How God can use your life story: Rising action
by Emily McFarlan Miller
I like “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. I like the just-released movie adaptation, too. I may even like Miller’s 2009 sort-of sequel “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” more. All three describe the elements of plot in a story; specifically, how God can use those elements in your life story. So does this sermon I gave in 2007 about the work I do with my nonprofit, Hope for the First Nations.
You can read more about this series here. And you can read the rest of it over the next two weeks here. Here’s the rising action.
II. Rising Action
The name of the nonprofit I work with is Hope for the First Nations, but eight years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school, we just called it “the Minnesota trip.” A few years before I arrived, Lutheran High School decided to sponsor a summer trip for students who wanted to get involved in mission work. The trip ended up being a week in Minnesota, leading a Vacation Bible School in a tiny one-room church called Mt. Calvary FULL GOSPEL Fellowship on the very edge of the reservation. The people there call themselves Anishinaabe, which means “the original people.” Other tribes called them “Ojibwe,” and the first white settlers to the area called them “Chippewa,” a gross mispronunciation of Ojibwe. We call them Pat and Melissa and Jen and Kim and Josh and Audrey and Mike.
Vacation Bible School started early in the morning with our team driving around the reservation in two 15-passenger vans. One went around the old housing projects, and one went around the newer projects, or — as we affectionately call them — the Old Proj and the New Proj. We honked at houses where we knew kids lived and the ones with six bikes in the yard where we suspected kids lived. We picked up kids we found literally sitting in the dirt on the side of the road with no adults in sight, and we brought them all back to the church.(We’ve learned better since then. Now we have permission slips.)
At VBS, we sang songs about hippopotamuses and butterflies and all the other creatures made by the Creator, who is known in the Anishinaabe language as Gichi Manidoo, the “great spirit” or “great mystery.” We told stories about the ogichida, or warriors, in the Bible and split up by age to talk about what we’d each taken away from those stories. (I always worked with the oldest girls, ages 10 to 12.) Then we’d split into groups to make crafts and do silly things in drama time and play games outside until it was time for lunch and then time to leave. Mostly, we just loved the kids.
Sometimes that’s easy. One year, after pretty much ignoring us all week, the ringleaders of the oldest girls, whose names were Ondrea and Rose, asked me to sit with them at lunch on the last day of VBS, which, as I understand it, is the ultimate sign of acceptance in 12-Year-Old Girl World. Then they clung to the bumper of the van when we tried to drop them off at their houses at the end of the day. Last year, one of my girls made me a sash that said “Miss VBS 2006.” I wore it ALL DAY. And then sometimes it’s hard to love these kids so much. It was hard to hear Rose talk about witnessing the shootings at the high school on the Red Lake Reservation. It was hard to find out one of my girls committed suicide just before Christmas a few years ago.
These kids, their community and their beautiful God-given culture all became a part of our hearts, and we kept coming back, summer after summer.
Read all posts in the “How God can use your life story” series here.