I've been meaning to put this on the blog for some time now. We are heading into spring break teams soon and summer will be just around the corner, so now may be as good a time as any to take a look at this.
Mike Shaw (teaching the youth at Hope Fellowship Bible Study, in the red shirt, in the photo above) is enrolled Mohican of the Rockbridge Band in Wisconsin. This is the same people group that Jonathan Edwards worked with if I'm not mistaken. Mike was an intern with us for two summers and finished his degree in Community/Economic Development last spring.
Mike performed a thorough examination of Sacred Road's summer teams and their effectiveness in helping us reach our long term goals. He interviewed many people from the community, team members, team leaders, and summer interns in his efforts to gather accurate information and data. The whole project took about 12 weeks.
We are also very excited that Mike is currently raising financial support to join our team for one year, maybe longer! He will be working with Chuck, Veronica, and the other Associate Staff with youth ministry, discipleship, after school tutoring, hosting short term teams, and doing research on economic development possibilities for White Swan. Please pray for him as he prepares to come minister with us.
I think you will find this very interesting.
The Impact of Short-term Missions on the Yakama People
Michael A. Shaw
Summary of Changes to the Research Design
In order to better love the Yakama people through their service to them, the founders of Sacred Road, along with its board, would like to be sure that the current foundational ministries of the organization i.e. the current short-term missions program, are solid, are rooted in the best practices for the interventions, and are set up to maximize benefit and minimize harm.
To achieve this end the question was asked: What impacts, positive and negative, do week-long short-term mission teams have on the native residents of the reservation; and what improvements can be made to the current short-term team ministry to increase the positive impacts of the program. In order to answer this question, data was gathered through interviews, both formal and informal, as well as observations, as a participant and as an outsider from May until August 2007. The research was designed to capture the pure thoughts and voice of the community without any outside preconceptions or bias. The attempt was made to listen and to learn from community members’ stories, and to hear their true voice and opinion on the subject without affecting their response or encouraging reactivity. Interviews were conducted in an open manner, with few pointed questions. Instead, the respondent was encouraged to lead discussion about the topic, with the intent of gathering their true opinion on the matter, and being sensitive to cultural norms of being slow to speak and quick to listen. Common questions asked informants can be found in Appendices 1-3.
Summary of Results and Analysis
The following is an abbreviated summary of the most relevant information collected through observations, participant observations, and interviews, both formal and informal. The information relayed below provides direct quotes or observations and the context with which they were gathered. The quotes and observations to follow do not represent the summation of all information gathered on a topic, but rather the most representative of the responses as a whole.
While the informants’ identities are kept confidential for ethical and academic reasons, it should be noted that the individuals are more than their descriptions or their value as data points; they are Christ’s image bearers with real lives and real stories and should be treated as such.
“I could trust them, I knew I could trust them…and they’ve been my best friends ever since.”
The Granberry family, which has called the reservation their home since 2003, has used a permanent presence there to build trust and gain the respect of many of their native neighbors. At least two women, who are White Swan residents, and who regularly attend Sacred Road’s Hope Fellowship Bible Study have come to refer to Chris as their Ya-Ya, meaning brother, and Mary as their Na-Na, meaning sister. Similarly, multiple members in the community are open about the things that Chris and Mary have done for them. One community member mentioned the simple ways that they give him rides when he cannot find them or money when he is in need. Another White Swan resident points to less tangible ways that they help her. She pointed to the counsel she receives from them when she said with a smile, “Now I have someone I can go to if I need someone to talk to. I didn’t have this before.” She continued later, “I could trust them, I knew I could trust them…and they’ve been my best friends ever since.” The Granberrys have built, and continue to build, trust in the community by their physical and relational closeness to the community, made obvious in their availability and support.
