Tag Archives: Volunteering

Forever Learning, Forever Teaching


June 21, 2015

[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

There it sat, promising it could get me to where I needed to go if I only had the patience – a 1986 Nissan pickup truck.

The yellow paint was faded with age. The trunk suffered from something similar to tendinitis. The steering wheel sometimes took a bit of muscle, frustration, light perspiration, and mumbled swear words to turn. The driver’s side door was temperamental, refusing to lock from the inside and only locking from the outside when it felt like it. Despite all of this, though, the old King Cab had some fight left in it yet.

There was only one inconvenience keeping me from eagerly taking it for an exploratory ride around Yakima County. The little yellow intern truck David and Belinda Bell had lent me for the summer had a manual transmission. Since I only knew how to drive automatic, I knew I had some learning to do if I was going to be a productive intern for the Yakama Christian Mission.

I was suddenly sixteen again. Every driving skill I mastered in the last five years was set back to a beginner level. It was more than the difficult aspects too, such as driving in reverse or doing a three-point turn. I couldn’t even press the gas without making the truck jerk, sometimes stalling in traffic. My face would turn the same shade of red as whatever stop sign or light I had jerked to a standstill in front of that day. Each time, I felt like the truck was taking me by the shoulders and shaking me in frustration. My goodness! Get your act together. What an embarrassment.

The truck wasn’t the only one frustrated. I wanted to shake the truck back. “Don’t you think I’m trying?” I mentally retaliated. “Give me a break! This isn’t as easy as it looks.” Then my left foot would prematurely depart from the clutch and the truck would stall again. I smacked my forehead against the stubborn steering wheel several times. Continue reading

A Summer of Conversation and Theology


June 14, 2015

For fifteen summers there’s been an intern(s) at the Mission (before I arrived as well…however, I have found no records to who and when. So, if you were or you know someone who was an intern at the Mission, please send me contact information!) This summer, Selys Rivera, a senior at Florida Southern College, is interning at the Mission and living at the Farm. Selys arrives having nearly finished and a bachelor’s degree in English—with a writing concentration, and a minor in Spanish. She finishes her undergraduate degree this December! Though living in Florida, Selys’ landscape of birth is Puerto Rico and Massachusetts is the landscape of her childhood and youth

Today, Selys is a reader, writer, and dancer. She arrived at the Farm wondering about what God’s plan might be for her—wondering through the lenses of reading, dancing, and writing. Which brings an interesting insight to the Mission, for while I enjoy reading and writing myself, the lenses of dancing in the context of the Farm and theology bring a focus I often miss.

This is why I enjoy summers and what makes my work rich. Hanging with young adults each year gives me the opportunity to revisit conversations of faith about God, Jesus, Hope, Redemption, Evil, Good, Forgiveness, Retribution, Love, Spirit (to name a few) in light of the Landscape. Such conversations with young adults from backgrounds different from my own push my edges as it pushes theirs. That, I find, is cool!

So, the theological summer of 2015 has begun. What it holds is to be seen and known. In the meantime, our community will have a young adult who knows herself for the theologian she is, with a voice that will benefit our listening ears.

(By the way…Selys comes to the Mission by way of Disciples Volunteering. She has a small stipend for the summer. If you would like to contribute a few dollars that might allow her a trip to Seattle, backpacking in the Cascades, or hiking the Columbia Gorge, feel free to send the gift to Yakama Christian Mission, PO Box 547, White Swan, WA 98952.)

A Dung Theology


December 7, 2014

I nudged the cow manure with my boot toe. A worship service was going on but others were speaking and doing a fine job. So my mind wandered to wonder about the cow pie at my feet and the bug population it might be supporting.

The fall afternoon was cool, the sun bright, and the blue sky cloudless. Students from two universities: Lewis and Clark, and Heritage, were visiting the farm. They had collaborated on their fall break and had chosen to spend their fall break on the reservation at the JustLiving Farm. Together we would have an afternoon conversation on American Indian autonomy and Farmworker rights, and then spend another afternoon working on farm projects. To get to those issues of human justice we were first working our way through the broad the broad-brush stroke of landscape justice; thus, there we were in the pasture.

No movement, so I kicked a little harder. My boot broke through the crusty surface and slid through its gooey innards. Dung kicking is an art and I found my artfulness left wanting. A misjudgment of consistency left me with cow shit stuck to my boot like gum to a sidewalk.

I think of worship service in simple terms. Worship, a reverence for the mystery of creation. Reverence a willingness to question, admire, and be astonished by that which cannot be (or, at the least, hard to) explain. Service a gathering of folk revering that which is natural and normal. Continue reading



November 24, 2013

I walked off the plane and through two security doors leading to the public area of the airport.  Being one of the last to exit the prop plane that flies between Seattle and Yakima, my friend’s spouses and partners were already hugging and kissing them.  I’ve seen this many times after folks have returned from a trip, but this time, in the eyes of partners and returnees there was something different, something more.  The story of the eyes clearly said the last few weeks had been no adventure.

