Monday, August 21, 2006

Red Lake VII: The Skull

Red Lake is clear and the crimson sunset bounces off the glassy surface. The light then pitters out leaving only its passing memory and the thick woolen blanket of night along with the awareness of its darkness. Our fire flickers off the faces of my staff as we sit in meditative silence reflecting on the ending of our journey; the conclusion of our hard days and nights of ministry. Mosquitoes buzz about wildly infiltrating our comfortable bubble and eerily heightening what none of us could express. Our summer had been poignantly marked with demonic attack, and we were all grossly aware that our mission was meaningful because we were being hindered.

Lights flash and roll across our (their) little section of sandy beach, and they stop; they are fixated on our gathering. Soon two ladies emerge from the car and walk, as best they can, toward our fire. "Hey! Hey! What you up ta?" Both ladies are extremely intoxicated to the point that I fear for their health. They plop down next to our fire and continue their binge with cans that they carried with them. "Who are yous? What are you doing? What's that you're drinking? COKE?!" we explain to them who we are (not really expecting them to understand), but as it turns out I am convinced that they knew who we were and what we were doing as workers in ministry.

"Gaaaah! Yous are too innocent for us! What are you doing? We should go! On our fucking beach no less! Yous should watch yourself, we're nice, but you're gonna get murdered! People will fucking KILL you! Gaaahhh!" says one, and here the tirade begins and we know that our meeting was no accident; that the God of the universe was humbling us, growing us, talking to us through his broken creation. "Hey! we know God too!” says the other. “ Giitchi Manito! He lives in the sky...wait...wait...Manito - He's right above you! He's right above you!" She motions to my Site Director, and for a brief second reveals a sincerity of awe that can only be described as Divine as she repeats that she sees God above him, but soon, through the wrestling expressions of her face, it becomes apparent that the darkness would take this round; The alcohol would win.

"I'm S----- Fucking Sumner! You tell them I was here! Get off my fucking beach! This is our beach! You're out of place! Get off our beach!" Engrossed in the moment, the Spirit leads me toward an aesthetic experience, I begin to mold in the sand the image of a human skull. Atop the skull is a cross, and around the whole is a large heart. Why I am lead to create in this volatile moment I can only attribute to God, but in it, as these ladies remind us with their continued verbal assault, I am faced with the reality of our inadequacy to bring lasting joy and love to Red Lake and these ladies iconic representation of the struggles that their community deals with. I watch the light flint and flicker off the image of the skull as it flinted off our own faces earlier, and I am starkly reminded, especially sitting in the skin crawling darkness that clouds this place every night, that the cross of Christ is not a glamorous object; it is not through crowns and the riches that create beauty that our Lord saved us, but it was through His ultimate suffering, death, and the grotesque subtleties of human nature that He gave himself; it is only He who can bring lasting joy, nothing that we can do, and it is only He who can strip this community of the demons it houses.

The next few minutes are spent coercing, conniving, and at times almost wrestling these two ladies as we try and put out the fire and worry about their trip home in the car that they had arrived in. We leave the beach with a grim reminder that for all the work we had done, God's sovereignty rules all. And ours? We have none. I envision the darkness crawling off our cars like purple flame as we wind our way back to our housing site. The mood can only be described as somber especially when my Kids Club staff recognizes one of the ladies as the mother of a child that we minister to, and it is like a spike of ice being driven in our hearts as we contrast the scene we had just been in with the faces of the children.

In all this I am given over to Paul's words in Second Corinthians when he says:

"Since God in His mercy has given us this ministry, we NEVER lose heart. We have renounced the deeds that people hide for very shame; we do not practise cunning or distort the word of God. It is by declaring the truth openly that we recommend ourselves to the conscience of our fellow-men in the sight of God. If our gospel is veiled at all, it is veiled for those on the way to destruction; their unbelieving minds are so blinded by the god of this passing age that the gospel of the glory of God, cannot dawn upon them and bring light to them [emphasis added]" (REB 4.1-4).

I cannot judge the condition of souls even when presented with such darkness, but I do know that, in the example of Paul, I will never lose heart. I know that at times like these that passion that would stir such an emotion in me is the only thing to cling to, as I fix my eyes ever on the cross and do my best to declare the truth openly that the veil which may blind the eyes of this beautiful people might be lifted, if ever it existed, and they may walk hand in hand with a God of glory. I also know that in not losing heart I might take this lesson of God's sovereignty, turn it in a positive light, and depend, with fervent intercession, on the great power of God to work for the people of Red Lake; I can know that the unfailing love He has for me can be applied for them as well.

Here ends the documentation of my brief and honoring travail into the culture and people of Red Lake. Pray for our brothers and sisters there as God moves mightily among them. Thank you for hearing.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Red Lake VI: Another Strange Moment

The Korean group – So often when I feel stressed or, I’ll be honest, bloated I will often take a run around the school that is our mission site, and more lately I had been actually running around the community (this I had previously avoided due to the abundance of stray and venomously volatile dogs running about but had since gained a confidence which was based on the mere fact that doing laps is more boring than scenery). On one occasion as I ran I became grossly aware of a strange gathering of folks on the road before me, for the path I usually take leads me down Highway 1 which runs through Red Lake. I found this to be odd, mostly because it is ridiculously hard to get any type of gathering in Red Lake let alone one that, from a distance, seemed so vibrant, joyous, and energetic. From afar I could see that this group of young people was armed with banners, matching T-shirts, and an unsurpassed enthusiasm. “No way this is Native Youth!” I thought to myself (no offense to any who read, but it just seems culturally true that native youth are generally more reserved). As I came closer I realized that my previous prediction had been correct. In fact, this youth were far from Native youth. They were Korean. I had seen signs around the reservation advertising the coming of this group, a Korean ministry, that held cultural exhibitions to attract crowds to hear the gospel. So, here I find myself running down a highway on a closed Indian reservation passing hordes of exuberant Korean youth. Strange enough? Not quite.

Later that night as our group did our weekly cookout for participants and community members at the Catholic Mission, we get invited to go and see the cultural exhibition that this group is putting on. Intrigued, we take our participants to the back of the mission where the school gym is for the viewing. As I sit there I realize that this is a multi-cultural experience put on by only one culture group. So, again, I find myself in the most strange moment as I realize I am watching this Korean youth perform an African tribal dance with a group of mostly Lutheran (a.k.a. not the most culturally enthusiastic folk or just enthusiastic in general for that matter) participants while sitting in a Catholic Mission half filled with natives on a closed Indian Reservation. I just kept thinking of my close Asian friends and their probable thoughts on the situation had they been present for it, and I think comments may have included “F@#king Asians!”, “That’s SO Asian!”, or “We’re taking over the WORLD!” I still chuckle just thinking about it. It was just weird!