2011 (additional years are posted on the home page archives)
After months of planning, fund raising and preparation, Kristina Dix and I were headed north to a day camp created to minister to the children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. We thought we knew what lay ahead of us. We were wrong!
After a leisurely, three day, 1,300 mile trip (we took our time) we arrived on the reservation. My first dose of reality came when I turned down the wrong driveway and got stuck in mud that made quicksand look tame. Fortunately, Pastor Mike Brennan was able to get me out of the mud without him or Kristina getting covered with the sticky stuff!
Mike and Monica Brennan, along with their sons, Noah and Dakota, have been serving at Pine Ridge since 2009. Mike is the pastor at Sharp’s Corner Baptist Church on the reservation. He also serves through the North American Mission Board as the Church Planter for Pine Ridge.
In addition to these ministries, Mike and Monica formed “Youth Evangelism Strategies,” a non-profit organization created to minister to Native American children. Through “Youth Evangelism Strategies,” Mike and Monica have created day camps for children on two reservations in Idaho and Virginia. Our destination was their first summer day camp for the children of Pine Ridge.
The name of the camp is “Čhankú Wašté Ranch” or “The Good Road in the Badlands.” It is a place where Mike and Monica press on toward their goal to help the Native American community develop a desire to follow “The Jesus Road.” This message is their life’s work and it is here that they continue to live out that message just as they have on other reservations. And it is here that our lives were changed.
Not everything went as expected (it rarely does!) but God’s plan is always perfect. Another LA group ministering in the area brought a U-Haul full of supplies for the food and clothing closets at the church. In two days, Kristina and I had gone through every item and cleaned and stocked the closets. During that week we also cleaned the game room, both bathrooms, the kitchen and the room leading to the baptistry. And we were available to hand out food and clothing to people who came by in need.
We formed friendships with many we came in contact with and we experienced many “firsts” in our lives. Like the powwow we attended at the invitation of a young man who had recently returned to the reservation. It was an exciting, colorful experience and a first for us both!
Even our lodging was a “first” for us. It was as inconsistent as the South Dakota weather. We slept on air mattresses in a room at the church the first week. Then we moved into a tipi at the camp for two nights. One storm and two wet beds later, we were back on air mattresses on the floor of the parsonage with Linda and Josh-a mother and son team who provided horses, soccer and lots of love for the kids at camp. “Living” with them, instead of just working with them at camp, helped form a lasting friendship between the four of us.
In two short weeks we saw evidence of God at work among the Native people on the “rez.” One 17 year old young man came to camp the first week and accepted Christ as his savior the following Sunday. During the second week of camp he was bringing a new friend to camp every day.
During our first church service there, I had the privilege of leading a young mother to Christ. One of her children was saved during the first week of camp and when she saw the drastic change in her daughter she wanted to become a follower of Christ as well.
In our second week there we participated in a ladies’ Bible study. There were six of us in attendance – three Native Americans and three Anglo-Americans. The fellowship with these ladies was some of the sweetest I have ever experienced. One of the ladies was 70 years old and she blessed us with stories from what it was like on the reservation years ago. Her daughter shared her husband’s Lakota history with us and their recent discovery that his great, great Grandfather was a baby at Wounded Knee. Tears were shed before the night ended.
One of the greatest blessings we received was having the honor of working with the sweet children of this reservation. We came to realize that children are children, no matter where they live! They play hard, laugh hard and cry hard.
They are resilient, full of life and eager to learn. They all need guidance, discipline, love and attention. We tried to give them all of these things and more. They rode horses, had sno-cones (even on the cold days!), worked on crafts, played games and had Bible study. Mike is especially brilliant at leading them in Bible study. Because of his teaching, I will never forget any of the Ten Commandments OR the order they go in!
Many of these children lead difficult lives. They face alcoholism amongst their peers as well as their parents. Their living conditions are often extremely poor. Many of them don’t always get enough to eat. But the biggest problem they face is spiritual darkness. As a result of this darkness, suicide is prevalent among these children – especially those between the ages of 10-14. One little girl in our group shared with me the sad story of her own brother’s successful attempt to take his own life and how it had affected their family.
Some of the things I expected did come to pass. I expected to and fell in love with the people on the reservation and rekindled my love for the land. I enjoyed not knowing what day or what time it was, basking in the freedom of a busy but otherwise relaxed schedule. Sleep was more sound in a tipi; stars were brighter in a sky without lights to dim them; and the wind was sweeter because it was shared with good friends on a front porch.
The darkness of Pine Ridge does exist. However, there is a Light shining in that darkness. Jesus will prevail in the lives of these beautiful people. Hope will be restored. Souls will be saved. And many will come to walk “The Good Road in the Badlands.”