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!

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 3

Wednesday, August 5 marked the midpoint of our stay at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Water tower at Pine Ridge

Water tower at Pine Ridge

We woke up to the water being out for most of the complex where we were staying. Fortunately, we had water in the building where I slept. Breakfast was a little slim, since the water was out in the kitchen, and it was the last week of trips for the summer. I had a couple of bagels, although one of them had a little mold on it. I started to complain, but then thought about how what I had for breakfast was more than a lot of the people who lived on the Rez had to eat that morning. So, I pulled the moldy spot off, and ate the rest.

On the way to the work site, we once again stopped at Higher Ground for coffee and muffins.

On the work site at Candy’s house, we were rather behind schedule for being able to complete the work by week’s end. Fortunately, one of the crews from South Carolina had completed their project on Tuesday, and and were able to join us. The SC group started tackling the end of the trailer with all the rotting framing. The Fairfield group continued with siding, soffet, trim around the windows and doors, and painting. Fortunately, Next Step was able to get more ladders and a small scaffold to the site – the lack of ladders had been the biggest factor slowing us down. The work began progressing more quickly!

Unlike yesterday, when there had been clouds and a strong breeze, today was very hot and windless. Unfortunately, most of the remaining work was on the sunny sides of the house, and there is little shade in the yard. I chugged through a large coffee, 2 Monsters, 2 bottles of water, two Gaterades, and was still thirsty.

Me, nailing up Hardie Board

Me, nailing up Hardie Board

One of the things Next Step requested was that each group bring tools from home, to supplement the tools they provided. We had been given a list of requested tools to bring. I brought my cordless drill and circular saw, which were on the list. I also grabbed several tools that weren’t on the list, following the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Among those were a jigsaw, extra drill bits, extra saw blades, and extra work gloves. Today, we used all of these.

During a break, I walked over to talk with Wilbert Jr. again. I told him that the guy from Next Step in charge of materials said we might be able to leave extra materials, but he had to check to see if he was still within budget, and get approval. Hopeful, but no promises.

That evening, our group brought Subway sandwiches to Lakota veterans living in a veterans home in Pine Ridge. We had a chance to sit down with Denver American Horse, Veterans Service Officer for Oglala Lakota County, who runs the shelter. Denver is a fascinating man, whom I would love to sit down with one-on-one and simply listen.

Denver American Horse

Denver American Horse

Denver spoke of the Lakota tradition as a warrior people. In the old days, the Lakota were fierce warriors, whom the other Plains tribes didn’t mess with very much. They were also among the last to give up their way of life and move to the reservations. Names like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud are but a few of the more famous Lakota warriors. In more recent times, many Lakota continue the warrior tradition by serving in the United States military. Denver told the story of a man in nearby Martin, SD, who had both of his sons drafted during the Viet Nam war. He complained to the draft board, “I need my two sons to run my ranch. Why don’t you draft a few of those lazy Lakota Indians instead?” The officer from the draft board replied, “We can’t. They’ve all already volunteered.”

One of the things I’ve heard is that many Lakota resent outsiders doing work on the reservation, especially churches. I asked Denver whether he thought groups like ours, coming from outside the reservation to do various projects on mission trips, were actually doing any good on the reservation. He said, yes, what we were doing definitely helped. I then asked him what else we could do, besides these sorts of short-term projects. He explained that a lack economic development is the biggest problem faced by people on the reservation. There simply are very few jobs, few stores and businesses, and few opportunities to bring jobs and businesses to Pine Ridge. The biggest help outsiders could provide is to bring jobs to the area. He mentioned that under Bush’s Faith Based Initiative, religious groups should be able to get government grants that could be used to bring services and jobs to Pine Ridge, but that no group that he was aware of had ever tried.

Someone also asked Denver about the significance of eagles in Lakota culture. He said that the eagle takes the prayers of the Lakota to the Great Spirit. I thought that was interesting.

Sunset Selfie

Sunset Selfie

That evening, after returning to the Next Step complex, we were treated to a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms on the Great Plains are awesome to watch, as long as you have a safe spot to watch from. God gave us an amazing light show! After our worship time, I showered, and went to sleep.

