A group of Steelville Presbyterian adults and youth traveled to Abiquiu, New Mexico in July to spend a week at Ghost Ranch, a naturally beautiful, historical, and spiritual retreat center located in the middle of the New Mexico desert. There they were exposed to a rural community much different from Steelville and were able to perform many tasks to help ensure the continuing efforts of several organizations that put others before themselves.
"Ghost Ranch provided space for solitude and spiritual retreat," Reverend John Welton said. "Like prophets and Jesus himself we grew closer to God. Our group had the added advantage of working with diverse and unique Northern New Mexico community, working in soil to provide food for the hungry and hospitality for people seeking healing and rest. All this was done in the backdrop of God's good creation which has inspired artist like Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams."
After being commissioned by the church on Sunday, July 20, the group of 14 set out for New Mexico. Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City hosted them Sunday evening and the group arrived in Abiquiu Monday evening. They spent the evening enjoying team-building activities and next morning hiking to help their bodies adjust to the rise in altitude before spending several days in in the hot sun for their mission work.
Beginning Tuesday, the youth and adult mission groups split into their service corps groups. The youth completed several activities during their week, including building a stone wall and renovating a walking trail at Ghost Ranch, weeding at the local monastery, restoring an over-run medicine wheel meditation site, and volunteering at the Northern Youth Project (NYP) garden.
At the NYP garden, the youth corps group restored a damaged water line, weeded several rows of vegetable plants, cleared an overgrown piece of land for new gardening plots, and laid new mulch around the entire garden. Although these small tasks don’t seem like mission work to some, it was a fulfilling task for this youth group.
The NYP is an organization founded by local youth and supporting community members in Abiquiu as an answer to staggering and unimaginable statistics of high school dropout rates, teen substance abuse, academic under-achievement, depression, diabetes, and lack of teen service in rural New Mexico. The garden is one of many activities in which youth can participate. They decide what to plant and work toward cultivating the garden using traditional and new agriculture techniques. The Steelville Presbyterian Church youth group was able to see first-hand the need of keeping the garden running for these high-risk youth.
Throughout the week, the adult service corps completed several jobs at Ghost Ranch, including maintenance, housekeeping, kitchen work, painting, and sewing. Their time and talents helped ensure that the ranch remains a place of spiritual escape and worship for all to enjoy.
There was also time cut out between service projects to enjoy this breathtaking part of the country. The youth were able to climb to the top of Chimney Rock, a three-mile round trip that takes hikers to 6,400 feet. Some also hiked Box Canyon and Kitchen Mesa up to 7,100 feet, which was a bit more difficult than hiking Chimney Rock. One evening, youth and adults enjoyed a cello/violin concert atop Chimney Mesa, which overlooks Ghost Ranch and the desert landscape, and took an evening to star gaze at the Milky Way.
With the extreme heat, it was imperative for the youth to spend some time in cool water each day following their mission work. They enjoyed an afternoon swim in the Chama River near the Christ in the Desert Monastery and took a morning to canoe and kayak on the Abiquiu Reservoir. Their final activity was called the “Color Exchange” where the group helped each other create unique tie-dye shirts by spraying each other with the dye in a moment of joyful pandemonium.
Worship was a valuable aspect to this mission trip. The group was able to participate in several different worshiping practices, including a 15-minute chanting service at the Christ in the Desert Monastery, daily intergenerational worship services prior to dinner, daily reflection practices, and a traditional service on Sunday morning at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe.
"Our group was pushed into new understanding of ourselves and how God works in our daily lives," Welton said. "We stretched into new relationships with others from across the country. We lived new adventures and mined the depth of God's grace, love and care for us and others. I believe that our experiences touched each of us in different ways and it will be remembered as continue to change our outlook on life."
Those who participated in this year’s mission trip included Rev. John Welton, Becky Lakaner, Lisa Dulany, Susan E. Bell, Shirley Stulce, Beverly McGinnis, Kathleen Welton, Sierra Zeiss, Rachel Hajek, Jacob Ranson, Tyler Henry, Sarah Hajek, Steven Hajek, and Dawson Hajek.