By Drew Hogan
Last week, 61 youth and youth workers from across the Greater Northwest Area (GNW) met in Wapato, WA, for a week of service and learning with our neighbors from the Yakama Nation. Students from Anchor Park UMC in the Alaska Conference, Fruitland UMC, Portland First UMC, Samoan Missional UMC (Myrtle Creek and Canyonville UMCs), and Tigard UMC in the Oregon-Idaho Conference, and Spanaway UMC from the Pacific Northwest Conference joined together with S.L.A.M. Trips (Students Learning About Mission) to learn about Native American culture and history, serve an elder on the reservation, and grow in relationship with our S.L.A.M. Trips hosts as well as one another.
The theme of the week was Courage, or Yáych’unal in Sahaptin (the language of Yakamas). While students saw the courage of the Yakamas throughout their history, students and leaders exhibited Yáych’unal throughout the week.
The diversity of the GNW groups was a gift for all participants as they learned from one another and shared their perspectives on how they encountered experiences of learning and serving. The group included Native Alaskans, Samoans, Tongans, Black, Hmong, White, students that identify as LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent students, students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and family structures, and students from diverse United Methodist churches.
On Wednesday night, members of the Mending Wings “Dancing Our Prayers” team shared traditional dances with the group as the drum circle led them. Before their performance, a few GNW students displayed their courage in sharing some of their own dances in a beautiful cultural exchange.
Throughout the week, students helped to clear out the dense weeds, dry brush, and other fire hazards around the home of a Yakama Elder. In such a wildfire-prone area, the group’s efforts helped with some fire abatement measures, which increases the family’s opportunity to flee their home in the event of a wildfire. Students enjoyed connecting with the homeowner and their grandsons, who were regularly hanging out in the shade, fending off the wasps with the students.
As we heard stories of growing up on the reservation or the family histories of grandparents and great-grandparents that were forced to attend Indian Boarding Schools, like Fort Simcoe, that Methodist ministers once ran. One student, Moli from the Samoan Missional UMC, shared, “You hear about the stories, you hear about what happened, you read about it in school, sometimes you see pictures, but going there and realizing what happened on the ground you are walking on is a lot.”
For most of these students, this was their first service trip. For Mi’laniah from Spanaway UMC, she explained how this trip was surprising because it was such a new experience: learning to sew moccasins, meeting new people, and learning about the Yakama tribe and way of life. She feels that she has the courage to do new things and encourage people around her to do new things and learn more about other people when she gets back to Spanaway.
We thank you for your prayers and all those in the local congregations and agencies that helped financially support these students to have this opportunity! We pray that our collective Yáych’unal will help us continue to grow relationships, speak truth, and empower our youth to be leaders in their communities.
Throughout this week of serving together, there were opportunities for students to record videos to share their experiences and help tell this story to the GNW Area. Be sure to look out for that video in the weeks to come and information on the next GNW Youth trip(s) with S.L.A.M. Trips next summer.
Drew Hogan serves as the director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries at Portland First UMC. He serves as the co-coordinator of the GNW S.L.A.M. Trip with Sheila Miranda, Associate of Connectional Ministries in the Inland and Seven Rivers Districts of the PNW Conference.