Thunderstorm

Thunderstorm

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 2

Tuesday, August 4 was our second full day at Pine Ridge. My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from Fairfield First Baptist Church, were at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to serve the community by building and repairing homes, building relationships, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NSM2015LOGOretinaWe worked through Next Step Ministries. We stayed at a Parks and Recreation facility north of the community of Wounded Knee, SD. Housing consisted of a couple large buildings with rooms holding about 8 guys or gals, sleeping on air mattresses or cots. At least we had heat and air conditioning, and the conditions were better than most of the homes on the Rez.

For breakfast, we had pancakes and sausages. As usual, we made sack lunches to take with us to our work sites. A couple of the students in my group made lunches to take to Tyson and Tyrell, the boys who live next to the home we were repairing. The morning was kind of chilly, and it sprinkled a little.

Me, holding a ladder

Me, holding a ladder

After coffee at Higher Ground, we headed to Candy’s house, and got to work. We put up more Hardie board, trimmed out windows and doorways, and caulked a lot of cracks. We found that one end of the trailer was going to be difficult to fix, because much of the framing was rotted out. Our Next Step leader, Rob, would need to do the work to replace the framing before we could begin work on the siding.

It was hot – in the low 90s – but a strong wind made the heat bearable. Rain threatened all day, but never came. While we worked, a few of us had a conversation about demonic activity on the Rez. Traditional Lakota religion is based around spirit worship. They believe in a Great Spirit or Creator, as well as other spirits. We discussed how, from a Biblical perspective, these spirits are demons. Followers of traditional Lakota religion use various rituals to keep the bad spirits away and placate the good spirits. The Sage plant is burned as incense to ward off evil spirits. Sage grows all over the place around Pine Ridge – we saw it at Candy’s house, John and Nadine’s house, and along the road between Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee. We talked about how Pine Ridge is a very spiritually dark place – many of the suicide notes mention a dark, shadowy figure who told the person to kill themselves. Candy, the owner of the home we were working on, is a Christian. She plays Christian music in her trailer 24/7, in the belief that it helps keep the evil spirits out.

A few minutes after this conversation, the wind blew down one of the ladders, barely missing one of the women from our group. This may be difficult for some people understand, but I’m convinced it wasn’t an accident. I personally had made sure the ladder was set correctly, and although the wind was blowing, it wasn’t gusting strong enough to blow down the ladder. I honestly believe the ladder was pushed by something demonic, in response to the conversation we had just finished. The Bible talks about spiritual warfare happening all around us, that we cannot see, and I felt something that kind of creeped me out just before the ladder fell – a sort of presence, like something was watching me. This is entirely consistent with numerous accounts from many other people about encountering evil spirits on the Rez. Coincidence? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.

Putting up Hardie board

Putting up Hardie board

At lunch time, the teens in our group took the two lunches they had made for Tyson and Tyrell next door to give to them, but they weren’t home; the person who answered the door said they would give the lunches to them when they returned.

Later that afternoon, I went over and talked to Wilbert Jr. again. Wilbert was living in a tent in the front yard of his dad Wilbert Sr. while waiting for a teaching job on another reservation to begin later in the month. He had asked if Next Step could do anything to help repair his dad’s trailer before winter. I found out that Next Step has a 2-3 year waiting list for assistance, and that they weren’t even able to take applications at that time. So, Next Step wasn’t going to be able to do any work on the house. However, I told him that I would check to see whether we might be able to leave any left-over materials – Hardie board, nails, caulk, trim, etc. – at the end of the week, so he and his dad could make the repairs themselves.

