Sunday, February 08, 2009

Memories of South Dakota (First in an occasional series)

Sometimes it feels surreal that my wife and I have lived in South Dakota for 8 years. South Dakota is home, yet not home. It is home because this is where my wife and children live with me. Our children were born here. I have lived here longer than any city since I was 13 years old. I have packed more experience in this place, this culture, this region than I ever could have imagined.

South Dakota is not home because I have never really resonated with perspectives of the majority of citizens. The people here have welcomed me as their guest and respected my contributions. I don't think I am one of them. Maybe it is because I have kept them at arms length, maybe it is because I can tell that I don't fit and in some ways been told as such. Maybe South Dakota is my home and isn't my home because of this combination. The mark the people of South Dakota has made on me is indelible. I thank my wife for the introduction to this place. I will always remember it.

While serving a congregation, I remember traveling into town for a youth group gathering. This town always had good youth group attendance--there wasn't much else to do in town. Even the local school had closed--kids travelled at least 10 miles to go to school. That night, the kids and parents staged a potluck of appetizers, snacks and desserts. It was kind of a game/movie night.

The adult presence for youth events in the congregation were one degree of separation from the local volunteer fire department. The crackle of a walkie-talkie could be actually heard at almost any congregational event outside of a worship service--this event was no different. The night of our gathering, the radio talk was a bit more frenzied. A fire had broken out at a hog barn outside a few miles outside of town. The call had gone out four other surrounding departments. This fire could have been big. Not only was someone's home in danger, but their livelihood as well. I saw an amazing response not only from the firefighters present in town, but the youth group in general. I don't know if it was common practice, but the next thing I know, we were loading up food into vans and cars, and we were travelling out to the site of the fire. The quick response kept the fire contained, but livestock was lost. The youth group and several parents set up food so that firefighters could take a break or have something to eat after they finished. I was amazed at the seamless nature of this service. No real planning, no arguing--only multiple layers of help (sacrificial help) for people in need. Before I knew what was happening, the kids and their parents gave me an example of service I will never forget. This kind of service is not unique to South Dakota, I am sure, but I had never seen anything like it.

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