By Fred Koenig
This year when a group of United Methodist youth from the St. Louis area took a mission trip to an Indian Reservation out west, they went one step further. They brought the people they were in mission with back home with them.
Joshua Krakos became involved in an exchange program with the Sioux in South Dakota as a camp counselor for the YMCA about five years ago.
“When I was out there I was always moved by the spirit of the people despite the conditions they were living with each day,” he said.
The Native Americans living in the community of Dupree where Krakos was serving were getting by in a community where the poverty rate was double the national average. Krakos is now in the Marine Corps Reserves and has enrolled in Webster University, where he is majoring in business and philosophy.
Last year while in boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps, Krakos started reflecting on how a partnership could be formed between his home community of Webster Groves and Kirkwood and the people of Dupree. From that idea he began sketching out the plans for forming an organization called Bridge Builders, in which St. Louis area youth would volunteer in South Dakota, and youth from South Dakota would have an opportunity to travel back to St. Louis.
He wanted the youth in South Dakota to be able to see where the volunteers where coming from so they had a deeper understanding of each other. The St. Louis area volunteers were excited to host the youth.
That partnership came to fruition this past summer. Webster University donated the use of dormitory rooms, so the youth had a place to stay together. While in St. Louis they learned about the culture and history of the city through museums and church tours.
Cavin Clive, a high school junior who is a member of Webster UMC, had been on mission trips before, but this was his first time to Dupree.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I had never really experienced a different culture before this.”
While in Dupree he worked with children and helped paint bleachers at a rodeo arena. Back in St. Louis he was part of the group that showed the youth from Dupree around the city.
“It was a really meaningful experience for everyone involved,” he said.
The trip to South Dakota involved 27 youth and five adults. They came back with two camp staff and five youth from Dupree.
“We’re already making plans for next year and hope to double the number of youth involved,” Krakos said. They had a fundraiser run last April and were able to secure enough donations to make the trip free for the youth involved from South Dakota.
Shane Bad Warrior is the youth development coordinator for the Sioux YMCA. He worked with Krakos, recruited the Sioux youth who came to St. Louis and joined the trip to supervise. For him, it was first time he had spent time in a large city, as it was for three of the youth. He is now completely on board with Krakos goal of doubling the number of youth participating in the program next year.