My first week was to go through training on Vancouver Island along with other student missionaries from all over the country. I don’t remember a whole lot from this week other than the horror I felt when I saw and heard the various religions and missionaries arguing over who would save the ‘savages.’ Savages?!?! Shocked and repulsed was an understatement! From that moment on I decided that I didn’t want anything more to do with the missionary program and that I was just going to live with my Indian brothers and sisters, love them, and accept them just as they were.
After training week was over, they divided us up into teams and sent us to different areas on the reservation. My teammate and I found ourselves living on the Okanagan Reservation near Vernon, B.C. We found ourselves first staying in a pick-up camper trailer. It was small and cramped, but we loved it. One night, we were awakened by the shaking of the camper. Nervously, we looked out to see what could be causing it and found a horse was rubbing his hind end against the corner of the camper.
The family we lived with was the Louis family consisting of the elder mom and dad, Ben and Rosie (whose home we later moved into), fifteen children (age 21 and older), and a slew of grandchildren. I immediately fell in love with every single one of them. Most, if not all, of the men and boys were rodeo cowboys, so we shared a love for horses. (Just recently, the Ben Louis family as a whole, five generations, were inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame.)
Because I was so accepting of my new family, we got along famously, and I was later told by the staff psychiatrist that I was the only student missionary out of all of them that had no culture shock.
I grew close to Ben and Rosie and they came to be like a grandmother and grandfather to me. Rosie and I kept in touch for years after I left until her death some time later. Their children and grandchildren and I also bonded and they were like brothers and sisters to me. In fact, to this day, I still consider them all my family.
During the summer, I spent a lot of time with the grandchildren in particular. We made Jello in the ice cold streams, walked a mile to get the mail three days a week, went to rodeos, ate meals, and attended PowWow’s. I became very close to several of the grandchildren and we still keep in touch. One friend even named her son after me (Kieren).
Since that time, I have been able to visit a couple of times, though I wish I could get up there more often. On one of the visits, a friend and I went to a large PowWow. At the end when they did the Friendship Dance, I happened to look at everyone in the circle and noticed that I was the only white person. I mentioned this to my friend and she gave me a very precious compliment when she said, “Karen, when you’re up here, we don’t even think of you as being white!”
The point of this article is that when we make an effort to get to know another culture, without judgment, and only unconditional love in our hearts, we find that we have a lot in common. We learn that we’re all human beings just trying to do the best we can to get through life. And when we do this, you’d be surprised at the friendships we can make, some of them lasting a lifetime. There is also so much we can learn from each other.
As Paulo Coelho stated, “Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.” James Van Praagh said, “We are all one. Only our egos, fears, and beliefs separate us.” And Bruce Lee declared, “Under the sky, under the heaves, there is but one family.”
Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper April 17, 2015.
Addendum: I love this family so much that I really do consider them all family. They've given me so much and taught me so much. Every single one of them are some of the nicest, neatest people you would ever want to meet. I miss them so much and can only hope that one day, I can get back up there to visit. They'll always be in my heart. (Pictured: Ben and Rosie Louis, Vernon, B.C. Canada)
Also, not everyone at the training on Vancouver Island called them 'Savages" so I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking it was the missionary program as a whole. There are always exceptions and people who get the wrong ideas mainly through ignorance. I'm sure that they changed their perception as soon as they met these wonderful people.