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Global Vision - Fall 2011

View more articles in the Fall 2011 issue.

Ruth Williamson deepens cross-cultural engagement through Pine Ridge Retreat Center

by Christine Hallenbeck, M.A. Junior

During her undergraduate studies at Susquehanna University, Ruth Williamson, M.Div. '14, wrote a research paper about the Lakota culture—a group of people located notably far from her Pennsylvania context, as they have historically lived in the upper Midwest area of the United States.

Little did she know that during her future studies at Luther Seminary, she would find a home among her Lakota brothers and sisters—not once, but twice.

"It was funny to see everything come full-circle for me," Williamson said.

Upon receiving the 2011 Preus Servant Leadership Award Williamson spent the summer of 2011 learning and living alongside the Lakota community of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation

Inspired by her cross-cultural mission experience at Pine Ridge last January, Williamson proposed a return to the ecumenical retreat center on the reservation when applying for the award, which is granted to a student to support a structured experience intended to build understanding and encourage outstanding leadership that expresses itself in service to others.

"My hope and goal in writing the project was to go and live and embody the idea of 'sanctuary' at the retreat center," Williamson said. "God just blew that plan wide open."

Ministering with children, experiencing community

Drawing on her Children, Youth and Family concentration much of Williamson's time was spent with young people on the reservation—coaching basketball, giving guitar lessons and accompanying children to the hospital.

"God said, 'Remember that you're here first and foremost as a human to be with humans,'" Williamson said. "I was blessed to be a part of pastoral care moments that I never could have anticipated."

As Williamson ministered to the children of Pine Ridge, in return, the reservation's residents taught her profound lessons in community.

"When you talk about the spectrum of individualism versus collectivism (in intercultural communication terms)," she said, "on the reservation, collectivism is so important."

In collectivist societies, one's identity is shaped by and bound up with others. There is a strong sense of community that extends beyond the nuclear family and looks toward the care of the whole.

That sense of community, Williamson believes, strengthens the people of Pine Ridge to face constant effects of poverty and oppression.

"(On the reservation) you can see so clearly that God is making beautiful things out of the dust every day," she said. "It happens when people stand together, with and for each other."

Broadening community

Williamson's experience has forged long-lasting opportunities for such standing together, both within and outside of the reservation's physical borders.

Though far beyond her Preus project scope, Williamson facilitated an exchange between the Pine Ridge Retreat Center and the ministries of the Allegheny Synod of the ELCA (located in Pennsylvania).

What began as a casual life update to her former colleagues of Camp Sequanota a retreat center and camp located in the Allegheny Synod, eventually led to a widespread Pine Ridge donation drive among Allegheny Synod congregations.

"Now (Pennsylvania congregations) are thinking, 'What can we do to continue being a part of this and not just make it a one summer thing?'" Williamson said. Ideas include Synod group visits to Pine Ridge and scholarships for youth from the reservation to work as Sequanota counselors-in-training.

"What we did together was start with service," she said, "and now the groundwork is being laid to do justice."

Read more about how Luther Seminary prepares students for cross-cultural engagement