Reflections on 9/11

As I reflect back on the tragedy of 9/11, several things come to mind.

First, my thoughts and prayers are with those who lost someone that day.  May God grant you peace.

Second, I’m realizing how much 9/11 still impacts us today.  The rise of Donald Trump was, in large part, because of fear of another 9/11.  Much of our nation’s foreign policy is a direct result of 9/11.  We’re just now finally coming out from under the economic recession caused by 9/11.  The way law enforcement is trained and deployed has completely changed as a result of 9/11.  The underlying fear of another 9/11 impacts almost everything we do.

Third, I’m realizing that we’re forgetting.  For the younger generation, it’s just a chapter in their history books, like Pearl Harbor was for my generation, or the Civil War was for the generation before mine.  For those of us who are old enough to remember, the memory of the horror is fading for many of us.  History forgotten will repeat itself.  I hope and pray this never happens.

Last, I’m reminded of how fragile and short life is.  If 9/11 had never happened, many of the nearly 3,000 people who died that day would have died by now of other causes.  Life is short, and we never know when our last day will be.  Everyone dies; the only questions are when and how, and what happens next.  We have little control over the when and how.  God offers us a choice through Jesus Christ for what happens next.  My desire is that people would settle the question of what happens next by trusting Christ as Savior and Lord, then live whatever days they have remaining on Planet Earth to the fullest.  We only get one shot at life; there are no time-outs or do-overs.  I want to make the most of the one chance I have.

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American Conservatism Has Left Me.

Ronald Reagan drew me into conservative politics.

Donald Trump has shoved me out.

I didn’t change; American conservatism has changed.

Conservatism under Reagan used to include traditional values, like treating all people with dignity and respect, even when you strongly disagree with them.  It used to include the idea of winning over the opposition by building consensus.  It included building the economy to help all people to be able to better themselves financially.  Conservatism under Reagan was based on integrity, decency, and a Biblical view of morality, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or economic status.

American conservatism under Trump is completely different.  Name-calling, shaming, and disrespect have replaced treating all people with dignity.  Divisiveness has replaced consensus-building.  The economy is rigged to help big business at the expense of the middle class.  Conservatism under Trump is based on hypocrisy, humiliating the opposition, racism, elitism, and defending sexual abusers.

American conservatism no longer fits my Biblical beliefs.  Liberalism and Libertarianism never did fit.  I can no longer consider myself a conservative or a liberal, a Republican, a Libertarian, or a Democrat.  I’m now just a politically unaffiliated Christian, trying to serve my Lord and Savior as best I know how, completely repulsed by how American politics has degraded.

I will continue to speak out against the immorality, divisiveness, hypocrisy, and corruption I see on all sides of the political spectrum.  If this offends you, unfollow me now, and go hide in your safe space.

So Earthly Minded, You’re No Heavenly Good

The old Johnny Cash song says, “You’re so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”

I think the problem is usually the opposite. Too many Christians – myself often included – are too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.

We get caught up on social media with who should or shouldn’t marry whom, who should or shouldn’t own guns, who should or shouldn’t be allowed to enter the country, and who should or shouldn’t be President.

We are so busy telling people how we should fix this broken, temporary world that we neglect to tell others how to become part of the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Abortion, racism, sexuality, poverty, violence, politics, immigration, health care, taxes, the economy… Yes, they are all important. But they’re all temporary. When we die, they no longer affect us. When our children and grandchildren die, they will no longer affect them. All that will matter when we die is whether or not we have received Jesus Christ as Savior.

It’s simple: If a person has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, their sins are forgiven, and they spend eternity in Heaven with Him. If a person has not received Christ as Savior, their sins are not forgiven, and they spend eternity in Hell away from Him. And it’s not just after we die; If a person has Jesus, they have the Holy Spirit now to help them through this mess we call life. No Jesus, no Holy Spirit, no help getting through the mess.

Christian, don’t be so earthly minded, you’re no heavenly good. I’ll be working on it, too.

Why do People Support Abortion?

I honestly don’t understand how a rational person can support abortion rights.

