My daughters recently joined me on my fourth trip to the Lummi Nation Reservation in Washington State. We went to help run a kids camp for this highly abused, highly addicted, and poor community of beautiful people that I have come to love and cherish.
Having gained a strong trust within the tribe community that we were serving, I accepted the invitation to bring my three daughters along. At ages 14, 11 and 9, I had established some ground rules and worked to prepare them as they encountered another culture. A culture that would struggle to accept them. For the first time in their lives, my children were going to be distrusted, ignored, and disliked for the color of their skin.
You can only prepare in small ways to step into that reality. We all make judgment calls when we aren’t sure that we are safe. Never in my life had I had kids not trust me. But slowly, over days and years, I gained their trust and even their love. I could only hope to draw from these experiences to help my own children connect to the Lummi community.
The challenges came in waves.
Before we left I explained some safety guidelines and talked with team members to ensure that extra eyes were aware of my children throughout camp. My oldest daughter would be extra aware of my youngest. Nobody was to go to the bathrooms alone, because bathrooms are the number one location for abuse in camp settings. The girls were told repeatedly to go to a team member if they had any problems, and they did.
Initially, the tears came because they were considered outcasts quickly. All their efforts fell on deaf ears and their attempts to befriend continued to fall flat. I would take them on a little walk and remind them that we were there to love, not be loved. Sniffles would restore their resolve and they’d go back in again.
My middle child was called names and bullied, but we watched in amazement as she kept stepping up to be a friend with little hope of gaining one in return.
To my surprise, my youngest had the hardest time with the other children. By nature, she is easy going, lovable and quick to make friends. By the end of camp, she only had two kids who talked to her and neither of them was on her team. Again, she stayed in it, while trying to understand what no one should have to–prejudice.
Keeping our eyes on our family goal–to love God and whoever he puts in front of you–was our true saving grace. What a gift to be put into a situation where you serve to love with no hope of personal gain.
By establishing some hard and fast ground rules for safety, doing periodic daily check-ins, and having nightly recap sessions, I would find something that they had done that was at the very heart of our goal and encourage them.
Cultural norms blurred the boundary lines. My kids were corrected for things they didn’t know were wrong. Dealing with the perceived injustice of the correction added another layer of stress. More short walks would ensue and they would humbly approach leaders and apologize. This opened the door for the acknowledgment that they were, in fact, different. Sometimes reconciliation would come, but oftentimes it didn’t. Reconciliation aside, their hearts were being shaped.
Through loads of chaos and unstructured days, I was surprised to see many tears as we drove away from camp. They had grown hearts for the Lummi people and wished for more time to cultivate relationships and offer hope. What an amazing gift they had been given.