|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 23, 2017 at 12:25 AM|
This morning started back at the Church and Community Center, finishing up insulating the walls so a group from Charlotte, NC can hang sheetrock on Friday. The rest of our group learned by MUCH trial and error how to assemble metal shelves from piles of supplies in a warehouse. They are old shelves form a discount store that will now hold groceries for the food pantry. There is something healing about building something with your hands and seeing a tangible promise that this building will soon be doing its work of serving the community again. 18 shelves later, we had it down to a science!
The Housing Director and the Executive Director shared a little about the Church and Community Center’s history- it was begun in 1969 in response to rising domestic violence, hunger and need for assistance with heat and electricity. Those are still some of the core needs over 40 years later, because a lot of manufacturing jobs moved out of the county and also because poverty is too often generational. They said their food pantry shelves are rarely full and they are at the mercy of donations in order to be able to give things out. And although they start good programs, they can only run them until the grant money runs out. Robseon County is the poorest in NC (and also the most diverse rural area in the country) and the challenges are not easy to turn around.
From our serving, we headed to the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at UNC Pembroke and Alysha explained a lot about the tribal structure to us. She told us about how to gain membership in the tribe- that it includes tracing your lineage to someone listed as “Indian” in the 1900 census. But beyond that, there is a focus on kinship and your intention to stay connected to the community. There is also a written test about the stories and the significant people in Lumbee history. Your blood ties are not enough- you need to have an intention to remain a part of your people to truly be a part of the tribe. A little like following Jesus- baptism may seal you, but you need to keep following if you are going to be a part of the tribe of Jesus followers. And in order to stay connected, around July 4th, there is a 12- day long homecoming celebration where tons of people come home to their people to celebrate and be family.
And she told us about the tri-racial school system that existed in Robeson County up until the 1950s, with separate schools for whites, blacks, and Indians. And how many people in days past hid their American Indian identity because it was meant discrimination and poor treatment. As Native American identity is seen differently now and is embraced, Alysha said that designation as Indian has been reclaimed as a uniting terminology among the Lumbee, a tribe that is an amalgamation of American Indian people in this area of North Carolina that officially chose the name Lumbee for themselves in 1956 (although this was a common name for Native people in this area back to the 1600s.)
We asked what defines the Lumbee culture and she said a sense of community, religion, a unique dialect (although their original languages are lost) and a sense of place. With more than 55,000 members, the Lumbee are one of the largest tribes in the US. Yet, even though they are recognized as indigenous people, they have no rights in the federal government. They are the only tribe with that unique designation and one that they continue to fight to change and feel they are on the verge of being given rights by the federal government.
While some of us went to finish up constructing the shelves from earlier, the rest o the group went to the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club to help with the after-school program. One of the workers told me about the challenges the kids in the club face- about 40% of them come from single-parent homes, with many kids not knowing their fathers, while others are being raised by grandparents. After hearing so much about the deep value of community among the Lumbee, it was jarring to hear about the same challenges we face in Baltimore. We try to make other places idyllic- to think that there is a beautiful place where the problems we face don’t exist- but the challenges in our American culture deeply affect the Lumbee population the same way they affect other communities.
Dinner tonight was a little vision of God’s kingdom. Some visiting Chinese scholars at UNCP were showing their appreciation to the people of Pembroke UMC for their kindness by cooking them a traditional Chinese meal for their regular Wednesday Bible study group of members. And we joined in by bringing pasta- a college student staple. And we ate and shared stories and there was more than enough. The Scripture for the evening was from 1 Timothy and was about how the Christian community should care for widows- reserving their monetary care for those who had no family to care for them. The Church has always been responsible for being family to those who have none. It has chosen to be an alternative community- connected to strangers by the shared love of Jesus- and responsible for each other out of that love. This alternative family was on display tonight and it’s a similar reality that exists within the connected lives of the some of the Lumbee folks we have met.