MCC Photo/ Melissa Engle

Mariah Soldier Wolf, left, with her campers outside their tent at camp.

BUSBY, Mont. – Water flows from Crazy Head Springs and collects in a series of natural ponds, the last of which is an idyllic summer spot for swimming and canoeing.

Dean Blackwolf and Lawrence Littlebear keep a careful eye on the boys in the pond. They, along with Mariah Soldier Wolf, are in charge of various recreational times for the campers at the junior camp nearby.

Littlebear, Blackwolf and Soldier Wolf were all Summer Service participants this past summer. The Summer Service program of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. provides opportunities for young people of diverse ethnic backgrounds to serve and develop leadership skills through assignments with their own congregation or a service agency. These three workers are part of the White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby.

At the pond, Blackwolf picks up the megaphone. "Don't abuse your authority," Jonathan Two Moons, a camper, says to Blackwolf with a loud laugh.

Blackwolf pauses, and then yells, "Only five on the dock." One of his goals this summer is learning to speak up with authority. The campers listen and slowly jump or knock each other off the dock.

"Respect them, and they will respect you," Blackwolf says. "Respect is an important word at camp."

Willis Busenitz, who is pastor of the church and oversees his congregation’s Summer Service workers, says that respect is an important Cheyenne value. The most prominent sign in the camp for 9- to 13-year-olds says, Respect God, Respect others, Respect yourself.

"You can't push them," Blackwolf says. Most of the children will come for all five years, so counselors are working on long-term relationships with lasting effects more than accomplishment or competition. This philosophy reflects Busenitz' way of thinking. He has supervised the Summer Service workers since the program began in the 1980s and believes in developing leaders through relationships.

The camp schedule reflects this laid-back attitude. Activities such as crafts, swimming, devotions and late-night campfires flex according to what leaders think is important at the time.

There are four main aspects to the Summer Service program in Busby: the workers are involved in the church, they go to conferences outside of the Cheyenne reservation, they develop and work on their own goals and they learn responsibility through service.

To the workers, service means hard physical work. There is no permanent campground because this is tribal land, so each summer they must bring in and set up the entire camp, including a water system and outhouses.

During family camp, the workers clean the camp every day. Littlebear says that when they had to clean out the latrines, a job he didn't like, Busenitz would just say, "servanthood." Littlebear says, "I still think of that."

As part of church participation, each worker made a bulletin insert asking for prayer. They also led singing in Cheyenne whenever asked, and at the end of the summer, planned a worship service.

Awareness of the larger world is an important aspect of leadership to Busenitz, so the participants represented their church at the Native Mennonite Ministries assembly in Clinton, Okla., and at the Central Plains Mennonite Conference meeting in Lincoln, Neb.

"So many (people) get caught in their own world here in the reservation," Busenitz says.

Littlebear echoes this. "Many (campers) have abuse in their homes, parents who drink… They think the way they are living is the only way. It's hard to change that."

Littlebear says that kids often open up and talk during their last year of camp. Sometimes "they blame God for things that have happened in their lives."

Littlebear shares his personal journey, and finds that campers listen. Developing relationships is another of his goals. He wants to go to college and be a youth pastor.

While playing a card game with campers, Soldier Wolf says she is learning patience, and "about my actions and how they affect me and more people." She plans to get a degree in pharmacology and come back to the reservation to work in the Indian Health Service.

Leading devotions for her campers has helped Soldier Wolf develop self-awareness, one of her goals. During devotions, Soldier Wolf asks her campers, "Who do you think God is, and what part does He have in your life?"

Soldier Wolf says, "I feel like he's around me all the time, helping me…. So powerful you can't put a description (on him)."

Cathryn Clinton is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.