That evening, we went to White Clay, Nebraska, for an evening at Lakota Hope. Lakota Hope is “a ministry serving the Lakota Nation – specifically the Risen Warriors (street people) of Whiteclay and Pine Ridge.” White Clay (population 14) is an unincorporated town two miles south of the center of Pine Ridge, just across the Nebraska/South Dakota border. The town consists of several liquor stores and a few homes. Until recently, the sale of alcohol on Pine Ridge Reservation was illegal, so the town of White Clay sprang up primarily to provide alcohol to the Lakota. The four liquor stores in White Clay, licensed by the State of Nebraska, sell the equivalent of 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), mostly to the Oglalas living on the Pine Ridge. Many of the Lakota who purchase alcohol in White Clay live in the streets, sitting or laying on the sidewalks or alleyways. It’s so common to see drunks on the side of the road, they actually show up in Google Maps Street View. Efforts have been made to shut down the alcohol sales, but the state of Nebraska and Sheridan County officials have taken little action.

Lakota Hope

Lakota Hope

The Lakota Hope Ministry was started and is run by Bruce and Marsha BonFleur, who came to White Clay in August of 1998. They had no formal training, little knowledge of Lakota history, complete ignorance of Lakota culture, and no idea why God had brought them there. They just had the desire to do what God called them to do – to “live among and serve God’s beloved Oglala Lakota Sioux people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” Bruce and Marsha built the Lakota Hope Center in White Clay, and have developed relationships with the street people, leading many of them to personal relationships with Jesus Christ.

Kevin Poor Bear

Kevin Poor Bear

During the summer months, Lakota Hope hosts an event on the grounds where the locals can get a free meal and local artists can sell their work to people visiting the Rez. There is usually a Christian band or singer, a speaker, and a chance for visitors to get to know the street people. On the night we visited, there was a Messianic Jewish band playing a very Israeli style of music, and probably around 30 local artists selling various items. One of my favorite artists was a guy named Kevin Poor Bear. Kevin is a Lakota, double-amputee, former alcoholic Christian with an amazing artistic talent. After his daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Kevin turned his life over to Jesus Christ and gave up drinking, and now uses his talent to bring glory to his Savior.

Several from our group took food out to the streets of White Clay, and gave it to the people they met on the sidewalks. Most spent quite a bit of time talking to those they met, listening to their stories, and getting to know them. Most Lakota are difficult to share the Gospel with, until they get to know you. Historically, churches were used to deliberately destroy traditional Lakota culture. Children were taken and placed in church-run schools, where they were forced to cut their hair, wear White American clothing, and learn English and American religion, while being forbidden to speak Lakota or practice their traditional beliefs. Most of

People at Lakota Hope

People at Lakota Hope

these so-called “Christian” churches weren’t made up of actual born-again followers of Jesus Christ, but rather, cultural Christians – Christians in name only. So, there is a lot of well-justified suspicion and distrust of people calling themselves Christian by the Lakota. The best way to share the Gospel – not just with the Lakota, but with most people – is to start by developing a relationship with them first. Many of the street people of White Clay opened up and shared their entire life stories to those who brought food to them – they were just happy that someone cared enough to listen. And, many from our group had a chance to share the good news of Jesus Christ one-on-one with someone who needed to hear. I’m not aware of anyone getting saved that evening, but many seeds were planted, and many people prayed with that evening.

I heard accounts of dark, shadowy figures walking the streets of White Clay after dark. Again, I believe there is real demonic activity on and around the Pine Ridge Reservation, and I heard far too many people describing the same sort of dark, shadowy figure to dismiss it. Many of the street people fear this figure, and Bruce BonFleur says he’s seen it as well. As a follower of Christ, I don’t fear such things, because Christ has defeated the Devil and his minions. However, Christians need to be aware that demonic activity is real, and remain diligent to pray against evil and for those who are oppressed by demons.

I didn’t join the group that took food to the street people. Instead, I had a long talk with John Bissonette, who had come out to Lakota Hope that evening with Nadine and two of their grandkids. I really wanted to get to know John, who I had been praying for for months. We talked a lot about the needs of the people in Pine Ridge, and about his and Nadine’s desire to help the people on the Rez, especially battered women and children. I asked him what kinds of resources Fairfield First Baptist Church and I might be able to provide, once we got back to Ohio. At first, he was reluctant to ask for any assistance, but with a bit of prodding, he listed the following:

  • Bibles (especially NKJV)
  • Bible DVDs
  • Blankets
  • Clothing
  • Coats and jackets
  • Shoes
  • Tools to fix cars
  • A decent chainsaw to cut fire wood

I’m hoping and praying that we will be able to get some of these things sent out to John and Nadine over the next few months.

