|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 21, 2017 at 12:15 AM|
Community- that's the word that came up over and over as the students' reflected on their day. It was everywhere and it was beautiful.
We began the day at the Lumber River, which we'll be floating down tomorrow. We joined our guide Mac at the River Way environmental center where he asked us to try something he didn't know was possible. The fence of the center had been knocked down by a tornado that came through and he didn't know if it could be saved. With every student pushing, it took about 5 minutes for the fence to be standing up again and braced with wood to make it stay. Community makes possible what we can't do on our own.
Then we headed over to the Church and Community Center, the largest relief organization in Robeson County, which provides a thrift store, a food pantry, and case management among its services. The building had been heavily flooded and rebuilding the inside has begun. We arrived to tasks that seemed enormous- clearing debris from the backyard including deconstructing moldy wooden shelves, scraping linoleum glue off the floor and installing insulation for sound proofing in an office area that will provide case management. By the time we left that afternoon, we had insulated 8 1/2 rooms, fought mightily with the linoleum glue and won at least a little, and the debris in the back was gone. It was a joy to be of service, to be tired out by the work in God's kingdom. But what struck the students even more was how we worked together- us 16 students and 3 leaders. They were thankful for how community was created as we work toward a shared goal, even one that was exhausting and frustrating (linoleum glue is the worst!) Get to know you games and conversation starts to build community, but shared work in the same direction brings us together even faster. God finds a way to bless us even through tedious work.
Although students were grateful for the work to do, at least one wondered if this was the best way- a buch of college kids doing he work while many in the county were unemployed. Wouldn't it be more just to offer this work to people needing jobs and then pay them for it? Shouldn't we instead offer the community monetary support to rebuld themselves to the extent they are able? Good questions to struggle with. But the reality that sometimes volunteers are easier to raise up than money. You have to decide whether getting the food pantry running sooner is more important than giving a few people jobs for a little while. God's answer may be different each time and people of faith are called to keep asking the question.
With arms exhausted and community built, we took a break for treats- first by picking SO MANY early season strawberries at Locklear Farm, a Lumbee owned farm. And then, with free ice cream cones at Dairy Queen for the first day of spring. And thus continues our tradition in campus ministry- 8 straight years of obtaining free frozen treats on the first day of spring!
Our evening ended at the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club for their weekly cultural night. We gathered in the gym to gather in prayer and singing, with men gathered around a large drum that they treat with the respect they would show an ancestor. They drummed and sang, similar songs to what these same men played at the pow-wow on Saturday. And then we finally got the answers to some of our pow-wow questions about the symbolism of th dances. Pow-wows have historically been a way for different tribes to come together and share dances and now are judged, too. We learned about the grass dances, historically the first ones performed in order to clear the fields for future dancing. And the fancy dance or butterfly dance, danced with a shawl outstretched like butterfly wings, was a modified war dance (which is really a storytelling dance) created for women. We were invited to join in for the traditional dance- the easiest ones for beginners to learn. Even though it was the easiest, it was quite obvious that some of us were cut out for dancing a little more than others. But it was powerful to dance along with the sound of the drum. Reggie, one of the cultural leaders, told us that they dance and sing for their physical, mental and spiritual health- this clears ther mind and connects them to themselves and their stories in a deep way.
Little kids through elders were there tonight, helping to teach about their culture and dance, with elders encouraging the younger members to be the ones to tell the stories. But this culture night wasn't for our benefit- it happens every week so that the community can remember who it is and who it has been. And it's a time to be together as a community. Tonight babies were passed around, people supported each others' prayer requests by beating on the drum, and they deeply enjoyed each others' company. It was a vision of community that many of our students long for. A people connected by stories, traditions and a shared love and sense of responsibility for each other. This is a vision of what the Christian communtiy has been at its finest moments- being rooted in the stories of Jesus and his love for us so that we live it out by caring for each other and all the other folks that Jesus loves. It's a vision that brings people in not by force, but by fascination. A vision that we can't always articulate that we long for until we see its beauty in front of us. This is not to say that this Native communtiy or any community is perfect or easy, but it reminds us of a longing within us to be connected to each other and to the stories that tell us who we are.