NLC Alumni Service Trip: Seeking Spiritual Solutions to Tough Challenges

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In May, 12 alumni of DiscoveryBound’s National Leadership Council (NLC) worked on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota Nation, through relief agency Wings as Eagles Ministries. The work involved constructing living quarters for volunteers to work more permanently with children at risk, and the group also hosted a barbecue for the local Lakota community. Three of the alumni who participated – Kynan Witters Hicks (2010), Tia Goebel (2014J) and Shane Witters Hicks (2013) – share their thoughts about this weekend of service.

NLC alumni join with Wings as Eagles Ministry during their service trip to South Dakota.
NLC alumni join with Wings as Eagles Ministries during their service trip to South Dakota.

Why did you participate in this trip?

Kynan plays with a new friend
Kynan plays with a new friend.

Kynan: The NLC alumni service trip was a wonderful way to rekindle my love for volunteer service and my connections with NLC friends. But, even more, it was an opportunity to extend our love to a culture and community of people that are often out-of-mind in modern America. Native American reservations are struggling in many ways, and the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” requires that we reach out to our neighbors in support – offering a cup of cold water in Christ’s name.

Tia: Working on the Pine Ridge Reservation seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to give back to my South Dakota community since I grew up only 90 minutes from the reservation, and when I was a kid I was relatively unaware of the conditions in Pine Ridge. I also participated in the alumni trip in order to spend quality time with other graduates, share Christian Science ideas, and enrich my understanding of Love, God.

Shane: There’s something so satisfying about serving others. When I spend much of the year in a classroom – in many ways serving myself through education – I begin to yearn for connection with other people and a way to give back to communities. The NLC alumni service trip is chock-full of activities and experiences that satisfy both of these desires.

Were you surprised or challenged by anything you encountered? If so, how did you handle it?

Shane raises the game for a friend on the reservation.
Shane raises the game for a friend on the reservation.

Shane: To some degree, I was unprepared for the level of in-your-face poverty (that is still largely unknown to most U.S. citizens) we saw in the Pine Ridge reservation. It was pretty jarring to discover firsthand how much these communities seemingly lack the basic necessities for a happy and fulfilling life. The most important action we could take – right along with the service we were doing – was to handle the aggressive mental suggestion of lack in our own thought. It was important for me to remember that prayer is more than a self-help method for mental correction; rather, our communion with God is powerful and scientifically demonstrated to bring healing progress across distances, ages and cultures.

Kynan: The difficulties that the Native American communities face are aggressive. I had to be alert to challenge material circumstances such as poverty, mistreatment and substance abuse, and affirm the present demonstration of divine goodness and harmony.

Similarly, it was challenging for me to share the essence of Christian Science in a way that makes sense and is meaningful for people who are not familiar with the teaching. For a couple of days, we stayed with a group of people from various denominational and nondenominational Christian faiths. There were multiple opportunities to share our different faith traditions, ways of praying and Christian beliefs. We found that we had some similarities in belief and some differences. In sharing Christian Science, I had to trust that my words would be directed in the way that would best express Christian Science to our friends. But I also realized that I would like to practice sharing Christian Science more often.

Tia: I was a little surprised by the condition of the community in Pine Ridge. I was challenged to turn to God whenever feelings of pity, remorse and anger tempted me. No matter how intense the illusion of material world beliefs tend to be, we have comfort and peace available to us – in our continual and unimpeachable atonement with God. On this service trip, as I walked through the reservation communities, played with children and met folks of all ages, I had to work to find that quiet place within myself where the Christ lives, where hope lives. When I found that quiet place, full of happiness, trust and peace, I began to see and love everyone as they truly are: protected and cherished by God. In my prayers even today, I am striving to see and know the beautiful goodness within each of us.

How did you feel about the experience – your observations/inspirations? Did it change how you think – and if so, how?

Tia holds a salamander that emerged from a prairie dog hole while cleaning up the painting project.
Tia holds a salamander that emerged from a prairie dog hole while the group was cleaning up the painting project.

Tia: I feel enlivened, awakened and inspired. I am more aware of the challenges facing communities on the Pine Ridge reservation and I know that it is important to remember their story. Much education, reconciliation and forgiveness is still needed around the relationship between the Oglala Nation, U.S. citizens and the U.S. government. My hope is that by offering understanding minds and helping hands, we can create a new culture in America: a culture centered on acceptance, respect, empowerment, problem solving and the courage to tackle our toughest challenges. My experience on the NLC alumni service trip has propelled the spiritual integrity of my prayer to another level, and my heart is bursting with love and gratitude.

Shane: This trip made me reconsider the role I want service to play in my life. It was wonderful to be able to give and grow so much in just a few days, but I learned that the rewards of service can be more than simply a good feeling at the end of a few day’s work. While I don’t want to lose the joy I have for spontaneous support of a good cause, I wish to someday find a cause I can commit to for months, maybe even years. Wings as Eagles Ministries showed me just how much good can unfold from prolonged dedication to one cause.

Kynan: I felt humbled by my experience on the reservation. It affirmed for me that prayer and the practice of Christian Science is powerful.

On one afternoon, we hosted a barbecue for one of the communities on the reservation. The love, joy and common goodwill that were expressed that afternoon cut through the destitute material picture we were presented with when we first arrived. I think it was clear to our entire group that flood-tides of love indeed open the doors for God’s grace.

The trip also showed me the importance of prayer. Many of the material circumstances that were presented to us seemed hopeless. There was no apparent material answer. I remember being grateful to know that there was a spiritual answer. Through God’s government of Principle, the law of progress does present human solutions that bring harmony, order and direction to the reservation.

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