By Ron VandenBoom
Brian Pearson, a high school student from Downers Grove, Ill., raised a power drill above his head and carefully drove a two-inch wood screw through a two-by-four. He was building a small storage shed onto the side of Our Savior's Lutheran Church on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
It's not the first time he's done this kind of work. Last summer he was in Wisconsin helping to build a church and in two weeks he'll be in Colorado working on another project. But this was his first trip to Montana.
Pearson was one of a group of 16 kids who came from Downers Grove on a Christian mission to work on the reservation for a week.
"I love it out here," he said. "Being able to do this in a real nice environment ... being able to climb mountains when you're not working. ... You can take a hike and watch the sunrise, watch the sunset, things like that."
Sixteen Chicago-area youth spent last week at Our Savior's Lutheran Church as part of a youth mission for the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Downers Grove.
Stephanie Parker, the bookkeeper at Our Savior's church who has been handling arrangements for the group, said the project started about three years ago as a kind of Habitat for Humanity-type program. Throughout the summer, youth groups, and in some cases adult missionary groups, have been spending a week each at the church working, enjoying the atmosphere and growing in their faith.
The group was busy this week working on the group home at the church, doing drywall work, painting, and cutting a path up the side of the mountain behind Our Savior's leading to the Church on the Mountain.
Jeff Mikyska, youth director at Gloria Dei Church, said members of the group came to Rocky Boy to help, but they also came to grow.
"I think we've been through many experiences this week that have helped us to grow as a group and grow in our faith," he said. "We came here hoping we'd make a difference and have an impact on them, but they've had an impact on us as well. And we really appreciate that."
Mikyska said in addition to the work, the group has had an opportunity to worship with the people of Rocky Boy's and get to know them and learn about their culture. They also had a chance to travel to Glacier National Park.
"It's just been an incredible experience for us all together," he said. "It's been awesome."
A newsletter Gloria Dei received from Rocky Boy is what prompted the mission, said Maria Campanaro, another young missionary. Campanaro said the pastor gave the newsletter, which referred to the mission work, to Mikyska, who thought the project was a good idea.
It is Campanaro's first mission to Montana, but she did participate in a mission last year in West Virginia.
"It's so cool," she said of the experience. "I've gone through three roles of film already."
Rick Feltz busied himself putting tape and drywall mud on the wall of one of three retreat cabins located behind the church. Feltz was a chaperone with the group and was on his first mission with the church.
"We've decided that we love it and we're coming back next year," he said, as he smeared another dab of mud on the wall. "I think one of the things we've learned is the way the Lord works in our lives."
Feltz said one of the boys who came on the trip received word his grandmother had just passed away.
"We were all here to help him get through it," Feltz said. "It brought us all closer together."
Feltz said they have all grown from their experiences at Rocky Boy, referring to it as "a fantastic spiritual experience they wouldn't have had if they had not come."
The next group of missionaries will be arriving from Pennsylvania and are expected here sometime before the upcoming Rocky Boy's Pow-Wow.
Parker said the group requested that time because they wanted to help set up and attend the powwow.
None of the group is supposed to have ever seen a powwow and they want the experience, Parker said.
Members of the Pennsylvania organization are also arranging a reciprocal visit from members of Our Savior's Church and Rocky Boy sometime during the winter. Parker said they will be taking dancers with them so they can put on a dancing demonstration when they get to Pennsylvania.