Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 4

Sioux Nation Grocery

Sioux Nation Grocery

Our fourth full day at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation began with me not feeling very well. Our room had been rather warm that night, and I got very little sleep. I’m sure the fact that I had taken in huge amounts of caffeine the day before didn’t help, either. In any case, I had a headache, and was one of the last people to get up. I had to rush to get breakfast, pack my lunch, and get on the road. On the way to Higher Ground for coffee, I stopped at the only grocery store in Pine Ridge, Sioux Nation Shopping Center, to buy a dozen oranges, a dozen bananas, and a box of peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars for Tyson and Tyrell, the two boys we had met living next door to our work site. The teens in our group mentioned that they had said they liked bananas, oranges, and peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars, so I figured getting them some would be a great way for our kids to get to share Christ’s love with them tangibly.

While I was at Sioux Nation, the van carrying most of the rest of our group stopped for a hitchhiker. Hitchhiking is very common on the Rez; many people don’t have cars, and there is no public transportation. Brian, our youth pastor, who was driving the van, had been very hesitant about picking up hitchhikers, but God prompted him to stop. The man was walking away from a disabled car, parked on the side of the road, and was headed toward Pine Ridge, about 12-15 miles away. He was quite grateful for the ride. Brian told him we weren’t going all the way into Pine Ridge, but that we’d be stopping near the edge of town. The man said that was fine, since he wasn’t going all the way into town, either. It turned out that the man was Tyrell and Tyson’s uncle, and that he was headed to their house – next door to our work site.   I don’t believe this was a coincidence!

Again, the crew from South Carolina worked with us as we continued with soffet, trim and painting. As the day progressed, I started feeling a bit dizzy and extremely tired. I had to stop and rest in the shade frequently, much more so than on any of the previous days. I didn’t figure out until later that, in addition to not getting much sleep, in the rush to get moving that morning, I had inadvertently forgotten to take my medications. No sleep + no meds + heat = bleeeaaah.

Candy (the home owner) and her husband are extremely fortunate, in that both have jobs. We didn’t see them much during the week, but during her lunch break, Candy stopped by to say thank you in person. She was extremely grateful for the work we had been doing, and thrilled for the progress we had made on her home. We thanked her for the privilege of working on her home.

On our lunch break, some of the teens went next door to deliver the fruit and granola bars, and to play basketball with Tyson and Tyrell. The boys, as well as the woman who answered the door, were very appreciative for the food. Lunch sort of revived me a bit, and I saw Wilbert Sr. (whom I had not yet met) in his yard, so I went over to the fence to introduce myself. We talked about the storm that had demolished the end of his house, and about how we were hoping to be able to donate the leftover supplies to him, so that he could get the house repaired by winter. I went over and measured the damaged section of his trailer in order to get an idea whether there would be enough leftover supplies, or not. Later that afternoon, the guy from Next Step in charge of materials gave the tentative approval for the donation; he would still be within budget without returning the leftover materials to the store, and didn’t think final approval from Next Step headquarters would be an issue. His biggest concern was that the materials would just sit there and not be used; he didn’t want limited resources going to waste. I assured him that, based on my conversations with Wilberts Jr. and Sr., the work would get done quickly.

At the end of our workday, there was still quite a bit of work left to do on Candy’s home. Since this was the last day for us to be on the work site, and the last week for the summer for Next Step to work, it meant that the Next Step staff would need to finish the work over the next 2 days. Fortunately, the bulk of the work was done, mostly leaving painting and finishing touches.

That evening, we were invited for dinner and to the dedication of the home the other group from Fairfield First Baptist had been working on. This was the first from-the-ground-up project Next Step had undertaken at Pine Ridge. During the dedication, we had the opportunity to meet and hear John Two Bulls speak. John is a native Lakota, a pastor, and an evangelist, who works in suicide prevention and helps people get out of gangs.

My daughter Stacey and a Lakota boy

My daughter Stacey and a Lakota boy at the dedication

Suicide is a serious problem on the Rez. The overall suicide rate is more than twice the national average, and the teen suicide rate is more than four times the national average.   One of the most disturbing things about many of the suicides is that they appear to be instigated by demonic activity. Many of the suicide notes and survivors tell of a shadowy, dark figure, sometimes called the Tall Man spirit, who tells them to kill themselves. Many Lakota traditionally believe in a “suicide spirit” similar to the Tall Man spirit. Since traditional Lakota religion is based on spirit worship, it should be no surprise to Christians that demonic activity would be rampant on the Rez. There are few mental health professionals on the reservation; not nearly enough to handle the depression and despair that comes with poverty and high rates of alchohol and drug abuse.

John told the story of 12 teens who had a suicide pact; they were going to all hang themselves at the same time. John was tipped off, and rushed to the scene. There were 12 nooses hanging from trees, and a crowd of teens gathered. Some were going to hang themselves; others came to watch. By the grace of God, John arrived in time to stop the hangings. He was able to counsel with many of the teens, and some received Jesus Christ as Savior. The incident was so significant, it was even reported by the New York Times.

John Two Bulls

John Two Bulls

The evidence of demonic influence on the Rez was also illustrated by a startling statistic John mentioned: There are more violent deaths on the Rez during the month when most of the Sun Dances occur than in the rest of the year combined. The Sun Dance is a Lakota religious ceremony that usually lasts several days. The purpose of the Sun Dance is to offer personal sacrifice as a prayer to the spirits for the family and tribe. It usually involved ceremonial cleansing through fasting and the sweat lodge, and often involves a ritualistic piercing, where men dance around a pole to which they are fastened by rawhide thongs pegged through the skin of their chests, until the wooden pegs rip out. Participants also seek visions from the spirits. Most Christians would recognize these “spirits” as demonic. It’s not surprising that ceremonies involving praying and sacrifice to demons would result in a drastic increase in violent deaths. The statistic John mentioned bears this out.

Gang activity is rampant on Pine Ridge Reservation. There are at least 40 different gangs on the reservation, with anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred members. Most of the murders on the reservation are tied to gangs, along with much of the other crime. John Two Bulls works with gang members to get them out of the gangs, and shares the Gospel with them. Many have come to faith in Jesus Christ as a result.

Later that evening, back at the Next Step complex, we had a worship service, followed by a visit from Jerry Bear Shield. Jerry is a Pine Ridge native who lost his sight after being beaten up by a gang. He’s a soft-spoken man who told some great stories about life on the Rez.

That night, it was cooler, and I got some much needed rest. And, I remembered to take my meds!

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