Rich Mullins wrote so many great songs, but my personal favorite is “Calling Out Your Name”. Each time we travel through the Great Plains, there is no need to wonder about the source of this songs’ inspiration. Bordered by the majestic Rockies in the west, the great plains are made up of the Flint Hills of Kansas, The Sand Hills of Nebraska, the Black Hills and rolling Buttes of South Dakota and Wyoming. The beauty of this sea of land all across the mid section of our nation is nothing short of awesome! It truly provides a constant witness to the creative nature of God, commanding our attention and truly calling out His Name.
We just returned from a trip to this area of the country, along with a few concerts, we took some time to do a little vacationing and saw many inspiring sites, and one heart breaking landmark as well. We saw Pikes Peak, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, the Garden of the Gods, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Monument, Devil’s Tower (or Bear Lodge as the Lakota called it). In the midst of all this beauty, we took some time to drive through the Badlands and into the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to visit Wounded Knee, the site of our governments’ massacre of scores of Native Americans.
Among all of this beauty, Wounded Knee is a reminder of the chaos introduced into Creation as a result of the fall of man, and to the lengths to which men will go in the name of power and greed.
While Wounded Knee is nothing more than distant history for most Americans, for the Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it is still a very real reminder of the poverty and oppression in which they still live. One of the common questions I’ve heard asked in regard to the Native Americans living on the reservations is: “If it’s so bad there, why do they stay?” There are a few easy answers to this very difficult situation: 1) The Reservations are (for some of the western tribes who weren’t displaced) a remnant of their ancestral lands. 2) The other Native Americans on the Reservations are their family, friends and community, which is sometimes scary for any of us to leave especially when considering immersing ourselves in a different culture. 3) The risk of not only entering a culture they don’t truly understand, while at the same time being misunderstood by the friends and family they leave behind.
On many reservations, suicide and alcoholism are rampant, and many of the youth are embracing the gang culture, but these are simply symptoms of the hopelessness in which our aboriginal people have been allowed to exist. While I don’t claim to have the answers to these and other tough questions related to our Native American population, I do know two things: Ignoring this situation only compounds the problem and amplifies the pain and; though I do believe the government could do more to help they are not the answer. The answer will be found however, in long term deliberate efforts by the Body of Christ to reach out in love, compassion and understanding to these beautiful people. Not expecting them to embrace our form a American Christianity, but like the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:21-23: To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
When the church is willing to embrace people where they are and model the love of Christ in patience and understanding, I believe we will begin to turn the tide and reestablish hope in the lives of those we serve. This is the same no matter where we are and no matter whom we serve.
I would encourage you, if you are considering missions, to seek and pray about the possibility of serving the original Americans and to quote Rich: “With the Prairies call out His Name.”