On June 17, over 30 students and faculty from Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau headed out west for their annual week-long mission trip.
Since 1996, the Joan Strohmeyer Mission Trip has served impoverished areas in many different locations across the U.S. – including Dulac, LA, San Antonio, TX, and Montgomery, AL – but this year, it returned to its roots in Tuba City, AZ.
“In the 90’s, my mom and dad went on vacation with a priest friend who had another priest friend stationed in Tuba City,” said Sarah Strohmeyer, director of Campus Ministry at Notre Dame and daughter of the trip’s namesake. “He said there was a lot of poverty there, and I was doing youth ministry at St. Vincent-Cape at the time. So he told my parents I should bring the kids out for service work, and we’ve been going there every few years since.”
One of Strohmeyer’s goals in hosting the trip is to inspire students to be of service back home by bringing them out of their comfort zone. Throughout the course of the week, they’re provided with the experiences of service, prayer, and community. This year, as is typical of the Tuba City trip, they were also exposed to quite a culture change.
“Our home base is at a Catholic parish, St. Jude. It’s on a Navajo indian reservation, and right by a Hopi village,” said Strohmeyer. “So we actually get to work with two different drives of native american.”
When they arrived, the students were split into groups of four or five and sent to various locations for various jobs. Many served at the Diné Association – a daycare for severely handicapped adults.
“Most of the people are in wheelchairs and many are non-communicative. We basically spend time with them, take them for walks, and play games,” said Strohmeyer.
Many other service locations involved outdoor work, such as shearing sheep for a Navajo family and gardening at a Hopi village.
“The Hopi are known for having these lush gardens and fields, and it’s in the middle of the desert. It’s unbelievable what they’re able to accomplish,” said Strohmeyer.
And, with a weekend of ceremonial dances ahead of them, the Hopi enlisted the help of several students in preparing yucca plant fibers for baskets.
“They saw the whole process of stripping these yucca, dyeing the yucca, and then the weaving of baskets out of it,” said Strohmeyer. “Just stuff you wouldn’t see. Like shearing sheep: that’s just not something we usually do around here.”
Although service projects are the main focus of the trip, Strohmeyer said they still start and end each day in prayer. To break up the monotony, each group of students plan a different prayer service each night.
And, they always have one service dedicated to sharing a personal moment where students and faculty “really saw the face of Christ” in what they were doing.
“It’s a very profound night,” said Strohmeyer. “This is where we realize it’s more than just digging a hole for a fencepost. This is where we realize it’s having an encounter with Christ through the people who are there.”
As for being situated between two indian reservations, students saw firsthand how the Navajo and Hopi weaved stories of Christian faith with their cultural faith.
“I think sometimes, people who have never been there think of the native americans as having their own spirituality, and that they kind of do their own thing. That’s true, but there’s also a rich Christianity. Many of them go to the churches in the area,” said Strohmeyer.
From the poverty, to the climate, to the terrain, to the people, and to the culture, Strohmeyer said the experience was – and is always – unlike anything the students and faculty may see anywhere else.