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An Overview of My Summer Missions Internship in Cherokee, North Carolina

By John Stam

John Stam

1 God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. 2 That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.

3 Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. 4 O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. 5 Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.

Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

That has been the cry of my heart this summer, and continues to be today—that all peoples would fear and praise the LORD. We know that our God ordinarily delights to use means to accomplish his purposes, and it is clear from this Psalm that by means of God’s blessing us, all people will come to praise the LORD. Thus it is necessary that we be actively involved in sharing the love of Christ in word and in deed, and in supporting others, most importantly, in our prayers.

This summer, it was my desire to both serve on and get a taste for a mission field in Cherokee, North Carolina. God enabled me to do that, and much more besides.

The camp I stayed at is leased by Mission to the World (MTW) from the Cherokee Tribe (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians). It has 20 cabins, enough room to house about 135 people. Teams come in for a week at a time during the summer to serve in the community in various ways.

Saturday afternoon is the time when teams start coming in. Saturday evening after supper, there is a session of orientation to the Cherokee area and people. Each team is assigned a local church to attend on Sunday morning.

Most weeks, I was assigned to help a particular team. If the team was doing painting or a construction project, I’d help them get all the materials and tools that they would need; and sometimes I would work with their team. If they were doing a Vacation Bible School, depending on the week, I would either go along with them to help or I would be free to do things that needed to be done around the campground. Besides Mike P., the project administrator who keeps everything going, I was the only staff person who stayed the whole summer. Otherwise, there are associate staff who come to help for a week or two at a time.

The goal in Cherokee is really to spread the love of Christ in word and in deed. In all projects, the people are the most important. So even if a team is doing a construction project, and they want to do a good job and get it finished, it is still the people who must come first. Now I wasn’t working directly with the teams a lot of the time. But the whole emphasis on putting the people before the project was a very good thing for me to be exposed to, because I naturally tend to be a very task-oriented person.

I would like to share some experiences I have had, but more importantly, some things I have learned in a new way this summer.

I recorded a prayer request on Sunday, June 22, “that this summer I would be able to spend time with at least one Cherokee young man to read God’s Word with and seek to disciple”—it was that very next day when Charles W., a recent high school graduate, showed up around 9:00 a.m. There was to be a kind of assessment that week at the campground for Cherokee young people 17 and up with the goal of helping them think about what they might do in the future—and it appears that the people in charge of it had not communicated to Charles what time it would be at. So Charles showed up in the morning, since he didn’t know the assessment would be in the late afternoon. That morning, I was working on fixing the screen door in front of the office because it was crooked. So as I was working on that, Charles sat nearby on one of the chairs out in front of the office. We talked a little bit as I worked. I found out he was very interested in superheroes and things of that nature—which I really don’t know much about. In my trying to figure out what was needed to fix the door, I thought perhaps a different sized pop rivet than we had would work. So I asked Charles if he wanted to go with me to the hardware store in the neighboring town, with the hope of spending a little time with him even more than getting the right fastener. He certainly didn’t have anything else going on, so he came along with me. That was the beginning of my time with Charles this summer. And by Friday, he was helping me build a shelf in the toolshed at the campground. It was the following Sunday when I took him to church locally in the morning, and then midafternoon connected with him again. We went on a trail I had been on before in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had my backpack with a couple Bibles in it and some water. At one point, there was a fork in the trail, and we took the path to an old Indian cemetery up on a mountain. After the long trek through the forest to the cemetery, we stopped to take a break. I shared some water with Charles and told him I would like to read from the Bible with him. He was not opposed to the idea, so I pulled out the Bibles I had brought and we read Luke 1 together. He had never heard the story of the birth of John the Baptist before, and he thought it was interesting. At some point he mentioned that he had movies about Moses and Joseph, and it was on the way down the trail on the way back that I gave him some of the history of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Joseph, and Moses. Now he knew which order to watch the movies in, and it sounded like he wanted to watch them that night.

We continued to do things together, usually a couple times a week—and almost without exception, we would spend some time in the Word together. A couple weeks later on a Tuesday, we went hiking by a shallow creek known as Deep Creek. It was along the trail there that I started to realize the ability I have to tell Bible stories off the top of my head to those who don’t know them. Charles asked me about the story of Daniel and the lions’ den, so I told him that story. He certainly showed interest in the scriptures while I spent time with him.

Some short quotes from my journal:

  1. June 10:

o   “One thing I am learning greatly by example here is that prayer is important indeed.”

  1. July 2:

o   “Due to the fact that there is more rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents than over ninety and nine who need no repentance, the mission field is the place to be.”

  1. July 5:

o   “I am persuaded that God’s goal in the imprecatory Psalms is largely to break our hearts for the lost, and that we may intercede for them that God may draw them to Himself in His boundless grace and not destroy them.” And I may add that this was in the context of my having met and played with some local kids who thought a lot of me—and who I did not have reason to think were in Christ.