In addition to verbal affirmation, the community’s acceptance and welcome of Chris and Mary is also made clear by their actions. An elderly White Swan resident invited Chris and his family to attend him and his wife’s anniversary party. Sacred Road had painted his house the previous summer, and Chris had continued contact with him throughout that time. Similarly, the community’s trust was evident by the Granberrys’ continued invitation to, and welcome at, the annual Huckleberry Feast, and other feasts, at the Toppenish Creek Longhouse in White Swan. Further trust is obvious by Chris’ invitation to use the Longhouse for Hope Fellowship to meet on Tuesday nights. Chris and Mary are building a strong report for Sacred Road by their continued presence and involvement in the community.
“Why? What are they getting from doing this?”
According to Bryant L. Myers, author of Walking with the Poor, good transformational development “provokes questions to which the good news of Jesus Christ is the answer” (Myers 210). Observers of and participants in Sacred Road’s activities and programs are asking these questions.
“Are you guys getting community service or school credit or something?” was a frequent inquiry to short-term team members while painting the tribe’s Camp Chaparral. From questions like these it was clear that at least two counselors at the camp had seen the work that was being done and were unsure of the motive behind it. Sacred Road’s acts of love and service are being noticed by the community, but even more importantly, are raising questions as to who or what is ultimately behind it. “Why? What are they getting from doing this?” one native woman asked her friend as her house was getting a new roof. The work Sacred Road is doing is not just being seen, but processed. At the Totus Park housing project in White Swan, a short-term team’s energy and excitement at Sacred Road’s Kids’ Club brought one teenage on-looker to comment, “I’ve never seen anyone so kid crazy!” The young man was noticeably confused at the love the team had for the children of one of the reservation’s most broken neighborhoods.
“I can see hope… not just hope, but restoration happening.”
Native Christians are seeing a change in the White Swan community. One Native pastor who grew up on the reservation and currently lives in the nearby town of Toppenish stated, “I’ve seen great changes in the adults that attend (Bible study)... I’ve noticed a spiritual growth that is spilling over into the young people.” A young native woman who grew up in Totus Park has noticed similar change. She said, “I’ve seen tremendous spiritual growth in people’s lives. In the community I can see a change. I can see hope…not just hope, but restoration happening.” Both informants also mentioned the names of specific community members who have exhibited change. Both people they mentioned regularly attend Sacred Road’s programs and frequently interact with Sacred Road staff in less formal settings.
“They’re trying to bring people together; it’s a success in itself”
Another result of Sacred Road’s involvement in the community has been its achievement of bringing people together, not just people from all over the country, but neighbors from around the White Swan community. “They get to meet new people in White Swan and make new friends,” said a mother of four children who regularly attend Kids’ Club at Totus Park. Another man, who works around the corner from Totus Park, noticed that same thing. “You are bringing all the children together as one,” he commented.
An elderly Harrah resident noted a similar trend among the adults as well. “I’ve met new people. (Sacred Road) is bringing this community together. I met the lady down the road,” she said as she motioned with her hand. Others mentioned the same trend. “I’ve got to know friends,” said a young Brownstown woman about Bible study. She said that the informal family environment Bible study fosters is the main reason for this. The caretaker of the Toppenish Creek Longhouse also praised Sacred Road for its efforts: “They’re trying to bring people together; it’s a success in itself,” he stated.
Equally noticeable is the excitement teams create in the community. Teams come in from all over the country, some as near as the Tri-Cities in Washington and some as far away as central Florida. The distance they travel and the personalities they bring with them are appreciated. “They bring people from Kansas, Alabama, Tri-Cities, Seattle…I love meeting new people,” said a mother at Totus Park. Similarly, one man who stated that he likes meeting the different people that come in went out of his way on several occasions to make them feel welcome. “You have friends here; you have a home to come back to,” he told one team. Sacred Road’s activities encourage interaction between the teams that come and local residents in both formal and informal settings. Not only do community members observe the work being done on the work sites or at Kids’ Club, they regularly participate. Similarly, several community members are regulars at team meals at Harrah Community Church, and many spend time with the teams during their off day.
