Every summer it happens anew: Ten Jesuit rising seniors travel to South Dakota, intent on making a difference in the lives of the impoverished Lakota Sioux people of the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
From June 9-16, 10 members of the Class of 2019 continued this wonderful tradition, assisting the St. Francis Mission for one week in its work in the community there. (See a photo slideshow below.)
Led by chaperones Nick Werner, a Latin teacher who was making his fifth South Dakota mission trip, and Amy Martin, a biology teacher on her second mission to South Dakota, the experience was once again a huge success.
The Jesuit seniors providing hands-on assistance to the Lakota Sioux people were John Accardi, Zachary Fandel, Trent Gephart, Andrew Jung, Kegan Lovell, Grayson Maddox, Trace Nuss, Tyler Petitt, Alex Siffert, and Caysen Waldron.
The students operated the "Mind, Body, and Soul" Vacation Bible School for about 30 Lakota children each day. They introduced the children to important biblical stories, taught basic prayers, performed arts and crafts, played games, and acted as instructors. In the evenings they worked along with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps on renovating the local middle-school basketball gym, which is part of the St. Francis Mission school.
For the Jesuit students, the experience can be transformational. Below, Gephart talks about what it was like for him:
"The South Dakota Mission Trip had always been one of my goals since entering Jesuit. I really felt this trip connected with me because I am also Native American. However, I had never been on a mission trip, so I was not sure what to expect. When we arrived on the reservation in Rosebud, I was shocked to see the poverty level in this area. It really opened my eyes and made me realize how important it is to cherish what we have back home in Tampa. When Vacation Bible School began, this was when I and my fellow classmates - John, Zack, Andrew, Kegan, Grayson, Trace, Tyler, Alex, and Caysen - knew this trip was special. Once we started interacting with the children and began to form relationships with them, we knew it would be very hard to say goodbye. Every day these children came in, and despite where or what they came from, every single one of them were all smiles and happy to be with us. I had never really experienced anything like this trip. It taught me to be appreciative for what I have, and it allowed me to see what others have to go through in their lives. What made this trip so memorable for all of us was not only being able to interact with the kids, but also to be able to experience the Lakota tribe and learn about their culture. Returning from this service immersion experience, I have brought back with me what I learned, and I hope to be able to share with everyone here in Tampa!"
Each night after preparing dinner, the Jesuit students participated in a group prayer and reflection, sharing and learning about themselves and their classmates, and developing deeper relationships.
Among other highlights for the Jesuit students were a trip to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and sightseeing in the beautiful Black Hills and Badlands regions.
About 20,000 Lakota live on the reservation, and roughly 8,000 identify as Catholics, but church attendance is very low and the reservation is plagued by poverty. To learn more about the St. Francis Mission, click here.
Please see the photo slideshow below from South Dakota 2018: