Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 1

My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from our church, went to Pine Ridge for a mission trip. Monday, August 3 was our first full day at Pine Ridge.

NSM2015LOGOretinaOur church – Fairfield First Baptist – was joined by a church from the Chicago area and another from South Carolina. We worked with a ministry called NextStep, based in Wisconsin. NextStep works at many sites throughout the US. The three churches were divided up between six work sites. I was assigned with half of the group from Fairfield to put up siding, soffit, and fascia on a trailer just east of the town of Pine Ridge.

Higher Ground Coffee

Higher Ground Coffee

After breakfast and packing a lunch (sandwich, apple, chips, and a granola bar), several of us went into Pine Ridge to a coffee shop called Higher Ground. Higher Ground is a Christian-owned coffee shop, first opened in 2005, making it one of the older businesses in town. The coffee and smoothies are fantastic, and the owners are extremely friendly. What impressed me is that they are very open and unashamed about their Christian faith in a place where Christianity is often looked down on. As much as I’m sure that some Christians go there because it is Christian-owned, I also suspect that many traditional Lakota avoid the place because they are open about their beliefs.

Installing Hardie Board

Installing Hardie Board

At the work site, the morning was cool and the sky was clear. Getting started was a bit slow; it took some time to size up exactly what needed to be done, and how to allocate the equipment and workers we had available. Some of the adults were very experienced with home construction projects; most of the teenagers had little or no experience. Most of us were someplace in between. I worked with several other people cutting and installing Hardie Board siding. I was unfamiliar with Hardie Board. It’s siding made of a mixture of concrete, sand, and wood fiber. It’s extremely durable, and not very difficult to install. Others in our group caulked seams and installed trim. I spent quite a bit of time setting and holding ladders for others – the ground was extremely uneven, and we had to make sure the ladders were set up safely.

Chief Red Cloud

Chief Red Cloud

Candy (the home owner) and her husband were not home during the time we worked. They are extremely fortunate in that they both have jobs. With unemployment running around 80-90% in Shannon County, the fact that both have full-time jobs is unusual. I did get a chance to speak briefly with Candy, when she stopped by the house briefly. She is a sixth-generation descendent of Chief Red Cloud, one of the primary Lakota chiefs of the late 19th century. Red Cloud was a renowned warrior and highly respected leader who worked diligently for the Lakota as they transitioned from life on the open plains to the reservation system.

After lunch, we noticed a couple of boys at the trailer next to our work site. One of the teenagers in our group got out a soccer ball, and invited the boys over to play. On mission trips like this, the work done on home repair is important, but building relationships with people in the community is even more important. By building relationships, we get to do more than just fix a home. We get an opportunity to know the people we serve, and an opportunity to tell people about the Gospel. Houses are temporary; relationships can be eternal. The two boys, Tyson and Tyrell, played with several of the teens for a little while, and said they’d be back tomorrow.

Tyrell, Tyson, and teens

Tyrell, Tyson, and teens

I also noticed a tent set up in the front yard of the double-wide trailer on the opposite side of Candy’s yard from the boys. A man and woman seemed to be living in the tent.   I went over to the fence and waved to the man, and he came over to talk. Wilbert and his wife were living in the tent in Wilbert’s father’s yard (also Wilbert), because they had no place else to stay. Wilbert is a Lakota teacher with a master’s degree in education. He has a teaching job lined up for the fall on another reservation, but no income in the meantime. The elder Wilbert’s home suffered serious damage on one end during a recent horrific hail storm. Apparently, large hail was blown nearly horizontally into one end of his trailer, virtually destroying the vinyl siding. There were more baseball-sized holes through the siding than I could even begin to count. Wilbert Jr. asked if there was anything we could do to help his dad get the home repaired before winter. I told him I didn’t know, but that I’d ask NextStep if we could do anything. Wilbert Jr. told me that he is a follower of Jesus Christ, and that there are very few real believers on the Rez. Many Lakota say they believe in Jesus, but in actuality, they simply add elements of Christianity to their traditional beliefs. True followers of Jesus are rare on the Rez, and are often persecuted by those who hold to the traditional ways.

Nadine, John, and granddaughter

Nadine, John, and granddaughter

After we finished work for the day, our church group went to John and Nadine Bissonette’s home for dinner. Several people from our church have known John and Nadine for a few years, and have built close friendships with them. John and Nadine are Christians, and are fortunate in that they own a house, not a trailer. They have been working to convert their basement into a shelter for battered women and children. NextStep had crews that laid down flooring in the Bissonette’s basement earlier in the summer, and a couple of women from our church had come out to Pine Ridge a few days ahead of the rest of the group to finish the work. John works as a chef at the casino on the Rez. Most people think that since there’s a casino, the tribe must be rolling in money. In reality, the casino barely breaks even, because Pine Ridge is out in the middle of nowhere. Nadine was supposed to have started a job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but hadn’t yet because of a bureaucratic snafu. We had Indian tacos for dinner – beans, meat, and toppings on Indian fry bread. They were delicious!

Stacey @ Big Bat's

Stacey @ Big Bat’s

On the way back to the compound where we stayed, we stopped at Big Bat’s for ice cream. Big Bat’s is a gas station, convenience store, and café at the main intersection in Pine Ridge. It’s sort of the social hub of the town – if you’re going to meet up with someone in Pine Ridge, you usually meet them at Big Bat’s.

logo-frealAt Big Bat’s, we discovered the F’real machine. F’reals are vending machine milkshakes and smoothies that are absolutely delicious! I had the blueberry raspberry pomegranate smoothie.

Back at the Recreation Department compound, I tried to call my wife, but had no service. Someone else had one bar, so they had a message relayed to my wife that we were doing fine.

After a shower, I got on my cot, turned on the fan, and crashed.

 

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