To me, the argument against abortion is very simple, and goes something like this:

  1. Murder is the intentional killing of an innocent human being, and is immoral.
  2. Abortion is the intentional killing of an embryo or fetus.
  3. Embryos and fetuses are innocent human beings.
  4. Therefore, abortion is murder, and immoral.

The arguments for abortion rights seem to try to refute this argument in one of three ways:

  1. The most common argument is that embryos and fetuses are not human beings. However, I have yet to see a cogent rationale for this belief. Every argument I see is based on emotion or is utterly subjective.  Genetically, an embryo is human from the moment of conception. There is no other point in human development where scientists can objectively say, up this stage, the embryo/fetus is clearly not human, but from this point on, it is.
  2. The second common argument I see is that murder isn’t necessarily immoral. This view usually presupposes the first argument, that the unborn aren’t human beings. The rape, poverty, abuse, and birth defects arguments generally fit in this category. Sometimes, the “a woman’s choice” argument fits here as well. Again, I have yet to see a cogent rationalization for this view.
  3. The third argument I see is that abortion should be legal despite the fact that it is murder and immoral. This view is where the “a woman’s choice” argument usually fits. To me, this is the most illogical argument of the three. If murder by abortion should be legal, why not all forms of murder? Why make anything illegal?

The only justifiable exception I can logically defend is abortion to save the life of the mother. If both the mother and the fetus are expected to die without the abortion, and there is a reasonable expectation that the mother’s life can be saved if the abortion is performed, then it is better to lose one life than two. At the same time, every attempt should be made to save the baby as well.

I would very much like to understand why individuals who support the pro-choice position believe abortion is justifiable. If you are an abortion supporter, I would appreciate your comments. Please keep them respectful and on-topic. Disrespectful or irrelevant comments will be summarily deleted.

 

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – The Journey Continues

Me at Pine Ridge - photo by Stacey

Me at Pine Ridge – photo by Stacey

My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from our church, spent a week at Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota for a mission trip. On Saturday, August 8, we headed home.

We got up extra early that morning, grabbed a quick breakfast, and loaded the vehicles for the 1,100-mile drive back to Fairfield. As we were loading, one of the Next Step staff members told me that the left over materials had been delivered to the people I had met. Wilbert Sr. lives next to the home I had been working at all week, and his son Wilbert Jr. was staying with him for the summer. The home had been seriously damaged in a spring storm, and with the left over materials, the two Wilberts should have just about enough materials to make repairs before winter. Reportedly, the Next Step team woke up Wilbert Sr. as they were delivering the materials. Before they had even finished unloading, Wilbert was out in the yard, in his pajamas, with a claw hammer, yanking the remains of the old siding from the damaged side of his house.

The trip home was mostly uneventful. We traveled US-18 eastward across the southern edge of South Dakota, caught I-29 south to I-80 east. After spending the night in Peoria, we took I-74 home. I grabbed a handful of geocaches at rest stops and gas stations along the way. We arrived back at Fairfield on Sunday afternoon. I put a total of just over 3,000 miles on my car over the 10-day trip.

Probably the strangest thing that happened on the entire trip involved the dog we picked up on Friday. We were stuck at a construction zone on a dirt road in the absolute middle of nowhere when a dog appeared by our cars. Assuming the dog had been abandoned, we took it to the animal shelter in Pine Ridge. Assuming the dog would never be claimed, and eventually euthanized, one of the women from our group went back to the shelter, adopted the dog, and took it back to Fairfield with us. As luck would have it, this particular dog, unlike the vast majority of Rez dogs, actually did belong to someone. And, the person who owned the dog happened to be a high-ranking tribal leader, who, apparently, lives in the absolute middle of nowhere, and wanted their dog back. So, the dog had to be packed up and shipped back to Pine Ridge. Of all the hundreds of dogs in Pine Ridge, we had to pick up the wrong one!

