Hope in the Turtle Mountains

Seven weeks ago, I arrived in Belcourt, N.D. to St. Ann’s Church for their summer camp, not knowing what to expect. I had talked to three people who had been to Belcourt on mission trips or for the summer camp, and all of them loved their experiences. St. Ann’s is located at the heart of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. When I told people I was going to Belcourt for part of the summer, I got mixed reactions. Some people were really excited for me, while others would say, “Why would you go to Belcourt? There’s nothing there.” I did not really know what to expect, but I expected that the Lord was going to do some big things.

I came to St. Ann’s primarily to be a counselor at their annual summer camp. The camp was divided into three age groups: grades 1-3, grades 4-6, and grades 7-9. Each camp lasted for two weeks. Counselors came in from all over the country, including Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Every camp day we would pray a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Without this prayer time, I don’t think we could have gotten through the summer and been able to work with the kids and each other the way they deserved. The first week I was here was a lot of get-to-know you and preparation, which was fun and good to do, but I really just wanted camp to start. The theme of the camps focused on the seven virtues, with each day focused on a different virtue through talks, skits, and small group discussions. Each camp day also finished with Mass with the kids. Camp also involved a lot of activities typically seen when the average person thinks of camps. This included large group games, canoeing, sports, arts and crafts, and science. It helped the kids to be exposed to Jesus and grow closer to Him while also having a fun time.

After reflecting on the summer, one virtue seemed to represent the general theme of the summer: Hope. Hope is “placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit…buoyed up by hope, we are preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity” (CCC 1817-1818). It is important to understand when discussing hope that it is a gift from God, and not something that comes from ourselves. Most obvious, I could see the gift of hope being bestowed upon the kids during camp, usually in the little moments. People who had no exposure to Jesus in the past were asking deep questions about Jesus’s life, resurrection, and how He is present and working today. Some of the most precious and profound moments were some the simplest ones. Some kids started hugging the priest after being blessed in the Communion line, while some would voluntarily lend their sweatshirts to other kids who were cold. These small acts of charity prompted by the Spirit were leading them to the happiness that flows from charity.

I also saw hope through the people of the community. The first week we were here we went to picnics at the houses of various families. This generosity continued throughout the duration of my time here, camping and spending time with different families around town. The St. Ann’s community, including parishioners and staff, is filled with a lot of hope in God and for Belcourt, even though there is significant darkness in the community. They are a people proud of their heritage and who they are, and are willing to put in the work to improve themselves and the people around them. The parishioners and staff are beams of light in a community with lots of darkness. But Belcourt is not much different than any other place in the world. There is darkness everywhere, and we are all called to be beams of light in the darkness.

One of my biggest takeaways from this summer is that the massive hope that I’ve experienced in the small town of Belcourt is a mere sliver of the hope that God wants to pour out upon the whole world. Jesus desires for us to be bursting with hope for Heaven and the great the great joy that comes from this. Leaving Belcourt will be a challenge as I have been pretty sheltered from the busyness and distractions of the world. But I am confident that God will give me the grace I need, and that He has big plans for me going forward, and big plans for each one of you reading this. I’ll finish with a quote from St. Pope John Paul II:

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal” (Address of the Holy Father John Paul II, Vigil of Prayer, World Youth Day, 19 August 2000).

Submitted by Patrick Finnegan. He  is studying Occupational Therapy, is from St. Paul, Minnesota.