I first heard that word, adventure, four weeks earlier.  I had returned from Alaska and was making phone calls asking folk to consider volunteering for two or three weeks in the Alaskan bush.  There they would repair flooded homes.  (During the spring break-up, ice on the Koyukuk River broke.  House size chunks dammed the river, backed water up into a village of eighty folk.  Up and down river, one home after the next were flooded.)  I commented that it was late in the season and lying at the edge of the Arctic Circle meant winter wasn’t far off in this community.  If repairs were to happen, it meant boarding a small plane out of Fairbanks within a next week.  Edges were nudged a bit more when folk learned that if a medical emergency occurred, the best care was advanced first-aid until a flight could be arranged—24 hours wasn’t out of the question.  Edges smoothed a little when they learned three faith-based denominations were asked to go into three remote villages and if a team were not pulled together from the denomination assigned to a particular village, then flood work would have to wait until spring of 2014.  That is when I first heard, “well at least it’ll be an adventure.”  But it was not.

13.11.24f Continue reading

Steady Snow, Steady Homes


September 29, 2013

Last Tuesday was known for an open blue sky, warm low-50’s, and visibility way down river.  It’s been snowing ever since.  At first snow was heavy and wet.  Then with a temperature drop the snow turned light, steady, and on/off.  This has resulted in a white-green landscape with bare gravel roads throughout the village.

Good weather last Tuesday also allowed our second team to arrive.  With eleven folk on the ground, home repair has been as steady as snow.  This has resulted in the team, the first and second now is acting and working as one, finishing four of five homes.  The fifth, with a Sunday half-day of work, is now roughly half finished.

Not bad considering the weather has not allowed a flight since Tuesday to bring materials for the homes or food for the team.  It has only taken a bit of scrounging for materials and a bit of bartering for food to repair buildings and feed folk—it ain’t as bad as it sounds.

Tomorrow is a day of funeral.  One homeowner passed since we arrived and finished home repairs.  What that calls for, from us, I am not sure.  A few of us sat in the community hall last night, eating moose soup, and trying to learn a regional card game.  What I found, again (this seems to be the norm of my life), is three weeks in any community isn’t enough time to learn how to flip a card, say “hi,” or have a clue as to what to expect in a Athabaskin-Koyukon, village of Hughes,  funeral service.  But ya gotta make a guess to figure out some type of timeline to complete work before it is time to leave, right?  So, figuring on tomorrow being somewhat like a funeral day back home, I’m figuring an all-day affair.  Therefore, it is good to have gotten in a half-day of work so there is time to be present tomorrow.

© David B. Bell 2013



September 20, 2013

Hughes, Alaska sidles up to the Koyukuk River.  The granite river contrasts early snow white overlaying sloping aspen yellows and spruce green.

After three days in Hughes, the last twenty-four hours has walked the landscape from late fall to early winter.  The change in season, though I expect we will again experience fall, matches the change in attitude.

One acquires a different outlook when landing in a landscape where the next village is a hundred miles up-river and the closest hospital is a couple hundred miles, by plane.  Thoughts continue to shift as you become aware that ninety-five percent of traffic is ATV four-wheelers (during the non-snow season) and the remainder walkers.  There is a bit more movement when a good part of your community heads up or down river due to the opening of moose season—It has been a good bit of time since many of our families have lived a subsistence lifestyle.  I imagine if we pull up those memories, we grasp the value of putting a moose in the freezer before winter snow.

A few days in the bush (Bush is a local word, one that is not mine, but one which gives a fair description of outsider isolation and insider home.) isn’t much, but enough to recognize the first steps toward a change in viewpoint.  I think most of us who arrived in this landscape where people come and go by plane (Something about this statement is outsider—as if those places of coming and going to, that matter, are those only assessable by plane.  Locals move up and down river to hunt, to fish, and to visit other Athabaskin-Koyukun villages just fine.), came with a sense of adventure and wonderment.  Yet as one walks this place, this strip of land called Hughes, and listen to folk for whom this landscape is home and for whom this landscape is normal, the adventure slips and wonderment deepens.  What does that mean, well I’m not sure, it’s only been three days.  I’ll give that a bit more thought.

© David B. Bell 2013

Autumn on the Koyukuk


September 14, 2013

Late fall.  Not often does mid-September come along—the autumnal equinox still a good week away, and the trees and shrubs are fully expressing their gold’s and red’s and giving some serious thought to dropping their leaves altogether, and I get to watch.  Really, it has only happened once before.

Four years ago the spring breakup sent ice chunks, the size of houses down the Yukon River.  Nothing new, the ice breaks up every spring on Alaskan rivers.  That year though, ice got wedged downriver from Eagle, Alaska.  The wedging caused a dam.  The dam backed up the Yukon raising it well over thirty feet, which in turn flooded the community of Eagle.  That year, Katherine and I joined other folk from the lower 48 rebuilding and repairing homes in Eagle and other similarly flooded communities along the Yukon.  When we arrived, a tree here and there sported a few leaves of color.  Three weeks later, days had lost an hour and three quarter of day light, every deciduous tree had moved from green to yellow, orange, gold, and red, and those trees who sported the leaves of color weeks before were now bare.  For Katherine and I, that was a first.  Now we are about to watch it again.

