Monday, October 6, 2014

Pine Ridge, South Dakota Mission Trip

I have wanted to write this post for a while, but it has been too painful.  Shortly after we returned from our Pine Ridge mission trip, my dear friend and mentor, Father Robert McGee ("Father Bob") died.  Father Bob loved Native American stories and traditions, and I spent the mission trip texting him about our adventures and promising to share pictures and stories when I returned. Because he fell ill so quickly, I was never able to share the stories of our time in Pine Ridge.  This has saddened me, and it has been painful to reflect on the trip without thinking about how much he would have loved the ministry that we participated in.

The Pine Ridge mission trip was nothing short of amazing.  A group of 35 of us flew out of Charlotte and arrived in Omaha Nebraska.

We then rented 9 cars and made the 7-8 hour drive to Pine Ridge, SD.  Along the way, two cars had tire problems.  God blessed us because the flat tire and low tire pressure happened at a service station. For those of you that are familiar with the long stretches of nothing (except corn fields and pastures), you realize what a blessing this was.

We arrived in Pine Ridge late at night during a pow wow. We were met with heavy traffic, people riding horses down the street, and what looked like a huge carnival around us.

We had a huge number of first time mission trip participants!

 This trip was great for all ages - we had children (ages 10 and 11).  Because this was a family trip, Mike, Jacob, and Mary Etta were able to participate as three generations on this trip.

This trip exemplified Project:Re3's values - we renovated homes, rebuilt trust, & restored hope.
The primary purpose of this trip was to renovate homes. Many of the homes were in extreme disrepair.  We were tasked with painting the homes and making small repairs.  It was amazing to see the difference that a few repairs and a coat of paint could make.  One of the hardest parts was only having the time and supplies to paint and make small repairs.  Many of the homes desperately need a new roof, some need new siding, and some homes flood due to holes in the siding.

We also rebuilt trust.  The house that we worked on belonged to Cornell and Clover.  Cornell shared stories with us about his family.  One day, Cornell told me that his father went to a "Christian" school.  The school punished his father and washed his mouth out with soap if he spoke Lakota.  Cornell said, "and these were Christians that did this too him."  It is no wonder that when we first arrived, many of the people were slow to open up to us.  However, by the end of the week, the residents of each home were eating lunch with us, participating in our devotions, and sharing parts of their culture and history with us.
We visited the memorial for the Massacre of Wounded Knee.  This helped our group better understand our complicated history.

By midweek, Cornell and Clover were visiting with us each day.  

Finally, we restored hope.  One of the homes that our group worked on had a lot of trash around the house.  After the group spent a few days painting, the family was so excited that they stayed up until 2 am cleaning up their yard.  They told our group that they wanted the yard and outside of the home to look as nice as the house would look after it was painted.  It was moving to know that a week of work and some simple repairs on a home could restore pride and hope.

There are too many stories of the wonderful people to share.  I encourage you to talk to people that went on the trip and hear their stories.  I will try to share a few stories of people that touched me.  In the home pictured below, 15-19 people live in this small space.  The house has not had running water for a year.  The only form of transportation for this family was a horse.  The children adored our group, and the family, despite having no water and little food, wanted to thank us by making skillet bread for everyone.

The family prepared skillet bread for everyone.

Cornell and Clover had no food.  When we arrived at their home, one of the doors had a large board over it.  Cornell and Clover were robbed, and all that was taken was food.  Food is very expensive, so our group drove over an hour one way to the nearest Walmart (which is not on the reservation).  We purchased food for Clover and Cornell.  Shortly after we gave them the food, we saw people coming in and walking out with food.  Although Cornell and Clover had no food, they shared the food that we gave them with their family and neighbors.  

We filled the trunk with food.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Granny.  Granny has lost one leg due to diabetes, and is the community grandmother.  She is very talented at quilting.  Granny supports herself and her family by making quilts and selling them.  

If you are interested in helping, Project:Re3 is committed to long term assistance for the Community of Allen in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  Some immediate ways that you can help:
1.  Fuel is very expensive.  Many people take advantage of the people on the reservation by raising prices to the point that fuel is not an option to heat their homes.  The land is open grassland, so there is no wood to burn.  The temperatures are extreme - 90 degrees in the summer and 30 below zero in the winter.  Snow may be 12 feet high in the winter.  Many people told us that they had to sit in their car with their small children to stay warm.  Some families had to burn old cloths and shoes to heat their home.  Project:Re3 has an arrangement with an oil company that we trust.  We have paid to have fuel delivered to families.  If you are interested in doing this, you can send a check to Project:Re3, with "Pine Ridge - Fuel" in the memo line.
2.  Project:Re3 will be returning to Allen, which is the small town on the Pine Ridge reservation where we worked.  We hope to do more than one week of trips this summer.  We hope to do more difficult projects, such as roof repairs.  You can join us on a trip or help with the supplies and support the trip financially.
3.  Granny needs people to purchase her beautiful quilts and she needs fabric.  From time to time, we are sending donations of fabric.  My friend's group, Women Embark, took up fabric collections to send to Granny.  Granny also takes orders and will do custom quilts, so if you are interested, let us know.
4.  Due to the harsh winters, the people need coats and blankets.  We will be collecting gently used or new coats and blankets.  However, shipping is very expensive.  We are requesting that people enclose a small donation with the donated coats and blankets to help cover shipping costs.