Later that evening, we stopped at Big Bat’s again for F’reals. Some from our group met a homeless girl named Aimee, who was living in her car with 3 small children. It turned out she was the sister of Cody White Pipe, who many from the group had met last year, and whose story I will tell on another day. There seemed to be a lot of “coincidences” that occurred on this trip; however, I don’t believe they were actually coincidences. God has a way of orchestrating things to bring people and circumstances together for a purpose. Some of the people from our group bought her some groceries and diapers, which were very appreciated. Aimee had recently bought a trailer and some land near Porcupine for $400, but the trailer had been a former meth lab, and was completely uninhabitable. A few of the men from the group agreed to go out the next day to have a look at it, to see if it might be salvageable.

Back at the compound, I showered, and went to bed, very tired, yet very optimistic about the rest of the week to come.

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Background

My daughter Stacey and I are planning to go on a short-term mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in NSM2015LOGOretinasouthwest South Dakota this August. The trip will be with about 20 other people from my church, Fairfield First Baptist, and is through Next Step Ministries. This is the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing about the trip.

Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, and located in Oglala Lakota County (formerly Shannon County), South Dakota, which is the poorest county in the United States. Some statistics:

  • Pine Ridge has 8 times the United States rate of diabetes.
  • The alcoholism rate is estimated as high as 80%.
  • The median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
  • The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is approximately 83-85%, and can be higher during the winter months.
  • About 97% of the population lives below Federal poverty levels.
  • 1 in 4 infants is born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects.
  • The suicide rate is more than twice the national rate.
  • Teen suicides occur at a rate of 4 times the national rate.
  • School drop-out rate is over 70%.
  • Teacher turnover is 800% that of the U.S. national average.
  • Infant mortality is three times the national rate.
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
  • There are an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (a home which may only have two to three rooms).  Some larger homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.
  • Over-all, 59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.
  • Over 33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems.
  • 39% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.
  • At least 4,000 new homes are needed on the Reservation in order to combat the homeless situation.

History

LakotaThe Oglala are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota tribe, who along with the Nakota and Dakota, comprise the Great Sioux Nation. Prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806, the Lakota had little contact with non-indigenous people, other than a few traders. At one time, the Lakota controlled a vast area of the Great Plains, including parts of Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

In 1851, the United States government negotiated the first Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota and several other tribes in order to secure the safety of travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Indians were to receive an annuity in the amount of fifty thousand dollars for fifty years. The U.S. Senate promptly adjusted the compensation from fifty to ten years, then failed to actually deliver most of the commodities promised as payment, and did not enforce other treaty provisions.

In response, the Lakota and others attacked settlers, causing public pressure on the US Army to punish them. A series of battles between the Lakota and the U.S. Army followed.

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie ended this war. The treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation, which comprised the entire western half of South Dakota, including the Black Hills. The Black Hills were (and are still) considered sacred by the Lakota. The treaty provided for hunting privileges in areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota until the buffalo were gone, as well as for schools, clothing, blankets, and food rations. It also called for land allotments to be made to individual Indians.

SiouxreservationmapWhen gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1872, the U.S. government refused to enforce provisions of the 1868 treaty keeping miners out.

Despite the fact that the 1868 treaty required that ¾ of all adult Lakota males had to approve any land deals, and that the Lakota overwhelmingly refused to sign the new treaty, the U.S. Congress ratified Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, which cut off all rations for the Lakota until they ceded the Black Hills to the United States, effectively stealing the Black Hills from the Lakota.

The government also began the systematic destruction of the buffalo herds that the Lakota relied on for food and shelter. This forced the Lakota onto the reservations in order to receive food allotments, or to starve. Once on the reservations, the government again ignored treaty provisions by reducing food allotments, causing widespread illness and death due to malnutrition.

