb Blankenship (On behalf of: Sam Beckler, Charles Delp, Kirstie King, Ben Marchal, Jessica Nusbaumer, Kaity Scanlan, and Samantha Underwood)