Flip and His Boiled Peanuts Stand

One Wednesday afternoon in early July, after Charles and I had gone swimming in a river (and Charles knows all the good spots to go swimming), we went to get some hot boiled peanuts. I had seen lots of signs for them around but hadn’t had any yet. Charles took me to where a man he knew named Flip (who is probably in his sixties) was selling some. Flip was a nice fellow who cared about getting the younger generation on the right track—but who does not appear to be a Christian. I returned to his boiled peanuts stand a few times to talk with him a little bit under the pretext of stopping to buy something (he sold things besides boiled peanuts, too). I think I asked him if he went to church, to which he said that he doesn’t, that there had been a number of people who stopped to evangelize to him, that he was set in his ways, and that nobody could change him. With regard to that last claim, I brought that before the LORD in prayer as a challenge to Him, asking that He would change Flip.

On my last Friday in Cherokee, I had been invited to have lunch on the island in the Oconaluftee River that goes through Cherokee that is a popular place to picnic, swim, hang out, etc. Here’s an entry from my journal that day, July 25:

On the way back to the campground, I stopped in at Flip’s boiled peanuts stand since it had been a while since I had stopped there. I mentioned that I had enjoyed getting to know Charles W., and that my internship is almost over. He had a bit to say in response, mostly regarding his and others’ appreciation for what I’ve been doing with Charles; in his words, guiding Charles instead of trying to push him. Flip made it clear that Indians can’t be pushed to do something, but that they can and should be guided. He said that while adults often appear to not care about their young ones, they really do care…He told me something like, “If more young people around here could spend time with people like y’all, it would be a very good thing.”

He mentioned that I should come back to pick up something for the road on my way out of town when I left on Monday, and he told me I wouldn’t have to pay for what I took. I agreed to stop by. That Sunday night, however, there was a pretty bad storm—such that I woke up early Monday morning both hearing a generator running and finding my cabin without power. The generator was just for the kitchen. So when I stopped by Flip’s stand on my way out of town, I found the canopy over his stand damaged by the storm, and he was neither open for business nor even around that I could see. I had actually been thinking I would ask him to take Charles to church that coming Sunday, which would have ensured that Charles had a ride to church when he likely wouldn’t otherwise have, and it would have gotten Flip to church. But we see that God’s plans always trump our plans. Another thing I have learned this summer is to trust in God’s sovereignty more than ever before.

My Heart Still Lives In Cherokee

My heart still lives in Cherokee,

I cannot it deny.

The pictures bring it back to me,

For it my heart doth cry.

The mountainsides so beautiful,

Beneath the smoky sky;

The people are so dear to me,

For them my heart doth cry.

Oh, why, ask you, why do you care,

Why does your heart so cry?

I’ll answer this, my friend, and I

Will truly tell you why:

The children are attached to me,

They hold upon one’s heart.

The stories of some fam’lies, though,

Would break your very heart.

The broken homes, the Christless hearts,

All this brings grief to me.

So fruitless and so wasteful, too,

Lives of young men I see.

They play and swim and eat and sleep,

But hardly work do they.

A rar’ty is it for their lives

To do ought else but play.

And who is there to them persuade,

To guide them in their way?

They have no fathers in their lives

To lead, to their dismay.

So who indeed will go to them,

Tell them of God above;

To teach them of God’s holy way,

And show them Jesus’ love?

It is not that there is no help,

For laborers there are there.

But few in number, sad to say,

So great the need is there.

The people really need to see

The Christian’s life in bloom;

And even more to hear the sound

Of Gospel preaching, soon!

It is not that there is no hope,

But still my heart is sad.

It was my home for eight whole weeks,

No more mine to be had.

What can I do but on my knees

Fall down and to God pray?

From Zion shall deliverance come,

God shall hear me this day.

I’ll trust in God, He is my boast;

What can my heart dismay?

Who can fight Him who is so great

And full of might for aye?

He hears the prayers of His saints,

Attentive to their cry.

So cry to God, my soul, cry out,

Cry unto God most high.

O God most high, do thou pour out

Upon the people there,

Thy grace like mighty rivers are,

Yea, on the people there.

Do thou send forth unto the fields

That white for harvest are

The laborers whom Thou wouldest have

To labor for Thee there.

And prosper Thou their work, I pray;

Do Thou Thy Spirit send

To work in many hearts, O God,

Their hearts for sin to rend;

To work in them repentance true,

And faith in Jesus Christ;

To sanctify their lives, indeed,

To give them joy in Christ.

O Father, do Thou hear my prayer,

For unto Thee I cry;

O Thou who hearer art of prayer,

To Thee I do draw nigh.

And it is in Christ’s precious name

That I do come to Thee;

No merit have I of myself,

But Christ has paid for me.

And so, Lord God, I say to Thee,

Amen, so let it be.

My soul doth in the LORD rejoice,

So good is He to me.

So, Cherokee, trust in the LORD,

Your help and shield He’ll be;

All that fear God may truly say,

A refuge strong is He.

John Stam is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, IA 

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