A lot has happened since the trip. I’m back to my normal routine, and have been very busy, as evidenced by the fact that it’s taken me six weeks to finish this series of blogs. I took Stacey back to Virginia for her second year at Liberty University, and took a side trip to Georgia to find some very old geocaches.

photo by Stacey

photo by Stacey

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pine Ridge, trying to find ways to continue helping the residents. I’ve been in email contact with Denver American Horse, Veterans Service Officer for Oglala Lakota County, who runs the shelter for homeless veterans, and with Leon Matthews, who owns the Higher Ground coffee shop and writes a column for the Lakota Country Times. I’ve already signed up for next year’s trip to Pine Ridge with our church, along with Stacey and my wife, Ellen. This will be Ellen’s first trip to Pine Ridge, and I’m hoping she’ll be as drawn to work with the Lakota as I have become.

Our church is raising funds to rebuild the trailer purchased by Aimee, the young single mother of three children living in her car. We’re working through some local Pine Ridge folks to try to get the trailer inhabitable before winter hits. As a back-up plan, John and Nadine have offered to let the family stay with them.

Bruce and Marsha from Lakota Hope will be visiting Fairfield next month, to share with our church their hearts for the Lakota people, and their vision for ministry in the area. We’re also trying to get John Two Bulls out for a visit, to share what his ministry is all about.

Pine Ridge - photo by Stacy

Pine Ridge – photo by Stacy

Mission work isn’t just about going someplace, doing a project, and telling people about Jesus; it’s also about building long-term relationships with people. For those followers of Jesus at home, we need to support those in the field, not just with an occasional online donation, but by building relationships, and with prayer. Whether we are middle-class suburbanites from southwest Ohio, or native Lakota on the reservation, or missionaries who have moved somewhere to work full-time in missions, or anyone else, as followers of Jesus, we are all in the same family. We are all part of the body of Christ. And, we all need to work together, with our different talents, resources, and gifts, to share the Gospel with those who aren’t yet in the family.

Please pray for Pine Ridge. Pray for the economic situation to improve, for the continuing suicide epidemic to end, for an end to the gang activity, and for their health and safety getting through the winter. Most of all, pray for hearts to be opened, and for many to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Pray for the spiritual protection for the Christians on the Rez. And pray for those who are working to bring revival to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Pine Ridge Sunset - photo by Stacey

Pine Ridge Sunset – photo by Stacey

*** If anyone would like to help financially with the work that’s being done at Pine Ridge, you can either contact me, or send a check to Fairfield First Baptist Church, 1072 Hicks Blvd. Fairfield, OH 45014, and indicate that the money is for the Pine Ridge Fund.

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 5

Friday was the last full day we spent at Pine Ridge. It was our “free day” – no construction work was scheduled. Most groups went to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, or the Black Hills. We spent most of the day meeting with people and building relationships.

Ruby's Garden

Ruby’s Garden

Our first stop was at the home of a Lakota woman named Ruby. Ruby lives in a trailer on the outskirts of the town of Pine Ridge, near the airport. She works to bring the message of the Gospel to the people of Pine Ridge in a number of ways. Ruby has a large garden where she grows a variety of vegetables, and she gives most of the produce away. One of the things I had noticed yesterday when I had visited the only grocery store in town was that the price of produce was extremely high. The government commodity foods that most of the residents receive contain very little fresh produce, and since most residents have extremely limited income, it must be very difficult for many residents to obtain fresh produce. Ruby’s garden helps with this.

Ruby

Ruby

Ruby also brings in a local Gospel band to do concerts, sometimes under a tent in her yard. She said that most Lakota won’t come to hear a speaker, but will come to hear music, and the message of Jesus Christ can be spread through music.

Ruby’s main income is her Social Security check, which she spends mostly to help others. She said, “I’m very poor materialistically, but very rich in God’s blessings.” Such a wonderful attitude!

Some of the guys grabbed lawnmowers and mowed Ruby’s yard.

Our next stop was at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Cemetery in Porcupine, SD, to visit the grave of Cody White Pipe.

Many from our group met Cody, a 21-year-old Lakota man, a year ago while on another mission trip to Pine Ridge. Cody was hitch hiking, and they gave him a ride. Some of the group spent time getting to know him, and they became friends. About a month later, after the Fairfield group had returned home, Cody was killed in a hit-and-run accident. He had been visiting his sister, and had decided to walk home. His body was found on the side of U.S. Highway 18 about five miles east of Vetal, according to the Rapid City Journal. Cody’s obituary is here.