“We are all learning”
Like many Yakama people have said, they truly are a learning people. Many community members believe that they have something to learn from the teams that come in, but more have voiced their belief that they have much to teach and to share, as well. “We can show each other new things; we can share,” said one man to an incoming team. “We are all learning, me, Chris and Mary, (and our kids),” said another women. Community members see interactions with Sacred Road personnel as opportunities not just to learn, but to share and to teach.
“We want a relationship…We’re coming back”
Long-term relationships are being built as a result of short-term trips. A year before Sacred Road Ministries officially started, a woman from California came to White Swan on a short-term mission trip. Her heart broke for a young boy at Totus Park and she promised him that she would come back with her whole family. Five years later, under Sacred Road, she returned to White Swan with her family and was able to introduce them to the boy she had been praying for everyday since she left. Her family was able to take the boy and his grandmother out to dinner, and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. “You’re coming back next year, right?” he asked her before she left. She is planning on returning to keep up the relationship in person.
“(An elder in the tribe) had us for breakfast, he spoke at orientation, he spoke at dinner, he comes to Kansas City, he comes to our homes, we go back to White Swan, he has us for dinner,” said the pastor of a church from suburban Kansas City as he explained the relationship his church has with an elder from White Swan. His church, which brings a team out every summer, has some church members who have traveled to White Swan annually for over 5 years. “We want a relationship,” stated the pastor, “We’re coming back.” Moreover, these relationships aren’t just one-sided. The native elder who traveled to Kansas City has expressed a desire to form friendships between Kansas City and White Swan, and recognizes the benefit of, as he says, “forging new alliances.”
When a high school student from nearby Tri-Cities, WA, was asked why he regularly keeps returning to White Swan to help out with Hope Fellowship he replied, “Now I have relationships.” He knows the children at Bible Study and they know him. He originally came with his church as part of a short-term team, and now commutes from the Tri-Cities on a weekly basis with a van full of other volunteers from that church.
Aside from the relationships that are being built and sustained, are the inquires of community members, mainly children, about previous Sacred Road staff or team members that have not returned regularly, or ever. While further research into the reasoning and feelings behind these questions was not done, the data collected regarding them should be taken into account. One man, when speaking about outgoing teams stated, “They can hurt people when they leave, (local kids) could feel lonesome.” He would add later, however, that “kids (in the community) keep coming back.”
“When they get older they teach their own family members…”
Members of the White Swan community, and residents of the Yakama Reservation as a whole, have recognized the beginning of a cycle where the youth will some day teach their children about what they have learned. “Planting seeds are important,” stated one church leader and third generation Christian from Toppenish. He can see a cycle beginning, as can another native man from White Swan: “When they get older they teach their own family members love, care, happiness.” While not everyone points directly to the gospel as to what is being passed down, community members agree that what is being learned is beneficial, and hope that one day it will be carried on.
“It shows that there is a different life than drugs and alcohol”
While the gospel is being preached at both Kids’ Club and Hope Fellowship, not all participants and observers recognize it. To most, Kids’ Club and the Bible studies at Hope Fellowship are simply teaching both children and adults a welcomed moral code or as some say, “a better way.” “It shows that there is a different life than drugs and alcohol,” said one native elder. “Bible studies maybe help people make better decisions,” decided another elder in the Longhouse. One man who regularly helps out at Kids’ Club said, “They help (the kids) know the difference between right and wrong.” While watching her children play at Totus Park, a mother stated, “(Sacred Road) teaches them faith, love, and respect,” she went on to say, “They learn to share, that’s one of the biggest things.” To all, these teachings of better behavior seem to be sufficient in legitimizing Sacred Road’s presence in their community.
Some community members have realized that Sacred Road teaches more than good morals, but the message of hope found through Jesus in the Bible. “It brought Jesus back into my life,” beamed one Hope Fellowship participant, “(Bible study) helped make my spirit soar on eagles’ wings.” Absent from all responses were the terms “Christianity,” “religion,” or other words and phrases common to western Christian vernacular, and as a result makes western ways of gauging spiritual maturity difficult.