Disciples Volunteering is one many Faith-based groups asked to return to the Alaskan Yukon.  Like before, last May’s ice didn’t flow well, bunched up, and flooded a number of communities.  A message came a month ago that Galena needed a crew to help repair community buildings and homes.  I had haying to get done and Katherine had a dissertation to complete, so when folk left on Labor Day we were sitting on a tractor and in front of a computer.

Then a call came saying a remote Alaskan native village on the Koyukuk River had been damaged as well, no repair work had been done and there were no available volunteers.  FEMA asked Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering if he might pull together one more crew who might be able to handle the stress of flying into community—that makes Eagle look like a city, and complete repairs.  A few days later, sitting in the back seat of a three seat Cessna, I watched the landscape change from green to bright colors as a FEMA housing representative, the pilot, and I flew from Fairbanks to Hughes.

Bounded by the Koyukuk River to the north and a ridge to the south, I walked through Hughes a few hours later.  There isn’t a whole lot of folk in Hughes to begin with and there were a lot fewer that day, after all, moose hunting season had just opened.  Continue reading

Summer Coffee


August 19, 2013

It is Monday and there are no folk at the Farm.  After a summer of Learning and Serving groups it seems a little lonely.  Well, being an introverted sort, maybe lonely isn’t the right word.  But there is something about walking out of your home each morning with a cup of coffee and having the opportunity to a conversation with someone(s) from a landscape other than your own.

One wonderful aspect of those morning conversations is the theological blend.  Conversations range from the morning sunrise (the theological tie is never a surprise), to fracking (well, a theological tie isn’t surprising here either), to family (okay, theology just arises in most every conversation!).  To start the day with another human being who I often hadn’t met until just a few days ago, with a cup of coffee, sitting on a wooden bench, watching the landscape wake up, and have the opportunity to talk about the life of our landscapes, our families, our friends, our churches, and our spiritual relationships is, well, just cool.

The summer is so different from those winter mornings when I sit with a cup of coffee and a book, inside the house, by myself, at hour when during the summer the land has been in light for hours, next to the woodstove.  Those mornings are wonderful and enlightening.  Yet they are often mornings that would not happen without these summer coffee cup mornings.  For these summer mornings often bestow my winter reading upon me.  One such reading that came up, last week, as we talked about subjects like the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and economic justice is the book The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowel.  But it isn’t always just books.  There was a time when we were talking about economics and the perceived need to always have a growing economy, which leads to convincing people to believe a normal life is to constantly strive to move up into the next and bigger house, and, of course, to always buy something.  This conversation led to the suggestion of watching the short video called The Story of Stuff.

The summer isn’t over.  There are many barbeques ahead with neighbors and friends.  There are those folk who are traveling the country and who will drop-in because they have visited the Farm as a member of a workgroup years ago or who have been told by someone to just stop by, walk the farm and maybe have a conversation.  Good days to come, but those regular morning coffee talks with folk who bring varied experiences and insights to the Farm and our lives will be missed.

© David B. Bell 2013

Who to Be, What to Do


The following reflection is by Kate VanHaren.  We have been fortunate in having Kate, a Vista Volunteer, joined YCM and My Future a few weeks ago!

February 16, 2013

One of my favorite possessions is a quote book I started a few years ago. I write down random things from famous people, friends, family or sometimes random people I hear on the street. Sometimes they are profound and inspiring, but most of the time they are just amusing anecdotes that make me laugh.  During the afterschool program this week, a middle-schooler answered the phone. He answered in that exasperated tone that can only be mastered by teenager, “We’re in the art room….making art.”

At first I was just going to add this quote as another amusing statement, but it became much more deep the more I reflected on it.  This kid knew exactly where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to be doing.  How many of us can really say that we know exactly what our purpose is and really mean it?  Personally, I’ve struggled with this quite a bit.

As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, the last two months have been full of floundering and trying to figure out my own purpose.  Since moving to the Lower Valley a few weeks ago, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the differences between the streets and avenues in Yakima, getting lost on the reservation, cleaning out an office and trying to remember the names of all the wonderful people I’ve met.  This week I was able to meet the kids in My future and begin to talk through them.  Through one word answers, I’m starting to get a better understanding of my new home.  It may be a while before I can as confident as the kid in the art room, but my role is starting to become a bit more clearer.

It Takes A Family

August 30, 2012

I am one of those folk who believe our children learn to work and play by working and playing with their parents and grandparents.  In relationship, our children learn work is as enjoyable as play and together they give balance to our lives.  I think the same holds true when it comes to our volunteerism.  Children working with their parents and grandparents learn they are always better off than some of their neighbors and true balance comes when they give of themselves to help realize a creation of equality.

Labor Day Weekend Volunteer Build in White Swan: Contact David @ 509.969.2093