Reflections on a mission trip to Oklahoma

Editor’s Note: Michelle Scott was among 16 people from Brewster (Mass.) Baptist Church who participated in American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing…Muskogee” volunteer effort April 21-28. Here, she shares thoughts about the experience.

By Michelle Scott

With so many other places today that require help—Puerto Rico, Texas and so on—Oklahoma is a lost and often forgotten state that needs assistance as much as any place. Muskogee, in particular, reached out to ask for help from American Baptist Home Mission Societies. The task of our church’s volunteer team—ranging in age from 13 to 78—was to help Bacone College and Murrow Indian Children’s Home, which share the same campus.

Bacone College was founded by a Baptist missionary from New York who believed that American Indians deserved to receive a good education based on Christian principles. The college today, although primarily American Indian, is multicultural. The school has no endowment and no extra funds, so there isn’t much left for the expenses and maintenance of running a school.

In Muskogee and surrounding areas, poverty, addiction and family struggles are a part of many households. Many children live in unsafe situations where they’ve been abused or have witnessed abuse. Murrow Indian Children’s Home takes in these children to provide them with love and support. Fifteen children—ranging in age from 7 to 17—currently live at the home.

Our team was given a wish list of projects that included roofing, repairing concrete walls, sheet rocking, adding and cleaning gutters, organizing and the ultimate challenge of removing and rebuilding two shower areas in the boys’ dorm. Many of us did not come with the skills to do these tasks, but in working together, we taught each other to fill the gaps in to get the jobs done. We far surpassed the wish list items and started new projects that included painting and tiling a nursery in the church basement and repairing chapel banisters.

We worked steadily every day, walking nearly a mile each way to the cafeteria for each meal. Dr. LeRoy Thompson, Bacone’s vice president of Christian Ministry, took us under his wing and included us in worship with the college community and praise team. We interacted with so many college students in worship and song, American Indian dance and sharing in an American Indian meal. We attended the weekly all-school assembly, where we witnessed the students’ talents in song and dance. They had a passionate honesty and openness about their faith that left us speechless. We were welcomed with loving and open arms everywhere we went: at the cafeteria for our meals, in the dorm, anywhere at the school and at the children’s home. The kindness, appreciation and gratitude that was shared with us was something I had never experienced.

At the children’s home, we were able to spend an hour one evening later in the week with the children. We brought gifts for them, and once they spent a little time with us, they became more comfortable. They sang and danced for us and asked a ton of questions. They overcame any shyness they initially felt. As they were leaving, their house mom, with tears in her eyes, said she had never witnessed the children open up with people they didn’t know. She thanked us again and again for doing God’s work

Then it all came together for me. It was no longer about sheetrock and spackle and hammers and nails. It became so much more than that. It was about meeting and connecting with the children, students and staff who shared their stories of suffering and heartache, resilience and faith. The blessings were a thousand-fold.

When you put together 16 people who barely know each other under challenging and rigorous circumstances for seven days, you never know what to expect. At least I didn’t. I continue to be in awe of this experience and find it difficult to put into words. Whatever was required to get the work done, the team did it. Whatever extra mile had to be walked, the team walked it. The kindness and encouragement toward each other, the dig-down-in-your-boots strength to push it just a bit further to complete a project—it was all done.

We spent each morning and evening praying together, asking God for help in the coming day and offering our gratitude for what we had seen and done. We shared our joys and challenges and strategized how to tackle the day. I was humbled by our team, their faith, and their belief in me and each other. I know now that that the strength and goodness came directly through God’s hand and watchful eye over us.

Miracles great and small happened every day for each of us. Our mission team began the week as strangers but ended as family.

Michelle Scott is a member of Brewster (Mass.) Baptist Church.