Nineteen years ago this June, Lynn Wilson and a bunch of high school girls headed up to the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. It began as a trip to lead a Vacation Bible School for the children in Pine Point, a community on the reservation, in a small church in Ponsford. That trip became the Minnesota Trip, which later morphed into a nonprofit organization known as Hope for the First Nations, or HFtFN.
This year Hope Church in Springfield, Illinois, returned with a team to Pine Point. Again small but mighty, the team put on a Hope Camp for the children of Pine Point. The team consisted of Marcia Matich (who had been part of that first group of high school girls), Beth Funk (another returning team member), Oriah Matich, Nicole Caruso, Renay Jones (a Lincoln Christian University grad), Claire Zara, HFtFN’s current president Emily Miller (another former team member) and Emily’s husband Joel Miller.
Lynn’s vision for the trip, and what became the mission of Hope for the First Nations, was to partner with the people of the White Earth Reservation to build unity through relationships and share the love of Christ in culturally relevant ways. This year we did that in very special ways, as several of us who returned were returning after as many as 18 years. The children with whom we had played Red Rover and taught the Jesus Cheer back then are now the parents of our campers!
As a team, we had several goals. We felt strongly that God would have us do the camp this year, despite our small numbers. Knowing that we can have as many as 75 campers in some years, doing a camp with so few leaders seemed not only daunting, but also dangerous. We prayed, knowing that God often provides only as many campers as the camp can handle. Our second goal was to find a partner church in the area that would be willing to partner with HFtFN in doing the Pine Point Camp on a yearly basis and build relationships.
Before the trip began I connected by phone with Christian Fellowship Church in Detroit Lakes, about 30 minutes away. The church’s missions director, Kim Ramsey, told me they had actually had a family leave and go to another church on the reservation in an effort to serve the Native Ojibwe population in Pine Point. In addition, she had been approached by three different people during the year who asked that their church seek ways to serve those on the White Earth Reservation. Their mission board had been praying for an opportunity that would allow them to serve the local Native population.
Our third goal was to start assessing Hope’s partnership with HFtFN to determine alignment with Hope’s strategic outreach vision.
As usual, God came through in big ways the week of camp. We had no more than 30 campers (the number that God had put in my head to buy supplies for). In addition, our original six volunteers were joined by Emily and Joel, and then God began raising up volunteers in the Pine Point community on the reservation. Several past campers came to serve every day, as well as a family from Ponsford that jumped in and handled all the food preparations. What a great blessing it was to serve beside young adults who were once campers!
The first day of camp, we were visited by the leadership of Christian Fellowship Church. They served alongside us all day, making pipe cleaner animals and sharing the story of creation. Their senior pastor, Tim Rice, remarked as they left, “I don’t know how you found us, but I’m glad you did.”
As part of our assessment process, it is clear to me that HFtFN and Hope Church have similar goals as we approach missions. HFtFN seeks to offer love, relationship and the good news of Jesus in practical and clear ways, while giving partner churches opportunities to do national mission trips that enrich the lives of volunteers. Hope Church’s desire is to offer love, relationship and the good news of Jesus in practical and clear ways also.
Of all the little faces you’ll see in these pictures, nearly half (12 campers) memorized all of our verses for the week — verses like Jeremiah 29:11-13:
“God has good plans for me. He plans to give me hope and a good future. If I ask Him for help, He will listen to me.”
We gave each camper a copy of the Gospel on the last day of camp in three different age- and culturally-appropriate versions. At our community event on Friday night, we laid out extra Gospel copies and Bibles to be given away. All six of the Bibles disappeared into the hands of our oldest campers over the course of the evening. They played dodgeball, they ate popcorn, they drank soda, they raised a ruckus — and they took Bibles. Praise Him!
God went before us, and it was a great privilege to bring love and hope to these beautiful people. As I shared with the congregation at Detroit Lakes on Sunday, I could barely speak for the emotion of how great God’s love for them is. I am so thankful that He brings us in on the action and allows us to be his hands and feet.