Cody's Grave

Cody’s Grave

Jessica, our group leader, went to Cody’s wake, and befriended several family members.

We were met at Cody’s grave site by his sister. She told us that Cody’s case is still considered open by the police, and that he might have been a victim of homicide. Apparently, there were indications at the scene that his death might not have been an accident. For many years, Pine Ridge Reservation has had a homicide rate much higher than the national average, and many of the murders remain unsolved. Gang violence is responsible for many of the murders. Although Cody was not affiliated with any of the gangs on the reservation, Cody’s family suspects that he might have seen something, or said something, or been mistaken for someone else, and paid for it with his life.

According to his sister, Cody had mentioned seeing a mysterious, dark figure a week or so before his death. Many Lakota believe in a “Tall Man” spirit, a spirit of death, which often appears to people before they die. Because Lakota religion is based around spirit worship, demonic activity is rampant on the reservation. It’s quite possible Cody’s death was influenced by this demonic activity.

Grave of a young Lakota child

Grave of a young Lakota child

Something that struck me as I walked around the cemetery was the large number of young people and children buried there. There are many graves of infants, children, teenagers, and young adults in their 20s, far more than in most cemeteries I’ve visited. I’ve seen graves of children in pioneer cemeteries from the 1700s and 1800s, before modern medicine had been developed. These graves, however, were mostly from within the last 50 years. It really hit home to me how the medical care and relative safety I take for granted are simply not available to many on Pine Ridge Reservation, with deadly consequences. Pine Ridge has the lowest average life expectancy in the United States, largely because of childhood deaths. The problems with poverty on Pine Ridge and many other reservations have little to do with the current welfare system, but stem from treaties signed in the 1800s that have never been fully honored and never been renegotiated or revised. This has led to conditions comparable to third-world countries like Haiti, in the heartland of the United States.

As we were getting ready to leave the cemetery, Cody’s mother and other sister arrived. This other sister is the young lady we had met at Big Bat’s earlier in the week; she is currently homeless, living in a car with her three children. She recently bought a trailer, not far from the cemetery, for $400. We drove over to take a look at it.

The trailer had recently been used as a meth lab – there was drug paraphernalia and lab equipment strewn around. The interior had been completely stripped, the windows were all broken, and the drywall and insulation were gone. There was mold, dry rot, no plumbing, and no electric. The trailer was completely uninhabitable, even by Pine Ridge standards.

My daughter Stacey and I, along with at least one other person from our group, sensed something strange in and around the trailer. I went into the trailer, and was looking around, when I felt very strongly like I was being watched, like someone or something was hiding nearby.   It freaked me out – I had to get out of the trailer immediately. Stacey said she sensed an evil “presence.” Neither Stacey nor I saw anything, but we sensed it. I’ve had this sort of sensation a few times before. In college, I used to get the same feeling every time a certain girl was around – even when I didn’t know she was there. It turned out, she was very heavily into the occult and witchcraft. Stacey and I both believe that there was some sort of demon in or near the trailer. Most of the people in our group said they didn’t see or sense anything unusual, but I’m sure there was something there. I realize some of my readers think demons are nonsense; however, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe demons are real. I don’t fear them, because the Holy Spirit dwells in me and protects me. However, they’re not something to be messed with, and for non-Christians, they can be extremely dangerous.

The general consensus among the adults in our group was that the trailer either needed to be completely dismantled and replaced, or that it would need a complete overhaul before it would be inhabitable. We were uncertain what, if anything, we could do to help get it to a livable condition before winter.

Middle of Nowhere

Middle of Nowhere

Our next stop of the day did involve a little sightseeing. We drove to a roadside pull-off overlooking the Badlands on BIA-41 between the town of Oglala and Red Shirt. We had been given a “short cut” from Porcupine that wouldn’t involve going back through the town of Pine Ridge. The “short cut” turned out to be a 21-mile long dirt road through the middle of nowhere. While we were driving down this road, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, a woman holding a STOP sign stood in the middle of the road. It turned out, there was a road crew grading the road. We had to wait for 45 minutes for the road to be cleared enough for us to pass. While we were sitting at a STOP sign, on a road in the middle of nowhere, a dog appeared. Most Rez dogs live in town, and are uncared for. This dog was in the middle of nowhere, and it seemed like it might have been cared for a little bit fairly recently. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, with no sign of a house or farm, just a lady holding a STOP sign, we assumed the dog had been abandoned by someone, and the dog was picked up to be taken to the animal shelter in Pine Ridge.

