My Time with the Oglala Lakota People - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Faith
September 19, 2018

My Time with the Oglala Lakota People

by Michael Duncan, Geneva College Manager of Online Marketing

The great commission to go and make disciples of every nation has been reverberating in the hearts and minds of Christians ever since the words left the lips of Jesus over two-thousand years ago. Reaching every community with the message of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ continues to be the Church’s main thrust. In today’s high-tech, globally-connected world, it is hard to fathom that there are still people groups that have not heard the Gospel. According to The Joshua Project website, over 7,000 people groups are still considered to be unreached* (joshuaproject.com, 2018). That is nearly 41% of the world’s 17,000+ known people groups.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Many full-time missionaries have devoted their lives to bringing the gospel message to unreached and impoverished people groups by translating the Bible into native languages and creating discipleship opportunities within these communities.

You may be asking, “How can I make a difference in reaching the world for Christ?” For one person, it may seem insurmountable. But as God’s people all throughout the world begin taking small, purposeful steps to reach out to their neighbors with the Love of Jesus, the whole world will soon be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

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Chief Red Cloud | Source:Wikipedia

Recently, I had an opportunity to go on a short term mission trip to Oglala, South Dakota to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A small team from a bible-believing, Wesleyan church in Clinton, Pennsylvania, and a few Geneva College students stepped out in faith to put on a week-long Vacation Bible School for the Children of the Oglala Lakotadescendants of Chief Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and many other legendary Native American leaders. The Americas have been home to the Native American people for centuries, long before Europeans arrived. The clash of culture between the European settlers and the Native American way of life proved to be catastrophic. The hurt caused by incidents such as The Massacre at Wounded Knee, which occurred on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1890, is not fully healed, and as a result, many reservations today are marked by hopelessness and disillusionment. Living from day to day is a struggle on the reservation as alcoholism and addiction affect virtually every family. The children, in many cases, are left to themselves as their parents seek to escape the reality of poverty on the reservation.

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Oglala, South Dakota

We arrived in Oglala after a long journey into the mysterious and untamed land of the Lakota Sioux. The vast stretches of prairie soaring into the distance morphed into staggering thunderheads in the colorful light of dusk. A sense of freedom on the open frontier and thoughts of Native American life of long ago captivated our imagination. The excitement of sharing the love of Jesus with the beautiful Lakota people filled our hearts as we settled into the Re*Creation community center in Oglala that night.

We awoke to the light of the rising sun, whose rays gleamed hopefully over the seemingly painted mountains on the edge of the horizon. Light danced through the wild sunflowers and illuminated the stepped canyons that scarred the weathered terrain. After acquainting ourselves with the fresh air and deafening stillness of the reservation, we set out to prepare for serving the people in the community. Stepping over the rubble of unrealized dreams and evidence of the empty promises of modern life, we knocked on each door in the small village to invite the families to our children’s program and the ladies tea party we had planned. We were greeted by many warm and smiling faces weathered by the adversity of life on the reservation. In spite of the hardships the Lakota people have experienced over the years, they were welcoming, kind and most of all, trusting.

Oglala Child

As we began our program the following evening, the preciousness of every Lakota child grabbed my attention. Children with names like Passion and Courage were oblivious to the difficulties of their world. The smiles and laughter from their wind stricken faces lit up the prairie like the wild sunflowers that grace the land. Their scarred but tender hearts were like little sponges soaking up every bit of love and attention we were willing to give. A silent prayer rose from my inmost being, “Lord, raise up a generation of faithful warriors for Jesus from these beautiful children”.

Oglala Lakota Children

Little hands reached with curiosity to touch everything they could, while dusty, bare feet scampered around on our giant blue tarp that acted as our seating area. Soon the small plot of land by the Oyate General Store was bustling with hundreds of children acting in prideful innocence and wild excitement. Our songs and Bible dramas, by God’s grace, captivated their imagination for a few brief momentsenough to let the hope of Jesus warm their souls.

Sweet little voices singing Jesus Loves me in Lakota and English filled the warm, dusty air. The community came out for food and heard of Christ’s finished work on the cross that provided forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with our creator.

Oglala Smiles

Had the early European explorers possessed a cultural sensitivity and a genuine desire to share the Gospel of Christ within the Natives’ context of life, perhaps life for the Lakota would be much different. Richard Twiss, author of One Church, Many Tribes, describes a time where Native boys and girls were forced to wear uniform haircuts, take on Christian names, and were coerced to replace traditional clothing and language with those of English culture. Twiss expresses his people's pain with the following statement, “Native American people have not found the new life and freedom promised in the Gospel of Jesus Christ but, rather, have experienced the ongoing pain within a western culture that is both alien and condemning, even genocidal against indigenous people” (Twiss 2000, pg.29).

Throughout the week, we grew closer and closer to those in the community, listening to their struggles and praying for the healing of deep, unimaginable pain. Trying to make the most of every moment, we helped with the home construction efforts at Lakota Native American Outreach, a ministry that disciples inmates from the reservation’s correctional facilities and teaches them valuable life skills. Their ministry is dedicated to establishing a faithful, Native led church in Pine Ridge and acting as an advocate for the Lakota people. Many ministries are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus, offering hope to those on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Ministry on the Tarp

Although our team was only there for one week, God used us in amazing ways to build lasting relationships and impact in the lives of many beautiful people with the love of Christ. The  experience affected our team deeply and helped me to realize that the God uses our small steps of obedience in big ways. He uses the weak things of the world to confound the wise. Wherever you are, let God use you in the small, everyday moments of life as ambassadors for Christ and together we can fulfill His great commission.

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*An "unreached" or "least-reached" people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize the people group without outside assistance.

Geneva College offers biblically based higher education with a vocational focus in a liberal arts context. To learn more about how you can join our Christ-centered academic community, contact Admissions at 800.847.8255 or admissions@geneva.edu.