The Dawes Act of 1887 forced the Lakota to divide the Reservation land into allotments for individual Indians, and to sell off “excess” lands to white settlers. It was designed to force the Lakota to become “civilized” by becoming farmers and abandoning traditional tribal structures and traditions. However, because the land was unsuitable for farming, and due to severe drought, the Lakota were reduced to near starvation.

In 1890, in part due to the desperation of the Lakota people, a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance arose. It was believed that the dance would reunite the Lakota with spirits of their dead ancestors, make the whites leave, and bring unity, prosperity, and peace. Unfortunately, many white settlers felt threatened by the movement, fearing it would lead to a new round of war with the Indians. The military was called in. On December 15, 1890, 40 Indian policemen tried to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, a supporter of the Ghost Dance, killing him in the process. After Sitting Bull’s death, about 200 members of his followers, fled and joined Chief Spotted Elk, and attempted to travel to Pine Ridge for protection. On the way, they were met by a 7th Cavalry detachment under Major Samuel M. Whitside. On December 29, 1890, while camped next to Wounded Knee Creek, the military attempted to disarm the Indians. After a scuffle, a shot was fired, then the military opened fire on the Indians. A massacre ensued. In less than an hour, at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children had been killed, and many more wounded. Some estimates put the total casualties (dead and wounded) at around 300 of the approximately 350 Indians in Spotted Elk’s group. Many of the women and children fled into a nearby ravine, where they were systematically hunted down and shot. The Wounded Knee Massacre effectively ended all Lakota hopes of a return to the pre-reservation way of life.

Religion on Pine Ridge Reservation

Approximately 46% of the residents on Pine Ridge Reservation are affiliated with a religious congregation. Nearly half of those are affiliated with the Catholic Church, and a little over a quarter are affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The rest are spread between various evangelical churches, mainline Protestant churches, and a smattering of others.

The Oglala Lakota are very spiritual people. Although not affiliated with a church, most hold to some variation of traditional Lakota beliefs, and many affiliated with churches combine some traditional beliefs with their Christian beliefs.

According to Lakota tradition, the Lakota were given their culture by a sacred person, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who gave the people the sacred pipe along with a promise to teach them the ceremonies and standards for living as a united tribe. This pipe links the Lakota to their relatives the buffalo, who would give their very lives to sustain their kin.

The Lakota language has no word for religion. The sacred are not restricted to certain times, places, or activities – the Lakota held and many continue to hold that all is sacred. Religious revelation through personal quest, dreams, and visions remains an important part of their dynamic belief system. Lakota religion teaches that everything has a spirit, and many Lakota worship the spirits. The Great Spirit is the most powerful of all – the traditional Lakota God.

There are many Christian organizations that do mission work on Pine Ridge. Most center around building projects and other ways of trying to improve the living conditions on the Reservation. Many of the Oglala appreciate the work these groups do, but many others have a deep opposition to Christianity and Christians. Many feel they have been stripped of everything they once had, and that their traditional religious beliefs are all they have left. Others resent that religion, especially Catholic and Episcopalian churches, was shoved down their throats in the deliberate attempts to “civilize” them by forcing them to give up their traditional ways.

Why this matters

Pine RidgeBecause I will be spending a week in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a missionary, I felt it was critical that I learn as much as possible about the people I will be ministering to. The Gospel isn’t about changing culture; it’s about introducing people to Jesus Christ. Part of evangelism involves understanding the people being evangelized in order to be able to present the Gospel message in a relevant way. The message doesn’t change, but how it’s presented must be tailored to fit the understanding of those with whom it’s being shared. Part of always being ready to give a defense of the Gospel to everyone who asks us about it (1 Peter 3:15) is to anticipate the probable objections to the Gospel that a particular group might raise, and to prepare Biblically-solid answers.

In Lakota culture, one must earn the right to be heard. The way to earn that right is by building relationships, and relationships are built through understanding and trust. At this point, my goals for the trip are: 1) help improve someone’s life through building projects; 2) build relationships through service and friendship; and 3) when given the opportunity to be heard, present the Gospel in a way that it can be understood and received. My hope is that the preparation, study, and prayer I have undertaken will allow me to have an impact on someone’s life with the Gospel.

