Of the many “minor” holidays we celebrate each year, I have always had a soft spot for Earth Day. I view it as a yearly reminder to celebrate the incredible gift of creation and to reflect on my role as a steward of that creation. In that spirit, our middle and high school youth groups decided to spend the month of April learning to become better stewards of our planet by focusing on issues related to climate change and sustainability. For me personally, climate change has always been a daunting topic to address--how do you even begin to approach a problem so massive, so urgent, and with such potentially devastating consequences for humanity and for all of creation? And furthermore, how do you approach this topic with young people who have inherited a planet on the brink of devastation and who have grown up acutely aware of the reality that they will likely be the ones forced to solve this problem that was not of their making?
Rather than face the behemoth of discussing climate change as a whole, we opted to begin by talking about simple ways that we as individuals can live more intentional and sustainable lives. Our youth offered ideas ranging from the familiar (like using less water and recycling whenever possible) to the creative (such as researching microorganisms that could potentially digest plastic or other materials) to the… slightly out of the box (including an impressively detailed plan involving windmills, space lasers, and colonizing the Moon--the creativity of middle schoolers truly knows no bounds!). To put our ideas about sustainable living into practice, we collected old t-shirts that were destined for the landfill and converted them into reusable shopping bags that could replace single-use plastic bags. As we emphasized throughout our month of exploring climate change and sustainability, even the smallest efforts to be more intentional and sustainable in our daily lives can add up to big changes.
Ultimately, solving a problem as immense and multifaceted as climate change will require a lot more than making reusable bags out of old t-shirts. It will require a lot more than recycling, using less water and electricity, and even creating space lasers and Moon colonies. In the end, our efforts to live more sustainably as individuals can only work if we also collectively put pressure on the governments and corporations who truly have the power to help reverse the effects of climate change on a global scale. But if there is one thing I took away from this month’s discussions with our middle and high school students, it is that their generation possesses everything we need in the fight against climate change: an awareness of the issues we face and the scope of the problem, an endless amount of creativity and unique ideas, and perhaps most importantly, a genuine optimism and belief that this problem, immense though it may be, is not insurmountable. I have no doubt that our youth are ready to fight for the health and longevity of their planet, and I can only hope that the rest of us are prepared to follow their lead.
Alli Stubbs is our interim Director of Christian Formation for Youth. Read more
Image of earth from space: By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans. Link 1; (image link); see also. Public Domain, Wikimedia Link
Many of you have asked me, "How was the mission trip?” You might have gotten a response along the lines of “it was great!” or “our youth are amazing!” or “it was one of the best I’ve ever been on.” While all true, those answers fall short.
How do you summarize a week of spiritual growth, laughter, hope, challenges, systematic oppression, culture shock, hard work, little sleep, and intangible moments of grace? As much as I love to talk, I am at a loss for words to describe the transformational experience of spending a week at the Rosebud Episcopal Mission (REM).
Every single day we were stretched outside our comfort zones and lived by the REM motto Semper Gumby (always flexible). Each day we built stronger relationships with members of our group. We laughed and played and at night we tried to get some sleep despite the symphony of snoring. Most importantly, every day God was made known to us.
You will get to hear more of these stories from our youth at a Special Summer Forum August 11th at 11:15am. Until then, I’ll try to give you a better answer to “how was the mission trip” by using the same questions that our kids will be answering when they share their stories with you at the Forum.
What is something you did (work or fun) while on the Mission Trip?
Many of us worked at the wood barn helping to split freshly cut trees for the Fire Wood for the Elders program. Yes, FRESHLY CUT trees! Trees so fresh, when you tapped the splitter into them, water came out. Many elders have wood burning stoves to heat their homes but are not physically able to cut the wood they need for the long winter, they rely on their relatives for the wood. REM gives wood away to those who need it during the cold South Dakota winter. Walking down to the wood barn that first day, I felt that I was walking on holy ground. It is a sacred act to chop wood for strangers so they might have warmth and hope in the midst of a bleak winter. Our youth worked so hard and they did so from a place of love and faith. It was truly inspiring to watch.
What is one thing that you learned?
Every day we were at Rosebud, we had the opportunity to invite someone from the community to speak to us and teach us about the culture or life on the Rez. We learned about beading, the Lakota language, and games. We stumbled our way through traditional dances. Made fry bread and Indian Tacos and learned the history of the Reservations, food rations, and the oppression that the Lakota people live with every day. With all of that, what I learned was the capacity for compassion and understanding that our youth have for their neighbor. At times, their eagerness to learn, to listen, and to understand took my breath away. I am humbled to work with these teens and feel blessed to be their partner in ministry.
How did you see God?
For those of you who know me well, you know that I am NOT a morning person. I am known for being rather grumpy until that second cup of coffee kicks in. On one of these extra grumpy mornings, we headed up to the little chapel on top of the hill for Morning Watch. We already had a Semper Gumby moment of needing to be flexible and change plans for the day. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for the walk or the singing or really anything that wasn’t me going back to bed. Once we settled into the pews, Robbie Carlson the 1st Cong. Greeley youth leader, asked for song requests. We sang a few familiar tunes and ended with a youth ministry classic “Sanctuary.”
Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living,
sanctuary for you.
As we sang, I could feel the Holy Spirit descend upon us. It moved me to tears. As the song ended we sat together in the stillness--as though God was saying in the midst of the busy week "Be still, and know that I AM God."
What are you taking home with you? How has the Mission Trip impacted your life?
On the Rez, hope is tangible and it looks like chopped wood, split by strangers. Every group who comes to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission spends time splitting wood at the wood barn. Every group takes home a piece of wood that they split so that they can tell the story of Hope on the Rosebud Reservation. This is what I take home with me. I bring home the hope that people will know they are cared for because their homes will be warm this winter. I have brought home the hope of young people who are living out their faith and answering God’s call to love your neighbor as yourself. It is easy to lose hope when you are listening to the news, but I have seen hope. It is a piece of firewood, it is a van full of teenagers driving to a mission trip. Hope is the people of God living out their faith, helping a neighbor in need, loving God and one another. Hope is alive.
So, how was the mission trip? It was great. Our youth are amazing. This was one of the best mission trips I have ever been on.
Grace & Peace,