By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN St. Paul Lutheran Church may have a building in Lester Prairie, but that doesn’t mean its outreach stops there.
In June, 21 youth and leaders set off for a week at the former KI Sawyer Air Force Base in Gwinn, MI, where they shared the word of God with children who face difficult circumstances.
“It’s the same place we went last year. We chose to go back so we could establish a relationship with the people,” said Jenna Countryman, director of Christian education at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
KI Sawyer Air Force Base closed in 1995, and is now a place for civilians to find affordable housing.
The area, which is situated in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is poverty stricken, and children often have challenging family situations.
“Many of the kids who went on the mission trip were never exposed to the level of heartache the kids on the base are exposed to every day. Our kids did a very good job showing the love and compassion of Christ to those kids,” said Jenna’s husband, Brad Countryman, who chaperoned the trip.
Months before the trip, St. Paul youth prepared vacation Bible school (VBS) lessons, games, and crafts.
“They created the curriculum from scratch,” Jenna said.
Five Bible themes were chosen one for each day including finding Moses in the river, leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Jesus tempted by the devil, David and Goliath, and Jesus’ resurrection.
Children were given large white sheets of paper to use as “comic strips,” so they could draw the story in sections.
Lester Prairie High School sophomore Caleb Sebora said the kids especially liked a game called “sprout ball,” as well as tye-dying shirts.
“I thought it was cool to hear the kids’ stories,” Sebora said. “They have such a different lifestyle.”
Junior Courtney Scoblic also enjoyed the experience.
“A lot of my friends had done it last year and thought it was awesome, so I wanted to go,” she said.
Scoblic said one of the best parts was seeing the reactions of the children, who ranged from toddlers to high school age.
“They were all sweet kids,” she said.
St. Paul youth served the participants supper each night, and parents were welcome to join.
One day, the group rented a school bus, and traveled to a park with a huge playground that overlooks Lake Superior. After playtime, they were treated to pizza and ice cream.
“They loved it,” Jenna said. “They don’t normally get to do those things.”
When they weren’t teaching VBS, Lester Prairie youth had the opportunity to prepare for lessons, play team-building games, climb Sugarloaf Mountain, and take a dip in Lake Superior.
Their meals and lodging were provided by the Page Center, about 15 minutes from the former Air Force base.
While there, they met Don and Susie Van Ryn, a Christian couple whose daughter, Laura, was killed in a car accident in 2006, and was mistakenly identified as another girl in the crash. The Van Ryn family wrote a book about their journey, titled “Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope.”
“They’re such a neat couple, and it was a blessing for students to hear their story,” Jenna said.
Throughout the trip, Lester Prairie youth focused on showing VBS participants the love of Christ and giving them hope for the future.
“As we were cleaning up on the last day, we found a picture one of the kids drew of his house,” Jenna said. “There were dark clouds in the sky, the windows were broken, and the front door was boarded up. It was a sad, but unfortunately true reality of the world they live in. We continue to pray that God would keep them safe and cared for throughout the year and that they will know God’s love for them.”
St. Paul Lutheran Church is already making plans for next year’s trip, in hopes of continuing to build a relationship the families in Gwinn, MI.
To learn more, contact St. Paul Lutheran Church, 124 Maple St. N in Lester Prairie, at (320) 395-2573.