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Spirit Lake Ministry builds connections

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

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Spirit Lake Ministry Center continues to rebuild outreach services, in-person worship, and other programs. The radical change in how the ministry and other churches performed services and other critical faith-based programs continued throughout 2021 and 2022.

"We continue to build a faith community that encourages members of our community to trust and feel safe in the church and to bridge the gap of cultural differences. Our focus is not on the differences, but on the similarities of our cultures, our faith, and trust in God," said Rev. Mike Flowers, co-director at Spirit Lake Ministry Center and pastor for The Journey and First United Methodist Church in Devils Lake, North Dakota.

This past year, the basketball court came alive as children began to filter back to in-person worship and programs while ensuring COVID-safe gatherings. In addition, the Christian Life Center began to show signs of life as the ministry evolved from no teams to having about 25% of the volunteers from past years.

"The ministry provides a place for children and adults alike to come and feel safe in a loving, sharing community of faith," said Libby Flowers, co-director at Spirit Lake Ministry Center. 

The center provides a food pantry, construction ministry, outreach to families and children, opportunities to grow in faith, and Shoebox Christmas. 

The Spirit Lake Ministry Center food pantry operates year-round for emergency needs. The food pantry meets the needs of more than 1200 people each year on and around the Spirit Lake Nation. The pantry depends on the funds from the Spirit Lake Ministry Center, donations from churches and individuals, and food drive items. Recipients of the food receive more than just physical assistance. They are given the opportunity for prayer and fellowship. This helps grow the faith community of The United Methodist Church and The Journey @ Spirit Lake congregation. Referrals of needy persons come from the tribal council, tribal social services, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Dakota Prairie Community Action Organization, and local churches. 

Spiri Lake Construction

Building a ramp at Spirit Lake. Photos from Mike Flowers.

The construction ministry repaired some of the roofs that were leaking, and new wheelchair ramps were constructed as volunteer teams began trickling back in to serve as Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM). Lifelong relationships are formed as life stories are shared over a sandwich and bottles of water. The sounds of drum, song, and jingle dresses erupted in Arthur Hall.

"I was amazed at how much we missed building bridges between the two cultures. Team members again heard stories and the history of the Dakota peoples and their lives here on the Spirit Lake Nation," said Pastor Mike. "Our weekly culture night brings a sense of understanding to the volunteer teams and community members."

The summer JAM—Jesus and Me, children's outreach program, was able to meet in person for several weeks during the summer and continues to grow. 
 "Our hearts were filled with joy as we again heard the laughter and witnessed the spiritual growth of the children in our community," said Libby.

The Community Children's Fund provided emergency clothing and temporary housing for fifty-five children affected by life-changing events. The Community Children's Fund purchases winter coats, hats, gloves, blankets, clothing, toys, and other items lost in fires or any other major event that occurs in the child's life. The program depends on funds from the Spirit Lake Ministry Center, churches, and individuals to help defray the cost. 

The Journey @ Spirit Lake worshipping community continues to grow with in-person and virtual worship. "We are seeing new faces and hearing from people who have never been to the ministry but listen to our livestream," said Pastor Mike.

Monthly family nights happened using Facebook rooms and in-person activities as COVID precautions allowed. The family gatherings included some games, meals, and a movie night during times when COVID infection numbers were low in the community.

The Spirit Lake Ministry Center provided Shoebox Christmas gifts for 3,562 children in poverty and need in 2021. The continuing pandemic affected the efforts of many who had previously donated shoebox gifts.

"We were able to provide more shoeboxes this year as compared to last year, but we were still not at pre-pandemic levels," said Pastor Mike Flowers. "I feel this will continue to grow as the pandemic evolves to endemic levels." 

The shoebox gifts were distributed to children on eight reservations in the Dakotas Conference and the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota. The gifts provide the children with the story of Jesus' birth, warm hats, scarves, mittens or gloves, and fun toys. The gifts share the love of Jesus Christ and plant seeds of faith with the children who receive them. Shoebox Christmas gifts are donated by churches around the country and within the Dakotas Conference. 

2022 Shoebox Christmas

It's time again for the Shoebox Christmas Express to tour North and South Dakota. "We want to thank each congregation and person that participates in the Shoebox Christmas program. YOU are responsible for making so many children happy over the Christmas season. You truly share the love of Jesus Christ with every box you send," said Mike and Libby Flowers, Spirit Lake Ministry Center.

Last year the Spirit Lake Ministry Center delivered 3,562 shoeboxes to children that might not otherwise get a gift for Christmas.

What is in a Shoebox Christmas gift? To start, wrap the bottom and top of a shoebox separately with Christmas gift wrapping paper.  Add items that you purchased into the box. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, ask them what they would like for Christmas. Add that, a few more smaller gifts, some candy, a winter hat, mittens or gloves, and place a rubber band around the box and then the top. Label the box with the age group and gender of the child on top of the box. Use the following age groups when you create your label:  infant, toddler, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, 13 and up. Please only add new toys and please do not put any clothing except the hats, gloves or mittens in the boxes.

All gifts must be available for pick up at the locations listed below BY THE END OF THE DAY NOVEMBER 11, 2022. Please be sure and contact the drop-off church closest to you to see when you can drop off the Shoeboxes to them. 

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- Sunnycrest  Sioux Falls, SD

- Conference Office Mitchell, SD (Contact JoAnn)

- McCabe UMC Bismarck, ND

- Vincent UMC Minot, ND

- First UMC Devils Lake, ND

- Zion UMC Grand Forks, ND

- First UMC Fargo, ND

"These small gifts are so much more than most people realize. They are God's love manifested through and for his children. The people that give these boxes are the hands and feet of Christ in a world that doesn't always see Him or feel Him. This is God's love in action. Thanks for all your support. Blessings," Mike and Libby Flowers.


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