This summer (2018), we worked at Outlaw Ranch located in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. Outlaw Ranch, or “Outlaw” is one of four Bible camp ministries supported through Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota (LOSD). Throughout the year, Outlaw hosts all sorts of retreats and gatherings for differing communities, but the summer is “camp season” where it provides programming for family camp, youth camp, servant camp, and adventure camp. Campers can range from any age; 0-100+ at family camp, 3rd-8th grade at youth camp, and 7th-12th grade at servant or adventure camp. Tabby was the Adventure Program Director. Many of her duties included overseeing counselors, making sure equipment and supplies were prepared for the daily adventure, and scheduling activities for the campers. Tony was the Onsite Coordinator of the family camp and youth camp programs. His job description was a catch all and his duties ranged anywhere from supporting counselors and coordinating activities to braving Black Hills lightning storms to go pick up campers out on a hike and running into town to pick up snow cone flavoring. Since we were part of separate programs, we often did not see each other throughout the camp day, but we did share a humble room in the barn where we would rest our weary heads.
With servant hearts, open minds, sunburnt noses and aching muscles, we walked alongside people throughout the summer and learned from them. We experienced “God moments” and what Tabby would often call “awe-ful moments” because she is filled with “awe” when she experiences them. We saw how the Spirit worked through others and in creation, we walked through early morning mist that tickled our cheeks and saw the sunshine peek through the sky, we saw grandparents watching their grandchildren play joyfully without abandon, we heard worship music rise up over the hills, we saw God. Observing how the counselors interact with the campers was a daily treat from seeing how they learned to accompany a homesick child to leading campers from a long hike to the comforts of a bonfire and pizza burgers. We spent a handful of nights mopping and dry-vacuuming the flooded barn from the heavy rains that fell at night and we spent many hours in awe of the Black Hills around us from varying viewpoints including Crazy Horse’s outstretched arm and atop Little Devil’s Tower in Custer State Park.
We now know that we found a precious community in the people at Outlaw Ranch tucked in the Black Hills of South Dakota; a community that we never imagined we would be a part of at this time in our lives in a place that we had never considered being a year prior. The staff members we worked with all came to this place of refuge and beauty from different walks of life, experiences, and faith journeys yet we all shared the same mission: making a sacred place for campers to experience God, faith, community, and adventure. Camp had become our sanctuary where all were welcomed and nurturing relationships was prioritized. We cherished it; and still do.
Now, the “camp season” has ended and is behind us. We have begun our next journey. On August 22, 2018 we left the comforts of Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) where we had our YAGM orientation and landed in Budapest, Hungary with our cohort of ten other YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission). We were instantly greeted and welcomed by our two Country Coordinators, Rachel and Zach, and one of our drivers, Lazlo. It has not quite sunk in yet that we are across an entire ocean in Hungary as the jet lag has taken it’s toll. It may be in part of how familiar the landscape is to that of Minnesota: rolling hills, green flora and corn fields where deer can often be seen. We are currently at a retreat center located in Bodrogkeresztur, a town of about 1,000 people in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary for in country orientation. We have only completed two full days of orientation since arriving in our new home and the excitement of getting to integrate and accompany our site, Nyiregyhaza, is growing. Learning the Hungarian language is a new excitement on top of learning what it means to be an ELCA young adult missionary, four words we would have never imagined ourselves saying and being a part of.
As we discern and discover more about what is to come, we can’t hold back our excitement for our new opportunities to be part of a community. Though we have not yet started building relationships in Nyiregyhaza, the summer has allowed us to build relationships with the ELCA community both at Outlaw Ranch and through YAGM. We have found God and continue to walk our faith journeys through the people we have met; learning that God is relational (example such as the trinity) and that relationships with those around us also shape our faith. Having intentionally formed many relationships with the counselors and campers at Outlaw Ranch and now here in Hungary, we find community. We have found a community in which we belong that will grow as our story unfolds. And here you are, accompanying us on our journey, a member of our community.