Stacey at the Badlands overlook

Stacey at the Badlands overlook

When we finally got to the overlook, the view was spectacular. The Badlands is an area composed of extremely soft sedimentary layers which have been eroded, leaving spectacular canyons, ravines, gullies, buttes, and mesas. The Badlands are a bit of a problem for the idea that the earth is billions of years old. The landforms and geology fit much better with the Biblical young-earth timeframe. The layers would have been rapidly deposited during the Great Flood, and quickly eroded immediately after, leaving the sharp landforms. If the process had taken millions of years, the landforms would be far flatter, lacking the sharp vertical structures, due to the extremely soft sediments.

Our last stop of the day was at the Wounded Knee Cemetery and Memorial. Wounded Knee is the site of two significant events in Lakota history. The infamous Wounded Knee Massacre occurred in 1890.   On December 28, 1890, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment under the command of Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted a band of Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota near the modern-day town of Porcupine, and escorted them five miles westward to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made

Mass grave at wounded Knee, January, 1891

Mass grave at wounded Knee, January, 1891

camp. The 7th Cavalry was the same unit that had been obliterated under General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The next morning, while attempting to disarm the Lakota, a shot was accidentally fired; the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed between 200 and 300 Lakota, and wounded at least 51, most of whom were unarmed women, children, and elderly. Following a three-day blizzard, the military hired civilians to gather the frozen bodies and heap them in a mass grave on the hillside overlooking the massacre site. This event essentially ended all resistance to the Reservation system, and put into motion events that have led to the deplorable conditions that exist on the reservation to this day.

Wounded Knee, 1973

Wounded Knee, 1973

The second incident, 83 years after the massacre, began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, just a few yards south of the massacre site. The occupation was part of an internal political struggle within the Lakota tribe, but was also a protest against the United States government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native people and demanded the reopening of treaty negotiations. Oglala and AIM activists controlled the town for 71 days while the United States Marshals Service, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area. The internal tribal political conflict continues to this day, with traditionalists pitted against progressives for control of the tribe.

John and Nadine talk to the group at Wounded Knee

John and Nadine talk to the group at Wounded Knee

John and Nadine Bissonette joined our group at the cemetery to share their personal stories. I didn’t write down all the details, but one of Nadine’s great grandparents was present at the Massacre of Wounded Knee. I don’t remember whether she said her ancestor was a survivor, or whether they died during the massacre. John’s family was very involved with the 1973 incident. His uncle Pedro Bissonette was the director of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO), who, along with AIM, occupied the town of Wounded Knee. In the aftermath of the incident, more than 60 opponents of the tribal government died violently, including John’s uncle Pedro Bissonette, his aunt Gladys Bissonette, and his mother Jeanette Bissonette. John was a toddler when his mother was murdered in her car by a sniper, with John in the back seat. Her murder remains unsolved.

The mass grave at Wounded Knee

The mass grave at Wounded Knee

The visit to the Wounded Knee Memorial was a very somber event for me. The massacre was a pivotal point in the long history of oppression the Lakota have suffered. The aftershocks of Wounded Knee are still felt on the Rez. It reminded me of why I went to Pine Ridge: the people of Pine Ridge have suffered for many years, and desperately need the hope that only Jesus Christ can provide.

That evening, one of Cody White Pipe’s sisters stopped by the Next Step compound to say goodbye to our group. I wasn’t involved, but some of our group talked with her late into the night and shared the Gospel.

As I spent my last night in my cot at the Next Step compound, I prayed that the work we had done and the relationships we had built had brought hope to someone, and that somehow my visit to Pine Ridge would be used by God to bring someone closer to knowing Jesus Christ as Savior.

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!