“God is using Chris and Mary, and me also”
Many in the community are taking ownership in what is being done. “(Sacred Road) opened my eyes to White Swan and the situation there,” explained an elderly reservation resident, “I need to reach out more to my neighbors.” Several other people have felt the desire to reach out, as well. One man helps out regularly with the Totus Park Kids’ Club to the extent that some of the kids in White Swan have referred to him as “the Church guy”- a title usually given only to Chris. Similarly, a Totus Park resident and parent has occasionally run her own Kids’ Club in Sacred Road’s absence.
Another regular participant in Sacred Road’s programs, after observing the activities, pointed out that he wished he could do more for the older kids in the community. He expressed a desire to bring in a group to work with them. Earlier, the same man expressed a similar desire to provide transportation for the elderly in the White Swan area. Another elder in the tribe mentioned the large number of natives in jail and his wish that they could be reached out to. Other participants help by cleaning up before and after Sacred Road activities, or by providing food or gifts to other participants or team members.
Many community members use the pronoun “we” when referring to Sacred Road and the changes they are seeking to make. This phrasing has also been used to describe who is doing the teaching and who is doing the learning.
“We are a prayerful people”
As many in the community have explained, the Yakama people are a spiritual people. Similarly, many recognize the need for prayer and the power that prayer has. “We are a prayerful people. People like you are coming and praying,” said one leader of the general council. She recognized the importance of prayer and the impact it was having on her people. When asked in what ways the church could better be helping the situation on the reservation, another elder replied, “Keep praying, that is the biggest way.” Similarly, a Totus Park resident and parent, after being injured in a car wreck thanked one Sacred Road staff member for their prayers: “Thank you. I believe that that is what got me through.” The community of White Swan recognizes the prayers of Sacred Road on their behalf, and the power of those prayers.
“The meal is a good source of nourishment for the body and for the soul”
A home-cooked meal, usually cooked by Mary Granberry or Sacred Road’s summer interns if available, is served at both Hope Fellowship Bible Study and at Harrah Community Church throughout the week. Short-term team members and people from the community eat side-by side in these settings and can interact in an informal, family style atmosphere. “Traditionally you get food,” said one Bible study member about native gatherings. She grew up learning traditional ways. “It’s more like family,” she said of the meal as part of Hope Fellowship. Another traditional Yakama woman, and regular participant in Sacred Road activities explained, “The meal is a good source of nourishment for the body and for the soul.” Several community members come to Hope Fellowship and stay only for the meal, and many community members take left over food with them when they leave for themselves and for their families.
“I really believe in the way it makes the children happy”
Sacred Road’s Kids’ Club not only gives children in Totus Park something to do, but it gives them a reason to be cheerful. “You’re making them have a smile,” said a native man and regular Kids’ Club volunteer. He saw this as an achievement in the face of so much brokenness and hardship. Another White Swan resident and mother explained, “Kids are experiencing safety, relaxing, enjoying themselves away from home.” She too, knew of the pain the kids felt at home and the escape that they acquired through Kids’ Club. “I really believe in the way it makes the children happy,” added one Totus Park mother, who frequently accompanies her kids to the Club. Adults are noticing the joy that Sacred Road brings the youth through Kids’ Club.
Young participants in Kids’ Club also express their pleasure in Sacred Road’s activities. Chris and Mary Granberry, and other Sacred Road staff, are continually inquired from children about when the next Kids’ Club with take place. One native man who regularly helps out, explains that many times children ask him, “where are the church people at?” with the anticipation of the next Kids’ Club. At the Harrah Elementary School Pow-Wow, in late spring and before the regular schedule of bi-weekly Kids’ Clubs, one Totus Park boy told an intern, “You’re the church people, I missed you.” Kids’ Club attracts children from Totus Park and the surrounding community because it generates a fun atmosphere that is noticed by all.
“I am amazed at the open hearts of the people, especially the young people.”