There is great spiritual warfare on the Reservation. The worship of spirits opens the door to demonic activity. Many of the suicides at Pine Ridge have been directly attributed to bad “spirits” telling people to kill themselves. Please pray for the Lakota people on Pine Ridge Reservation, and for the Christians (both natives and non-natives) working to spread the Gospel and improve living conditions.

The righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

Mexico Mission Trip – Report

Today’s blog is by a guest blogger, my daughter Stacey.


This summer, my brother Joey and I went to Mexico for the first time. I had never been out of the country before, so I was very excited. I was also afraid, because I speak very little Spanish.

The first day was mostly traveling and unpacking at the compound we stayed at. We called it “the compound”, but it was more like a campus. There were several buildings which housed some of the staff, and a main building where interns and groups like ours stayed. We could see huge mountains in every direction. They were really pretty in the morning, when the sunrise was behind them and clouds seemed to rest on top of the peaks. The mountains were one of my favorite parts.

The second day was more eventful. After eating breakfast, we visited a children’s home called Casa Hogar Douglas. Since it was Sunday, we got to see the church there. It was cool to listen to so many people worshipping in Spanish. When the service started, we left and cooked chicken burgers for the children at the home. They ate with us, and we played with them for a while. Some of us went down to the library and cleaned it. There are very few libraries in Mexico. Many of the children can’t read when they arrive at children’s homes, so the staff built this library so they could learn and enjoy books the same way we do in America.

I became friends with a little boy named Roberto. He liked to watch the girls paint each other’s nails, and decided he wanted to try. One of the staff let him paint hers. After the first one, he left. We were kind of confused. He came back with water and a napkin. Apparently, he didn’t like how it had turned out and wanted to start over! This time, he painted all of the girl’s nails. We were all amazed at how good at it he was. If he had the opportunity, he could do it for a living.

On the third day, we came back to Casa Hogar Douglas. This time, another girl and I played jump rope with some of the kids. They were really good at it, especially the boys. I learned how to count a little in Spanish. One of the little girls was trying to be like us and kept asking my brother, “Do you want a piece of me?” He said “yes”, so she beat him up. He was fine, she was only five.

It was hard for us to leave, because we weren’t coming back the next day. Some of the kids started crying, and some wouldn’t stop hugging us. It was good to know that we had made a difference to them, even though it was sad when we left.

My favorite day was the fourth. We went to Rio 3, which was what the staff called the area. Basically, it was a community by a river. The people living there literally had nothing. They had built their houses out of whatever they could find, like fences or pieces of old buildings. We served a lunch at the church there, and passed out the leftovers to people in the community. Then we gathered all of the kids we could, and played games. One of the staff read them a story called Tu es Especial (you are special). I didn’t understand the words, but I realized later that I had read the book in English a long time ago, when I was little.

During the story, a girl about eleven or twelve sat down next to me. When the story was over, the kids colored a picture of a ribbon that said (in Spanish, of course) “thank you for making me special”. I watched the girl color and we talked, I with my limited Spanish, and she with her limited English. She told me that her name was Vero, and that there was a fruit tree near her house. When she was done coloring, she showed me her picture and held it out to me, saying “tu”. You. She wanted me to take her picture. The point of coloring it was for her to understand how special she is, so I didn’t let her give it to me. She looked disappointed, and walked away. When it was time to go, I headed towards the bus. Suddenly Vero was there, with a big smile on her face. She handed me a piece of paper and hugged me. I looked at the paper, and it said, “thank you for making me special”. I was confused. Why was it so important to her that I have that paper? She looked up at me and grinned, and then I understood. Vero knew how special she was. Now she wanted to make sure I knew how special I was. This little girl, who had almost nothing, was more concerned with making sure that the people around her knew that they were loved, that they were not worthless.

I understand now the needs of these people. Yes, they need food and shelter. But more than that, they need love. They need someone to care about them. They need someone to share the love of Jesus Christ with them. I think people don’t understand this. They send money, clothes, and food, and there’s plenty of it. But how many are willing to send themselves? How many of us are willing to go and be with the orphans, the poor, the homeless?

