As a teenage Christian I see problems and conflicts in the world everywhere. I see people all around that need the Lord, but I wouldn’t have thought there would be people nearby that haven’t even heard of him. In July, my church youth group went on a mission trip to the Turtle Mountain Reservation in northern North Dakota.
Going there we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. When we arrived we learned that we had been split into different groups along with kids from Missouri. We met our groups and the next day went to our separate housing developments on the reservation.
We all had unique experiences. I was at a neighborhood that the previous groups had not been to. When we arrived we set up a game of soccer at a playground in the area. It took about an hour before any kids showed up. We played with the kids in the area and showed them love, a love that they may not have felt at home. We brought a lot of different toys—a soccer ball, whiffle ball essentials, a volleyball, a basketball, and lots of craft material. The kids painted our faces and enjoyed making us look like ninja turtles. I have three bracelets that the kids made for me. We also had a blanket that had pictures of Bible stories on it. It was a good conversation starter because their culture has a love of stories, both telling and hearing them. Our purpose was to show love in a place where love may be a distant hope.
Once the kids started coming out to play with us, we had mostly middle school-age kids, which is unusual. Usually it was younger elementary kids coming and playing. Later we learned that there were more than just the eleven kids who came at first. The “grandpa” of the area came and talked with one of our leaders. He asked what we were doing here and why. My leader told him that we were there to show love and play with the kids. He told him that our group had been doing this every year for the past ten years but hadn’t had enough people to get to this part of the reservation.
Hearing this, the grandpa responded in a way we didn’t expect: He said that what we were doing was wonderful and should be done everywhere. He went to call as many families in the area as he could and tell them it was safe to come out of their homes. Our leader asked him what he meant by “safe.” The grandpa said that there had been a van going around trying to kidnap the kids of the area and the adults were scared for the children’s safety.
I then asked one of the boys we had been playing with why he came out—wasn’t he scared? He replied, “My parents kicked me out, saying, ‘If they get you, they won’t take the important ones.’” That shocked me. I had known that there were troubles in the world and that people needed the Lord, but I didn’t know it was this bad or this close to where I live. The boy had said this like it was the most normal thing. He said it like it would never change; he had accepted it.
On the last day of that week, after the grandpa had called all of the houses he could, nearly 30 kids came out. We played with all of them and made connections with all of them. I got close to one in particular. Her name is Kaitlyn. She is going into the fifth grade and she accepted Jesus into her heart that day along with five other kids. My group gave our Bibles or devotional books to the kids. We decided we could get another one once we got back home, but the kids out on the reservation may not have any other way to get a Bible. My leader told us, as we were leaving, that he had not seen anyone connect with kids that fast before and that he was very proud and excited to see how much we had accomplished.
The theme of the trip was Awaken, which I thought was appropriate since that was what happened for a lot of people, including me. This trip showed me that there are problems close to us whether we choose to see them or not. As Christians it is our calling to show people Christ through our actions. I learned that showing compassion does more than what you’d think it would. One of the leaders told us that a girl had said that her two favorite weeks of the year are Christmas and when we come to play with them!
I was a lazy Christian. One who would look at people and say I am much better than them. I am going to heaven and they are not. I became the Pharisee in the temple standing near the tax collector. I would stay in my corner and say I was a Christian but not do anything about it, even though, not four hours away, there are kids who need Christ now! I cannot speak for anyone except myself, but I can say that no matter where you are there are people you can witness to, maybe not always through words but certainly through actions. Wherever you are, there is another person who needs God’s love.
Rachel Torgerson is sixteen years old and attends Liberty Lutheran Brethren Church in Fargo, North Dakota.