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Construction skills complement pastor's ministry
with Yakama Christian Mission on the reservation

David Bell incorporates skills from his first career—20 years in building design and construction—to open doors of employment and education to youth through the Yakama Christian Mission.

He and his wife, Belinda, came six years ago to determine if there was a viable ministry at the mission that  started in 1920 on the Yakima, now  Yakama, reservation near White Swan.

They found programs for preschool and grade school children, but little for junior high, senior high and post high school youth. 

The Bells soon decided the mission for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was to be present with the Yakama Nation, offering a social justice ministry to create opportunities for young people. 

Based on interactions with the Yakama people, they offer retreats at the mission and off-reservation workshops on culture and injustices the people face.

Sunday worship services in the mission’s chapel draw people of varying faiths and others who “want to walk with God,” but few who identify as Disciples of Christ, said David, a 1999 graduate of Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley.  The mission is his first assignment as a pastor.

Belinda, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1996 in Redding, Calif., worked six years in a Shasta County school district that served some Native American and Hispanic students.  She leads programs for children and women, as well as workshops on racism and poverty.  In 2004, she earned a master’s in social work at Eastern Washington University.

Three years ago, Jill Delaney, a Disciples pastor and 1998 graduate of PSR, came from Seattle to join them at the mission.  She teaches women English as a Second Language (ESL), does pastoral care and works with Belinda in the clothing room, which also has health kits, layettes and school supplies. 
Through the clothing room, they provide a ministry of presence—just being there when people come by and want to talk about family issues, personal concerns or social issues.

In this ministry, I experience how social justice and scripture come together,” said David, who spent a summer in seminary doing a social services ministry in a Latino community in San Antonio, Texas.

An overview of the mission’s history gives background on the situation to which David, Belinda and Jill came.

In 1921, the mission built a cottage and dorm for rural Native children attending school.  Another dorm was added in 1927, and a medical clinic in 1949.  The mission provided religious services for the community.

In 1955, the Log Church was built.  The clinic closed in 1958; a kindergarten opened in 1959, and the dorms were turned over to a rural community program in 1962.

Valley Christian Church began in Wapato, and Friendship House opened for community services in Toppenish in 1964.  The mission office moved there in 1967, and the White Swan property was leased to an alcohol treatment ranch until 1983.

By 1991, mission programs returned to the Log Church.  Two years later, the Toppenish and Wapato properties were sold.   In 2000, the mission was renamed Yakama Christian Mission to reflect the new spelling of the Yakama Nation.

Seeing that some teens and young adults “dropped through the cracks,” David and Belinda began encouraging ninth to 12th graders to consider college, vocations and next steps in life.

They started Youth Education Services (YES) in 2002 for youth and young adults up to 25 years old.  YES enables parents to help their children succeed as they pursue education.

“We spend time with young people so they see how English and math skills they learn in high school apply in the real world,” Belinda said.

David said that the YES program builds skills and confidence so young people can move into employment, trade school or college experiences. 
High school youth help younger youth—preschool to sixth grade—with reading, recreation, games and field trips in a summer program.

Now there are students at the University of Washington, Central Washington University and Yakima Valley Community College, studying architecture, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, graphic design, cartooning and art, medicine and law.

 “Most are the first in their families to go to college, so we encourage them to stay in touch during their college experience,” David said. 

Through the YES program, David also trains youth in design and construction. Through that part of the program, the youth provide 150 hours of service to the community.

In the last few years, youth have learned about building design and construction, including computer-aided drafting, he said.  They have designed and worked on buildings, including the United Christian Church of Yakama,  Community Church in Harrah and Campbell Farms in Wapato.

After visiting a church site in Nebraska in March, David noted that the youth will develop a project budget and schedule for building a new church in Lincoln.

David charges for the services, so youth can be paid for their work done beyond their community service hours.

“The goal is to motivate youth to build their work skills so they increase their chance for well-paying jobs,” he said. 

By  summer 2006, they hope to begin building low-income housing they are currently designing.  They will arrange for permits, help with the construction, and work with realtors and engineers.

The Yakama reservation is a multi-cultural community, Belinda said.
In the context of people of many races and ethnicities living together, the mission seeks to change systems outside the reservation through two programs to challenge systemic racism.

• They offer 24-hour Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation training for church and community groups, teaching about culture, ethnicity and racism, and training people to listen to people from other cultures. 

• Youth, adult and intergenerational groups and families come to the mission for Learning and Serving Work Trips, opportunities to work on projects and learn about building relationships with others who have different approaches to life than then have.

Some groups come for a week.  Some stop by for a few hours or days. Projects, which fill half the time, vary—re-roofing, painting, building a handicap ramp, moving irrigation pipes, trimming goat and sheep hooves, moving hay or helping with construction projects. 

Workshops each day present justice issues in a multicultural setting and help visitors understand what they see and experience in the community, on tours of the area, at powwows, in local churches and at the cultural center. 

The mission offers the Learning and Serving retreats during spring breaks and from the end of May through the first week of August.  Summer visitors come from congregations, high schools and colleges in the United States and Canada. 

“Many learn for the first time how wealthy they are, seeing the poverty here.  They realize that what they take for granted is not what everyone has,” David said.

For information, call 874-2824.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © April 2005