Tuesday was quite possibly the worst day we have ever had on a trip to the Rez. Let me explain what a typical day is like there first, then I'll talk about what went wrong.
We begin with Devos and Breakfast at 7AM. Right after breakfast is over we begin work projects. At some point in the morning, usually around 10:30, we do a Kool Aid run through the village, giving out cookies and Kool Aid to the children and reminding them that we'll be back to pick them up for VBS a little later. At 11:30 we begin the pick up. It takes 3 vans to do it - one for the "country" or "outskirts" and 2 for the village. As each van full of kids arrive back at the mission, they go through the lunch line and then take a seat and eat lunch with the help of whatever crew members are available. Once they finish, they can go out on the playground and play until each van full of children are finished with lunch. It is not uncommon for a van to make 2 trips through the village picking up kids so they eat in shifts and it can sometimes take an hour or more to get finished with lunch. Then we round them up, and yes, it is like rounding up cattle - most of the ignore any attempt to get them together so they can go to their groups.
Once in their groups they do whatever their "teacher" has planned for them. It may be music, or crafts, or a bible lesson, or all three. Sometimes it is simply shooting hoops and trying to connect on some level.
After their groups are finished, they play. We do sack races, a toilet seat toss, play with a parachute, swing, or just hang out with the kids. I firmly believe that our greatest ministry happens on the playground. That is where the hugs happen. That is where we bandage skinned knees and kiss hurts away. That is where the kids are not just "students" but friends who feel loved and cared for by the crew. In a word, the playground is where the connection and relationship happens.
Tuesday we didn't get to have that time. Normally we keep the kids until 3PM or so. Last Tuesday was such a disaster that we sent them home at 1:30. It broke my heart to do it, but it needed to be done. Things were out of control.
It began when one little boy decided to jump out of the van before it stopped moving. I don't think he did it because he was glad to see us. I think he was just trying to be cool. I'm not even sure what all happened that day, but I do know that within the hour that the kids were there we had rocks thrown at people, at least 3 small children around the age of 4 years old decided to take off and walk back to the village before we chased them down, a door in a bathroom torn off it's hinges, a screen in a window torn out and while a crew member was telling that boy to stop, the boy tore a sliding door frame off its track and hung it over the crew members head. That was the last straw.
We rounded everyone onto the basketball court and I told them that we had a problem ... that people and property were being harmed and that we couldn't have that. They would have to go home and come back tomorrow and try again. I tried to assure them that we wanted them there ... that we really didn't want to send them home so early but that the mission needed to be a safe place for everyone and they couldn't be there if it wasn't safe - and that day was anything but safe. We then lined them up and loaded them into vans and sent them home. After scolding them I made sure to love on them before they left. We loaded them up with bags of chicken "drummies" to take home and hugged on them as they waited for the vans to pick them up.
The picture is of "Hammer" an adorable 4 year old that stole all of our hearts. In the picture he is waiting to go home that Tuesday while he is eating a bag of chicken nuggets we sent home with him.
After all the kids were returned home we had a crew meeting in the dining hall to try to figure out what had happened and if we could do anything different to prevent it from happening again. I apologized to the crew for cheating them out of a day with the kids. The kids are the reason we go there and we only get 5 days with them and we had lost one of those and I felt bad. It broke my heart to send them home and the crew will tell you that I cried like a baby in that meeting.
After making a run for supplies later that day I returned to find out that the tribal police had been there questioning us about what had happened. That turned out to be not a big deal - there had been a fight between two teenage girls and one of them was injured. The fight did not take place at the mission so it did not involved us at all.
Although that day seemed an awful lot like a failure, I think it was anything but. Tuesday evening when we had our devos and team sharing/debriefing time, I tried to share some encouragement with the team. Bad days happen. Ministry is not always fun, glorious, or rewarding. In fact, a good deal of ministry is just plugging along through the bad days with the hope that a good day will come. And I believe the kids needed that day too. I believe they needed to know that even though we loved them that there were boundaries that could not be crossed. In the end, Tuesday may have been the best day because the kids tested us and found out that we loved them enough to be firm with them. Firm enough to let them feel safe.
On Wednesday I went on the pick up and as the kids boarded the van I reminded them that if things got out of hand they would be sent home. Things did not get out of hand on Wednesday, or the rest of the week. They were great. Oh there were the normal little scuffles between kids and the normal jealousy and picking, but that's par for the course when you have 100+ kids around.
Next year it will be all to do over. We'll have more bad days. But those bad days in no way mean we're failing ... they just may mean that things are going exactly as they should be.