Some mission organizations put age minimums on those who can participate on short-term trips, due to the physical and emotional stress that is involved in certain contexts. Sacred Road has had, on several occasions, team members as young as elementary school age, and regularly houses high school and college age teams. The community notices and appreciates the work and attitudes of Sacred Roads’ youngest team members. “I am amazed at the open hearts of the people, especially the young people,” said one native elder who is saddening by the attitudes and actions of native youth on the reservation, including his own family members.
A native Christian and former minister sees young team members as a necessity: “There is a need for the youth teams to come into the area, these children (here) need help. That is how they are helping and who they are helping.” Another native man also sees the importance of children being a part of teams when he described Sacred Road’s work as “kids taking care of the kids.” The attitudes of the young team members have been recognized by, and encouraging to, the local community.
While Sacred Road’s positive impact on the White Swan community is acknowledged and welcomed by the community, most of this recognition is attributed to the Granberry family, and not to Sacred Road’s short-term team program. This is partly do to the context in which Sacred Road operates. The Yakama people are very much one tribe and one family, and the team members and guests that come on to the reservation through Sacred Road, in a similar manner, are viewed as members of Chris and Mary Granberry’s family. As a result, praise for short-term teams is most likely present in the context of their culture, but not at first glance.
Additionally, no community member I talked to had regrets or contempt for the short-term missions program, its members, or its work in the community. On the contrary, all informants spoke well of the program and what it was doing. No community member saw the short-term program as harmful or threatening to the future of the community, or as an annoyance in the present. While these opinions could have been present, but not voiced, the fact that several community members explicitly welcome the teams further legitimizes the organization’s utilization of such an intervention.
Members of Sacred Road Ministries and the community in which it serves realize that the long-term impact of many of Sacred Road’s programs will take many years to realize. One community member thought it would take Chris and Mary eight years to even be accepted and welcomed as a part of the community. On multiple occasions informants acknowledged that impact will take time to measure in preface to their remarks about the programs’ effects. Moreover, these comments were also spoken with a tone of anticipation and hope that the impact would be positive, and that they would recognize the resulting changes during their lifetime.
Children (and adults) come to Kids’ Club because, first and foremost, they enjoy it. Many respondents relayed that they could trust Sacred Road with the children and that the children also felt safe. Chris and Mary Granberry have sought out safety and fun as a platform to preach the gospel, and this is occurring, even if the community recognizes the first two, and not the third.
The local cultural context and worldview greatly affected the outcome of this research. To more than a few community members Sacred Road was confused with, or intentionally connected to, other churches and organizations that send teams to the White Swan area. The vernacular for such a team in the community is “church group.” Similarly, Christianity was consistently put under the banner of “religion” or “way,” and a significant amount of respondents saw no difference between the teachings of Sacred Road and other local religions or practices. Both of these assumptions were kept in mind during the analysis process. Moreover, the idea of the Holy Spirit as ultimate transformer of hearts, and Jesus as the ultimate judge was taken into account. To attempt to know someone’s heart or to declare them “so close” would be to, as one community member explained, “do what (the church) has (inappropriately) been doing for years.”
One Yakama elder explains Sacred Road’s presence on the reservation as “a second invasion, a rediscovering of America.” His dream is Sacred Road’s: to see the church appropriately and compassionately minister to Native America in areas it has failed in the past. While the full impact of Sacred Road’s short-term missions program will take years, and possibly generations to understand, it is immediately successful and impactful because of the participants’ relationship and connection with Chris and Mary Granberry as members of the White Swan community, the participants’ attitudes upon arrival and throughout their tenure, the participants’ knowledge of the community and desire to listen and learn from them, and finally, the participants’ commitment to ongoing relationships with the community and the organization.
Short-term teams are beneficial to the community because they come to serve as an extension of Sacred Road. While this fact is not always conscious or intentional, it is true. Chris and Mary Granberry’s residency on the Yakama Indian Reservation, and regular presence in White Swan, is Sacred Road’s most valuable asset and tool for development in the White Swan community. All other interventions and programs, including the facilitation of short-term teams, are rooted in the family’s physical presence in the community and the strength of their relationships with community members. Therefore, it is important that short-term teams in the Yakama context come to work alongside and under Chris and Mary Granberry, or any other permanent member of the community employed by Sacred Road. Teams are, and should be more so in the future, actively aware of this connection and strive to preserve and build the community’s relationship with Sacred Road’s local staff.