The organization we went through, Back2Back, works to meet all of the needs of people like the ones we met, in Mexico, Nigeria, India, and Haiti. They have come up with five categories of needs: physical, social, educational, emotional, and spiritual. Why is it that we are so eager to meet only the physical needs? These people are just like us, they need friends, family, education, love, and especially God. I encourage you to pray about this. Why not go to a homeless shelter or food bank near you? I know that it’s awkward to socialize with people you’ve never met, but it’s worth it.

The fifth day went quickly. We worked at a children’s home that’s still being build. In one of the rooms we were painted, I discovered enormous moths, easily as big as my hand. Since I was apparently the only one there not afraid of insects, I had to chase them out. It wasn’t fun. Imagine standing on a ladder while bugs the size of bats fly at your face. That’s what it was like. When we got back to the compound, I had to chase a two inch long flying cockroach out of the girls’ room. That was also interesting.

On day six, we took a field trip with another children’s home to a park. It was incredibly hot. We played a version of tag, and spent most of the time running around. When it was time for lunch, we sat under the three tiny trees in the park. Unfortunately, several hundred fire ants had beaten us to the shade and they bit everyone. Despite the ants, it was fun.

After the field trip, we went back to the children’s home and hung out with the kids. A few of us walked around and prayed over different parts of the home. We met some of the older girls and talked with them. We found out that one of the oldest ones had been accepted into the Hope program.

In Mexico, education only goes up to 9th grade, and when you turn sixteen, you have to leave the children’s home you live at. Most of these kids don’t have enough education to get a job, so they turn to drugs or prostitution to support themselves. Back2Back created the Hope program to give the kids a chance at a better life. Kids who are accepted move to the compound I stayed at and live with some of the staff. There are about forty kids living there, ranging from 10th graders to college students. They all have jobs to help pay for their education, but a lot of their tuition is paid for with donations. Some of the kids are also sponsored by Americans. The sponsors pay $100 a month per child, and write to them four times a year. Some of the people on our team decided to sponsor a child.

The last day, day seven, was mostly travel. While it’s good to be home, I miss those kids I met. I want to go on another mission trip, either to Mexico or another country. This trip has changed me for the better. I’ve made a commitment to be more involved with the ministries in my community, to meet the physical, social, educational, emotional, and spiritual needs of the people in Fairfield.

If you have never been on a mission trip, I encourage you to go. We in America have been given so much. The average person here lives on more than $100 per day. Over 40% of the world’s population lives on $2 a day. We have the resources to make a difference in so many people’s lives. I ask you to pray about it. I also encourage you to read a book, Helping Without Hurting. It’s a good guide for those who aren’t sure how to meet the social, emotional, and spiritual needs of people in need.

I have had an amazing experience, but it wouldn’t have been possible without help. Thank you to those of you who helped Joey and me raise enough money to go to Mexico and help so many people. The money you’ve given helped improve the living condition of a child. They appreciate everything you’ve made possible.

I can honestly say that this has been the most incredible experience in my life. After praying about it for a long time, I know that I am meant to be involved in ministry. I don’t know yet if it will be a career, or if it’s just something to do when I can, but I will do whatever the Lord tells me. It’s not hard. You just have to be willing to do it. Paul instructs us to minister “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Romans 10: 12-15) Paul is sending us. It’s up to us to preach so people can hear and believe.

I know, you feel like you can’t make a difference. Here’s a story I heard in Mexico: a man walks along the shore of an ocean. He sees a boy picking up something and throwing it back into the ocean. He walks up to the boy and asks, “What are you doing?” The boy replies, “Throwing starfish back into the water. The tide washes them up, and if I don’t throw them back they’ll die.” The man says, “Look, there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy listens politely, then picks up another starfish and throws it into the water. “Well,” he says, “it makes a difference to that one.” Yes, you can’t help everyone. So just concentrate on helping one person at a time. That one person will thank you. And so will God.

Stacey Wendling