North Dakota: humility on the mission field


Forty-five minutes from the Canadian border, winter conditions certainly aren’t ideal, not according to North Dakota mission’s own Clare Kennedy. “You go out in the middle of nowhere, it’s freezing cold, and it’s not what you’d expect for your spring break,” the senior nursing major said.

Still, it’s nowhere near enough to stop North Dakota mission, which since 2002 has established a habit of life-changing service at Rolette County’s Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. Kennedy, whose multi-year North Dakota mission experience allowed her to function as both mission participant and leader, spoke early and often about the mission’s mindset of meekness.

She said, “The biggest thing is the humility of the mission. I think it attracts those kinds of team members to begin with, and what we do is very subtle in comparison to some of the other missions.” Their mission, fulfilled in retreat work, classroom education, relational ministry and a sensational portrayal of the Living Stations, is one “of no ulterior motive,” of growth “in humility and servant leadership” said Kennedy.

It’s a mission made easier by the quality of those individuals to whom they minister. Junior Gaby Taylor, leader of this year’s North Dakota mission installment, said the people there await the arrival of Franciscan University students with something more than anticipation.

“They love with everything that they have,” she said. “You become part of the community for that week.”

Kennedy echoed the sentiment. “The people that you meet there are completely worth it. They have a really great Catholic community, but it’s really small.”

“As much as we’re there to do work, we’re also there just to be with them” said Taylor. Despite trips to nursing homes, rich classroom environments and diversified service outreach, she said one of the focal points of North Dakota mission remains the opportunities mission team members have to listen to the locals.

“You get a real taste of what the Native America population is dealing with, especially with regard to the casinos that are right there on the reservation, problems with alcohol and just what has been tearing families apart,” Kennedy said.

Taylor cited the moment she first fell in love with the region, on a day when she put housework on pause to listen to Shelly, a local, recount her life story. “That moment specifically was how I fell in love with North Dakota” she said.  “To be with those people, learn more about who they are and share more about who I am,” she said, brings her back each year.

Although North Dakota mission returns to Belcourt each year under the same pretenses, Taylor and Kennedy both said that the mission’s flexibility is key to its successes. Taylor said the staples of the mission have remained the same since shortly after its inception: Living Stations, youth group work, community service and nursing home visitation highlight a week where “we do a little bit of everything.”

Additionally, the mission team is privileged to partake, if only briefly, in the lives of the missionaries with which they bunk during their North Dakota stay. “We work with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT),” said Taylor. “We really get to partake in the lives of the missionaries who do live up there full-time” said Taylor, in meditative activities like Mass, adoration and Liturgy of the Hours.

So much flexibility of schedule, Kennedy said, is nonetheless rooted in a single focus. “Not a lot of people know about (North Dakota mission), but we kind of like it like that,” she said. She continued, “Humility is really the word that comes to mind.”

The pull of Catholics eager to dive deeper into respective faiths, combined with a demographic of loving Native Americans unlike any other, is enough to convince North Dakota mission to consistently brave the Belcourt cold. And if Kennedy and Taylor, mission leaders past and present respectively, have anything to say about it, North Dakota mission will long exist as a staple Mission of Peace.

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