By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN While on a mission to bring joy to children at an Indian reservation in North Dakota, Delano students and adult leaders discovered that the joy flowed back into their own lives, as well.
“It was a chance to do something meaningful with my summer, instead of just working,” said Scott Russek, who graduated from Delano High School this year. “As it turned out, the people who were with our group got just as much out of it as the kids.”
“Whatever life hands you, joy can be found,” said Ellen Bauman, director of youth ministry at the Church of St. Peter and St. Joseph in Delano. “It was fun to be able to witness that.”
Bauman, along with five students, took the first trip to Spirit Lake Nation reservation, south of Devil’s Lake, July 5-10. For the second trip, July 19-24, six students and two adult leaders participated.
During the trips, the group assisted with a free camp for children ages 5 to 12, which had about 20 to 30 participants each week. It was organized by Father Moen, a priest from a small town called St. Michael on the reservation.
“I am so proud of our youth,” Bauman said. “The days were very long and, at times, challenging, but they moved through them with such selflessness. All of the love and joy they poured into the kids was returned to them a hundred fold. Truly, it was a great example of how life can be lived as a gift for others.”
The students welcomed each participant every morning as they arrived at camp, and encouraged the children to participate in crafts, music, and prayer.
“Songs and skits were used to help teach about sacred scripture and the richness of our faith,” Bauman said.
The students traveled with the children by bus each day to a nearby elementary school for lunch, and were available all day to talk, listen, and simply spend time with the children.
“It was a faith adventure, really,” Bauman said. “Inspired by the great works of Mother Teresa, our mission this summer was to bring prayer, love, and strength to the youth of Spirit Lake Nation reservation through the great gift of joy that comes from our friendship with Jesus Christ.”
Although many of the children at the reservation faced challenging circumstances, they were very positive and very open, said Delano High School student Tammi Polingo.
“I did not expect to get as attached to those kids as I did,” she said. “The kids were so great.”
Members of the Young Disciples of Fargo organized the structure of the camp, Bauman said. The Young Disciples are a group of Catholic young adults who travel from town to town to evangelize and catechize in rural communities and reservations.
The idea for the mission trip started with a parishioner of the Church of St. Peter and St. Joseph in Delano.
“I’ve been at the church 10 years, and have always wanted to do a mission trip, but nothing seemed like the right fit until this opportunity came along,” Bauman said. After talking with the parishioner about going to the reservation, however, Bauman knew this was a trip she needed to take.
Youth As Resources, a local leadership program, helped make the mission possible with a transportation grant for a rental vehicle.
“We wouldn’t have been able to go without them,” Bauman said.
Polingo said she hopes to help with the camp again next year.
“When they were talking about going next year, I said, ‘sign me up,’” she said. “My name better be the first one on that list.”
“If anybody has the opportunity to do something like that, take it,” Russek added.