Similarly, through work on community members’ homes, as well as buildings owned by the community as a whole, team members are able to increase the physical impact of Sacred Road’s resident staff, and more importantly, broaden the relationships Chris and Mary have in the community. Many community members became aware of Chris and Mary’s presence on the reservation through team members being actively involved, and physically present in the community. Similarly, having more hands to serve frees Chris and Mary Granberry to be more deeply active and physically present in people’s lives. Sacred Road is successful in utilizing their team members and interns to their advantage in serving the people, and in not making them a burden to themselves or the community as a group that needs to be served.
The attitudes and demeanors of short-term team members as they interact with members of the White Swan community, through work and play, seek to model the attitude of Christ. These actions are noticed by the people they serve. Community members recognize the manner in which activities are accomplished more than the end result of those activities. As Roland Bunch writes in his essay on effective short-term missions entitled “The Alchemy of Success,” “How it is done is more important than what is accomplished.” It is these actions that are begging questions to be asked to which Jesus is the answer. In this way, the process is more important than the product, and the process is done appropriately.
Labor at the work sites attempts and achieves part of Sacred Road’s mission: to effectively minister to the felt needs of the people of White Swan. As one community member said, “A lot of lives have been touched by working on houses. Building a house is a long-term affect; it gives security, health, and safety.” Sacred Road’s short-term projects have long term effects, but more importantly, the process at which they operate has eternal implications.
Similarly, there is no data to indicate that Sacred Road’s repair of homes adds to the community’s poverty. There is no reason to believe that Sacred Road’s actions undermine local resources or labor. Rather, community members are encouraged to participate, and often do. Additionally, all work done on the community’s behalf is done at their request, with no requirement that they attend Bible study or participate in any other Sacred Road activities. As a result, Sacred Road actively preaches the gospel with no strings attached.
The orientation done by Sacred Road, in conjunction with the orientation done by incoming teams before arrival, is adequate to familiarize outsiders with the community’s culture, context, and story. Myers writes in his aforementioned book Walking with the Poor, that “forgetting whose story it is means that we further mar the image of God in the poor. When we usurp their story, we add to their poverty” (Myers 112). Sacred Road succeeds in allowing the Yakama nation to share their story with incoming teams, through orientation at the museum, and through the words of community members themselves. The organization makes it indirectly clear that sharing how the Yakama people’s story fits into God’s story is their ultimate goal, and is careful not to add to their poverty by forgetting this.
Sacred Road appropriately provides further orientation into other aspects of the community’s context, including poverty culture and common behavioral traits among children. Orientation is also sufficient in providing information about logistical nuances and protocol for the week. Sacred Road’s orientation adequately educates incoming teams in how to better show Christ’s love in serving the Yakama people.
The organization intentionally seeks to connect team members with community members for lasting relationships and, as the community acknowledges, prayer support. Teams are encouraged during orientation to connect with one child or one community member and pray for that person. Many team members go one step further, however, and continue a relationship through communication, gift giving, and most importantly, returning.
Furthermore, another aspect to the context with which Sacred Road works is the need for racial reconciliation. Sacred Road provides a safe environment for edifying dialogue to occur and for positive interaction between people of different races to take place. As voiced by several members of the community, Sacred Road truly is bringing people together, restoring broken relationships, and building new ones.
In conclusion, Sacred Road Ministries’ short-term missions program positively impacts the White Swan community, and ultimately the Yakama people, because of the participants’ relationship and connection with resident members of the local community, the participants’ Christ-like attitudes, the participants’ commitment to continuing relationships, and the participants’ knowledge of the community and desire to listen and learn from its members. In this way, the church’s “second invasion” of Native America can be done appropriately with short-term teams, if they are utilized correctly and thoughtfully with regard to the local context in which they operate.
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