The Spirit of Truth has a lot to teach us when we open our minds and hearts. No matter what our motivations are, God is alive and hard at work.
God speaks to us through the stories of our lives and through the adventures we live through. As we move, we do the work of trying to pay attention to God and cooperate with God’s ways.
God’s ways are surprising, just, peaceful, loving, challenging, encouraging, uniting, hard-working, open, holy and adventurous. God’s ways are good.
This is the story of how 10 people from Chicago (8 of my students and another chaperone and his son) went a new way. They followed God (and me!) to a “foreign land” where the population is small and the skies are wide. In this foreign land there are few people, a lot of peace and quiet and a lot to learn and do. This is the the story of the Hales Franciscan High School Service-Learning-Rural-Immersion Trip to Northeast Iowa during Holy Week, April 2-6, 2012.
Day One: Community
Monday. We finally leave the high school around 9:30 a.m. Our principal prays a blessing over us before we go. Very quickly we’re forced to get comfortable with each other and be very close together. A 12-passenger van is not as big as it seems.
After about three hours, we finally cross over the Mississippi River and into Dubuque where our first stop in the foreign land of Iowa is to get a simple lunch. Then it’s time for our first real challenge. We must become a team. We must unite as community.
Our first great challenge was the Ropes Course at EWALU Bible Camp near Strawberry Point. We learned how to trust each other, communicate and be encouraging. We worked together as a team on low-ropes challenges. And we encouraged each other as we climbed up high, took a leap of faith, and flew through the woods on a zip line.
As a new team we went on to Gunder. Our base for the trip was The Gunder Inn, the bed and breakfast owned and operated by my parents, Kevin and Elsie Walsh.
My parents also own and operate The Irish Shanti , home of the world-famous one pound Gunderburger.
All students tried to eat an entire sandwich and the first one done was one of the skinniest students in the group.
After dinner we played outside. Students enjoyed football on the lawn, playing ghost in the graveyard in the real dark, under the star-lit sky, and a couple of them even tried driving a tractor!
Before bed we said our prayers, discussed the highs and lows of our day and painted candle holders to represent who we are and how we were to shine our gifts through our experience.
Day Two: Meeting the Stranger
Tuesday. After a delicious homemade breakfast served by our hosts, we gathered in a circle for morning prayer and reflection. We heard the word of God proclaimed:
“When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately on entering it,
you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone should say to you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ reply,
‘The Master has need of it
and will send it back here at once.'”
So they went off
and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street,
and they untied it.
Some of the bystanders said to them,
“What are you doing, untying the colt?”
They answered them just as Jesus had told them to,
and they permitted them to do it.
So they brought the colt to Jesus
and put their cloaks over it.
And he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut from the fields.
Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!” – Mark 11:1-10
We contemplated how we could respond if someone were to ask us “Why are you doing this?” upon entering their villages. We thought about what we bring and what “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” could really mean.
We then made a giant diagram and played a game to think about the challenges and experiences of people who live in rural areas. We thought we were ready to go and meet some strangers in villages and try to bring blessings to their lives.
Our first stop was a visit to Valley Community Schools, in the middle of the country between the towns of Elgin and Clermont. This is my alma mater. Now the entire school district- preschool through grade 12- is in one building. Many of the young children stared at my students. I was impressed with how they helped each other through the awkward experience by reminding each other that many people may have never seen black people there before.
Next, we went to Gilbertson’s Park in Elgin for a picnic lunch and a service project. A couple of us helped the Naturalist build a fence, which was a thrill. Most of us helped clean mud, sticks and rocks off a paved trail to improve accessability for people with disabilities. It was hard work on a beautiful day.
From there we went to the Shepherd of the Hills Food Shelf in St. Olaf. We had fun working together to stock the pantry’s shelves.
We were amazed to learn that all the food put on the shelves would be gone in about a week. For a county with a small population, that’s pretty fast!
Speaking of food, the next thing we did was learn where some of our food starts. First, we visited a fish hatchery tucked into the woods along the Turkey River. If you look closely at this picture you can see the fish swimming in the water.
Then we went to my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm to help with milking chores. For some of us, this was the highlight of the entire trip.
My uncle helped some students milk cows.
And my aunt helped them feed the calves.
One of the calves had been born the morning that we visited and was named after the youngest person in our group.
We also got to have the experiences of playing in a hay mow and jumping in a corn bin. Before leaving, we learned all about the expensive farm equipment and tried sitting in the machinery. As we were leaving I heard one of my students say that he was never again going to let people bad talk farmers, as they are some of the hardest working people he has ever met.
Afterward, we played basketball in the town park and had pizza and root beer floats before evening reflection and prayer. It was a great day!
Stay tuned to hear about the adventures in the Spirit over our next three days!
Julia – I often think about how often we use urban settings as a place for people to have a vastly different “eye opening” experience, so I am thrilled to see it working in reverse as well. What an amazing group of young men to just jump into life in NE Iowa, which had to be a little overwhelming and intimidating at first. Thanks for sharing your story thus far, and blessings on you and your students.
I like the way the reflections done integrate with the activities. How great. It took me a long while to get there. My co-workers from that area will love the connection of the Gunder burger they have been telling us about for years here at Wheaton Franciscan in Waterloo also.
Pam H. FSPA affiliate
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