Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mission Accomplished: Building Hope, Finding Joy at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation

What if I told you my latest excursion involved hanging out with the coolest people on earth, enjoying a glorious massage under a twinkling skyline, showering with my feet planted on warm, glistening rocks, and meditating to live music every evening?

You’d probably think I’d scored a weekend at some decadent spa or resort.  On the contrary – my son and I went on a mission trip near Globe, Arizona. (A place you wouldn’t exactly call posh!)  We spent a week camping there with our church family during our annual mission trip to the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  (The massages?  Given by a generous camper.  The showers?  Solar!  Translation – from a plastic bag filled with water warmed by the sun.)

I knew it was going to be hard work.  What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun we’d have.   And despite standing witness to crushing poverty, we not only built hope – we found it.

Building more than just homes

In partnership with Amor Ministries, my home church, Mountain View Lutheran, just logged its 20th consecutive mission trip to build homes in impoverished communities.  We do this because Lutherans embrace a roll-up-your-sleeves brand of faith.  Our ministry doesn’t just take place within our 4 walls.  We’re called to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely – to love our neighbor across the street, and across the globe.  (And in Globe!)

San Carlos is home to the third largest reservation in the state of Arizona, where unemployment tips 75%.  We spent the week hand mixing and smoothing stubborn stucco, finishing walls, painting rooftops and toiling under the hot sun.  At the end of each day, we were baking hot, sore, tired, and grimy.

And I can’t wait to go back. 

The kids are all right

Technically this trip is designed for middle and high school aged kids. Spending time with my son minus the distractions of home was pure joy.  We joked that after a week of mixing and scooping thick, heavy stucco, chores at home wouldn’t seem so bad.

Kids and adults worked together in harmony for a higher purpose, each person in the hive falling into a busy formation.  I never once heard a grumbling complaint.  The promise of S’mores by the campfire each night probably didn’t hurt either; but we should give teens more credit. They sang while they worked; they showed respect to the adults.  They were awesome!!

After this, her third trip to Mission San Carlos, Bonnie Conrad (Ahwatukee) put it this way, “For the kids, it’s a trip that really affects them for the rest of their lives.  They find out they can build a house!  And they learn to give to others.”

It was Bonnie’s daughter, Kelly, who just graduated from Desert Vista that convinced her mom to go in the first place after she and her dad had enjoyed two trips together.  “You leave the comfort of Ahwatukee and learn how much bigger the world is, and how much need is out there.”  Kelly says the trips helped her see how much she enjoyed helping people, and inspired her to pursue a career in nursing.

Sore Muscles, Soaring Souls

We all agreed connecting with the recipients of the homes was a highlight.  Around the campfire, Karen France (Ahwatukee) shared that her “high” of the day was meeting Shirley, the Apache woman who cried when she saw her new house.  “It’s so big,” she’d marveled.  Mind you, it was 675 square feet.  Shirley’s the very reason Brett Sauer’s (Chandler) returned for all 20 trips. “I go to make people cry,” he said.

I’m so glad I listened when God called me to serve His people in San Carlos.  But as usual - it was me who received.  The experience left me moved, healed, touched.  Changed.  Who knew a week of hard labor and sleeping in a hot tent could leave you feeling so utterly restored, connected and inspired? Who knew I’d make so many friendships with people with whom I’d only passed the peace from the next pew over?

“That’s the secret of mission trips,” our pastor quipped, when I shared it with him.  Now that the secret is out – will you listen when you hear the call to serve across the street, across the globe, or near Globe, Arizona??

Enough about me - what about you?  I'd love to hear your story - so chime in!

(This piece was originally published in

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Taming the Tongue Invites both Peace & Persecution

I want to change the old adage we grew up with and revise it to read instead,  “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can really hurt me.”

Words are powerful.  As a certified word-nerd, I’m enamored with them.  I absorb words incessantly - from books and cereal boxes to advertisements and greeting cards.  I appreciate this art form that has the power to inspire, heal and educate.  Carefully chosen words can soothe a wounded heart, stir a nation and empower the oppressed.  And of course, words said with venom will wage war, sear the soul, and leave carnage in their wake. 

I’m thinking all of this because try as I might to speak the language of peace, my tongue very often gives in to temptation.  My propensity to use it without enough forethought has landed me in trouble more than once.  This week my tongue got me in some trouble, and I got back what I gave in spades.  Here’s what happened.  (Why do I always seem to be confessing here?  Please write and tell me I’m not the only one!)

Let’s just say I had a brush with the dark side of social media.  I made a comment that, well, let’s just say, wasn’t well received.  It wasn’t my intention, but I clearly struck a nerve by protesting what I perceived as a derogatory, divisive post. Can you see where this is going?  Yep, my words added some fuel to the flame.

Big mistake on my part.  What ensued was the most vicious verbal attack I’d ever endured.  I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say – I had never encountered such maliciousness before.  I was shaken to my core.

Recently I’ve fallen in love with the book of Proverbs.  Verse after verse speaks to the issue of choosing words carefully - that the taming of the tongue is the triumph of the wise. (My paraphrase!)   One of my favorites from chapter 12 advises, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Now, why couldn’t I have remembered that before I made my comment?!

I summoned all of my humility and reached out to apologize to this man for posting on his page, as we weren’t friends either online or in real time.  Such is the alternative universe of social media.  He didn’t exactly appreciate my attempt at humility.  And I learned two very important lessons.  First, I should always take a breath to calmly consider the right words.  Are they helpful or hurtful?  Do I want to inflict pain or healing?  Is it better left unsaid, even if I have to bite my tongue?

Notice I’m not saying that holding the tongue is always the best route.  How often have you bitten your tongue, congratulated yourself on your peaceful response, only to seethe and explode later?  What I’m talking about is measuring my words, and perhaps now and again swallowing them until I can string the right ones together when I’ve worked through my immediate response.

Second, even when I do speak the language of peace, or offer apology or concession, there is very often no immediate reward.  My words could succeed in diffusing or soothing – or, they may be scrutinized, labeled as weakness, even persecuted.  But it’s what I signed up for in following Christ – to do my best to emulate his example.  So here’s another adage I’d like to wordsmith a bit.  Next time my blood pressure rises, I need to ask myself, “What would Jesus say?”

Enough about me - what about you? Tell me the last time you tripped over your tongue ... or when someone else burned a bridge with theirs.

(This piece originally appeared in the Ahwatukee Foothills News.)