Tonight we headed over to the Lower Brule reservation. It’s right across the Missouri River from Diamond Willow Ministries (Did you check that out yet, by the way? You can here.) We ate dinner and then drove up to a scenic lookout. This was our vantage point.
On the side of the river I stood was Lower Brule. The opposite side was Crow Creek. Different tribes exist with different governance, different nuances to their language, and different reservations. But they also share much in common — generational challenges, poverty, and a history of mistreatment by the U.S. government.
The Ikce Oyate Christian Center is the hub of activity, in many ways, at Diamond Willow Ministries. Ikce Oyate means “A Common People.” As I’ve been around the community the past few days, I’ve noticed that is the case. The folks in and around Ft. Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation care for one another deeply. While substance abuse and hopelessness certainly abound in the lives of many, the community is undergirded by a deep sense of obligation to one another. This is a beautiful sight to behold.
We have worked primarily with children the past two days. Some kids don’t enjoy the privilege of a mom and dad at home. Some have parents at home but are still neglected. Yesterday I was told that 20% or less of all high school graduates last year had both parents present at the ceremony. A higher percentage actually had no parents present. Today I was told that the average lifespan of a person on the reservation is in their 50s. Most die of sclerosis of the liver due to alcohol abuse. Many die younger, even in their 20s.
Therefore, there is a huge need for caring adults in the lives of these children. Diamond Willow does this in an incredibly generous way. Bus routes run to pick kids up. Songs and classes and crafts and games and lunch and snack and swimming and hugs are a daily dose of encouragement for kids who are destined for despair otherwise. Bus routes are run to drop kids off. Sometimes, no one is home. Busses bring kids back to the ministry campus where the kids are cared for as their own.
We are here for a week. They are putting on eight such weeks of camp this summer, and the relationships exist beyond the day camp. I have seen it in the eyes of the teenagers here, who have benefitted from a decade of this selfless attitude on the part of the people of Diamond Willow Ministries:
They know they belong. They know they are loved. They can’t get enough of it.
Are there challenges? Certainly. Is the work complete? By no means. But it is a joy to watch and see as this ministry works and these people do what God has called them (and uniquely equipped them) to do.
I am also struck that not just the Indians on the reservation are a common people. I, too, am a common people with them. I am broken. I am destined for despair. Apart for the saving grace of Christ, I have no hope. I am not swooping in to save the day or teach them what they need to know. We are teaching each other. Our new relationship is mutually beneficial. We are in the same boat. We are friends.
While our destiny apart from the hope of Christ is the same, so too is our promise. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Jesus shows no favoritism. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus will never leave us, nor forsake us. Our destiny was the same before Christ, and it is the same with Christ. He fully intends to keep his promise.
Yesterday when I woke up I stumbled over to the Ikce Oyate Christian Center where we eat breakfast. It was early. People were just starting to stir. I nursed some coffee and rubbed my eyes a few times.
Someone came in and told me that there was a rainbow outside. I walked out the basement door and found myself in a front row seat, court side to a majestic display of natural beauty. The brilliant color stretched the full length of the horizon. The moon, completing it’s nocturnal duties, was setting in the west. But it lingered as the apex of the multicolored light just a bit longer. It reminded me of the promises of God after the global flood and the numerous promises since. He’s kept every one.
Tonight, one such promise is bouncing around in my head:
“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 1 Peter 2:10
From a people in despair to a people saved and a people promised an identity, belonging, and a future. These things unite not just the people of Crow Creek with each other, or the people of Crow Creek with the tribe across the river. In this sense, we are all of the same tribe and the same culture and the same language.
We are a common people. Ikce Oyate