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Sharing Christ’s Love in North Dakota — by Gentry Bill

North DakotaThe partnership between Trinity and St. Thomas in North Dakota has reached the ten-year mark this summer. I have only had the pleasure of going to ND two years now, but it has been a life changing experience. These children who come to “summer church” look forward to it every year. We are able to provide one week where these kids experience love, compassion, and safety. They are able to just be children. They don’t have to worry about going to bed hungry. They don’t have to worry that our kindness has any strings attached.

It has been said that true faith and God’s work will make you feel uncomfortable. In ND, you will feel uncomfortable. You will see children running around without shoes and proper clothing. They will be unwashed, unfed, and unsupervised at times. They will look at you with hollow eyes and a blank stare when you speak to them, not knowing whether they are able to trust you.

Love is coming back every year. Love is sitting with the discomfort in order to meet these families and children where they are in their lives. Love is sending home peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so they have another meal at home. Love is building picnic tables so that these families have some relief from homes that are crumbling around them. Love is finally earning some trust from these children and being on the receiving end of a sweet smile or hug. Love is sharing our common faith and celebrating the Eucharist together.

This year I was able to bring my 7-year-old daughter with me. She had a blast. She made friends. She made art. She got to experience the grand entry of a powwow. She got to experience Christ’s love through this partnership with St. Thomas. She now realizes how lucky she is to have the life she does, where she does not have to worry about food, shelter, safety, and love. She has already talked about going back next year.

Most people on the reservation that I have spoken to have been amazed that we “keep coming back.” It is a hard week. It is uncomfortable, but it is filled with love. You leave exhausted, but you are somehow filled to the brim with compassion and humility. We will keep coming back, because that is what we are called as Christians to do.

 

— Gentry Bill