In July, I had the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to Arizona. Twenty-five people from ages 12 to 69 traveled to Show Low Arizona to the American Indian Christian Mission (AICM) to help in some upkeep projects and to do vacation bible school for the kids on the reservation (on the Res.). In essence, AICM is a Christian boarding school for Native American children. The staff and students live on site in homes or dorms manned by house parents.
Our trip started in a small town called Kernersville, North Carolina and with a two hour drive to the airport in Raleigh, NC. We arrived in plenty of time to check-in and catch our flight. After an hour and a half delay, the flight to Arizona and a three and a half hour bus ride we finally arrived at our destination at 11:30 local time or 2:30 am NC time. We had a quick meeting and then to our dorm rooms for sleep. The next morning most of us woke up between 4 am and 5 am because our bodies did not realize that we had changed time zones.
On Sunday, we had a brief service and used the rest of the day to get used to our surroundings, to plan work schedules and to recover from the flight.
On Monday, some of us started work at 6:30 while others started around 8:00. About half of us worked to replace part of a roof on the gymnasium while the rest spent their days sorting locks and keys, painting, sanding and staining decks or cataloging library books. Each day started pretty much the same.
My particular group worked to replace a section of the roof on the gymnasium. It was over 100 feet long and over 30 feet wide. Since it was the upper roof, it was over 25 feet above the ground. We had to remove two layers of shingles and replace them with a metal roof. God blessed us with no rain and a light breeze. We were able to complete the roof on the 4th day right before we left to go to the Res. Some of us actually thought that this was the reason that we were on the trip. It turned out to be something to keep our hands busy while God was working on us.
Each afternoon we spent time on the Res. We would all load up on a blue bus and travel through select neighborhoods on the Res with the bus periodically blowing its horn. Depending on the area, we would have anywhere from 30 to 50 kids. We would present a Bible lesson, sing songs, have snacks and play games.
I was really amazed that parents would let their children, some as small as 3 or 4, get on the bus with complete strangers. But, the ministry has such a great reputation with the Apache nation that they have complete trust that their kids would be safer than just hanging around the neighborhood. The kids were so excited to be greeted on the bus. The sparkling eyes and shy smiles of their innocence were so touching. Most were in need of hope and knowing that someone cared. They knew that while they were with us they were safe.
The living conditions varied among the neighborhoods. Some places were well kept and relatively nice. Most were not, the difference between hope and no hope. On the Res, unemployment runs between 80-90% and alcoholism is rampant. Gangs are everywhere.
We all sang silly little Sunday school songs, did crafts, blew bubbles, jumped rope, and played basketball. The kids thought it was hilarious to see people my age (almost 60) jumping rope along with them or trying to work a hula hoop. The kids just latched on to us like they had known us all of their lives. It wasn’t hard to leave a piece of my heart when we left the Res.
We also got to see the awesome sights of God’s creation. The scrub trees and cactus may not be the most beautiful plants individually, but to stand on the top of a 35 foot building or on a mountain top the view is utterly unbelievable.
I was excited about coming home because I really missed my wife and little girls, but I feel like I’m leaving a little piece of my heart in Arizona. It’s not a place where I’m inclined to live but I can see that there is a need. God took the time to begin a change in me and how I look at life in my old age. Maybe it’s because I need to change how I look at my job or maybe how I look at other people.
I’ve made some new friends and got to learn more about people that I already knew. I do have a new appreciation for the blessings that I have received. If you want or need to change your perspective on life I strongly urge you to step out of your comfort zone and get involved. Your life may be turned upside down.
***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo.