Last night we had a different type of chapel by hearing from Matt Hadden, the missionary who lives here full time with his wife Amanda and their three kids. Matt traveled here 5 years ago on a TEAMeffort adult mission trip just like ours, and God called him to live here and serve Him, the Lakota people here on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Matt shared with us some of the history of not just this reservation but of all of them. He also shared about the reality of how the Lakota people live and struggle – like how most families consist of 7 generations of non-working, non-educated people. In addition to the extreme economic downfalls here the spiritual struggle is just as bad.
It was amazing hearing how similar their spiritual culture is to the gospel and yet the percentage of Native Americans who say they are Christian, who believe in Jesus, is less than 4% in the entire United States. Matt was telling us how they have a ritual where one of their members is hung by hooks through their chest off of a tree and prays for the forgiveness of all the people, while the people sing, and dance around him. He is continued to be pulled by ropes until the hooks tear the flesh and then when flesh is torn and blood is shed the sins of the people are forgiven. You would think the teaching opportunity to share about Jesus being hung on a tree and shedding his blood and tearing his flesh for our sins would be an easy transition but as Matt said, “the church and the white people messed it up.” For years (and still now) those who have tried to share the gospel with Native Americans have tried to “fix” the culture (become more like us) and the people before loving on them and building relationships.
I love how Matt shared that it’s a good thing God doesn’t have to fix us and change us before he loves us and wants a relationship with us. He shared that God did not call him here to fix all the economic problems, and to get rid of “pagan” traditions but to build a platform of love and relationships and to share the gospel. He shared many ways that he and his family do that – running a children’s camp, teaching skill classes to young people (building motorcycles, learning tools, welding certifications, etc.), caring for basic needs like diapers for single teen moms, and more.
It was amazing hearing and learning about the culture, and heartbreaking hearing about the real struggles these families have. I think it reminded all of us how truly blessed we are, not just for food and basic needs but for the possibilities of our future. Our students go to school, they learn, they have a desire to live a life worth living and growing. Their futures have great potential that they can decide colleges, skills, traits and careers. The Lakota young people aren’t educated (less than 8% graduate high school), they don’t know any skills or traits and their future is that of past generations – nothing. They have no one encouraging and challenging them to be the best they can be, and that’s heartbreaking.
Continue to pray for our team, but pray for the Lakota people and for Matt and Amanda and the work God is doing through them here. We’re here for a week and we’re doing the best we can to serve, but Matt and Amanda are here for the long haul to continue doing what it is God desires of them for the Lakota people and for Native Americans elsewhere too.