- Not So Far Afield Vol 18 No 2 – March/April 2009
- Immersion Opportunity in Guatemala
- Our New Website
- Where are we going?
- Inauguration Week in Obamaland
- Generosity in Hard Financial Times
- Global Concerns Connection
- Why not a Marshall Plan for Reconstruction of Gaza?
- An Israeli in Palestine
- Social Networking Sites and Maryknoll
- News from the Knoll
- Workers, U.S. Consumers Pay Price of So-called 'Free' Trade
- All Pages
Truly out of nowhere came this opportunity to go out to Wyoming for three months and do "whatever." Last May or so, I got a first time ever fund-raiser letter. I had never heard of St. Stephen's Indian Mission before, but it came at a time when I was wondering where I might go "on mission" this year. St. Stephen's sounded like it had some good things going for it: Jesuit mission on the huge Wind River Indian Reservation, serving two different tribes, Shoshone and Arapaho, with three churches. So I called the number given in the letter and said I didn't have money to donate but I did have time. Father Ron Seminara, S.J. invited me to come out.
At the mission, I visited and brought communion to people three days a week and did a ten-minute religious education "We are called" mission program at the 10 and 5 o'clock Masses every Sunday. I helped shovel horse manure and snow, helped organize an Angel program that gave presents to kids whose parents were incarcerated, took Arapaho language lessons, attended a scripture discussion group, went to pow wows and a lot of funerals, worked with a family in religious education (with all four making First Confessions and Holy Communion) and was asked to plan and lead a day of reflection for St. Stephen's staff.
I had gone thinking I would learn a bit more about the Indian way of life and native spirituality, which I did, but I had really not considered the other part of the equation—the Pioneers. One woman-friend I met somehow "lost" her big ranch but still keeps sheep, cattle and two stud horses. She does all the work herself, including the spinning and weaving. She is hoping to get a big spread again and works at night at Wal-Mart to pay her bills. It makes me wonder what I do with my 24 hours.
I met some fantastic people—Indian and non-native. People allowed me into their homes and shared their stories with me. I saw firsthand the ravages of diabetes, and of rampant alcoholism devouring a people and actually removing a generation from participating in life. Children are left to be cared for by grandmothers and extended family. All the social ills of our "modern lifestyle" are evident on the reservation, but because of what I was doing, it was really focused and capitalized "in-your-face" agony. I was astounded by the racism and surprised by the intertribal antagonism.
On a much more positive note, I met truly concerned and dedicated leaders who are trying to improve identity, self-respect, and communication among all people. They are literally working day and night in the fields of education and pastoral life. It was a pleasure to share time and learn from them and thank them for sharing family, dinners, cat, etc. with me. Memories and prayers are one for me. It is as evident on the reservation, as it has been in other situations, that it is the women of the tribe, the barrio, the church, the hospital, wherever there is real hardship, who are bearing the brunt of the responsibility to hold up the bottom and try to hold things together. The reservation has many "valiant women."
I totally enjoyed working with families, some whose children were on the road to First Communion, some to Confirmation. By some standards, that road is long and not well laid out. My years of association with Maryknoll have made it easier to put words to my belief that we don't have to "teach God… He is already there." Our job is to help people find dignity and recognize God in themselves. One night, talking about the Stations of the Cross, the topic came up about who or what Jesus looks like. Thinking about where the historical Jesus lived and that He and his family were frequently in the sun, crossing deserts, hanging out near water, riding donkeys etc. with no mention of cataracts, peeling skin or freckles, it was decided that Jesus and the Holy Family looked much more like the native peoples here than most of the paintings and pictures in books. He looked more like them than like me. By night's end, we were wrapping up and talking about how we pray to God and where we find God. "God lives in me, and I'm INDIAN," was a response I will remember for a long, long time. AMEN
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