Student Mission to Reservation Makes Impression

On Friday, June 18, 10 Gibraltar High School students and two adult leaders began a life-changing experience.

In a mission trip sponsored by Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church and led by Dick and Jane Burress, the 10 of us – Billy Appel, Cody Becker, Brandon Bogenschutz, Peter Burress, Kimberly Craig, Afton Greenwood, Jed Omernick, Devan Schultz, Logan Thomas and I – served for one week on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Gibraltar students spent a week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Pine Ridge, in southwestern South Dakota on the Nebraska border, is home to the Oglala Sioux Nation of nearly 18,000 Native Americans. It is also the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre – when the United States killed over 300 unarmed Native Americans – which has lasting effects on the Sioux. The unemployment rate on the reservation is 87 percent, and the average family income is just $3,700 per year. The major occupation of those who are employed is cattle ranching and farming, as the reservation includes 2.8 million acres. This area is the second most impoverished place in the country, and also struggles with an adolescent suicide rate that is four times the national average, as well as high rates of alcoholism, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Throughout the week, we served in the community by painting houses, tutoring children, and playing with them in Kids Club. We built so many relationships in the short time we spent with the Sioux people. Sixty teens from Door County, Milwaukee, and Roanoke, Virginia were split into six different crews.

My crew started every day tutoring Sioux children of ages seven through nine in summer school. Halfway through the morning, we took a break to play games such as “Red Light, Green Light” and “What Time is it Mr. Fox?” in the school’s gymnasium. We also sang children’s songs, most of which included hand motions that the children loved. After lunch in the school gymnasium – available to anyone in the community at $3 per plate for adults and no cost for children – my crew spent our afternoons painting houses on the reservation.

Throughout our busy days, we also took time to reflect and worship. At 8:15 am every morning, we spent silent time with God through our devotion books, which included daily themes like “More Be, Less Do” and “More Love, Less Ego.” At night, all 60 teens and the adult leaders worshipped together during Club, a fun time that included music, “Yay, God’s,” and a talk, led by the camp counselors. Afterwards we split up into our individual church groups to spend time reflecting on the day.

Thinking back on the trip, some images that come to mind are sitting next to a man named Shoulders at a community cookout while he told us about the lessons he has learned from life mistakes and hiking up Camelback Mountain to see the sunrise. We even got to feed buffalo – mouth to mouth. By far the best parts, however, were the relationships we built with the Sioux children.

I know I’ll never forget them, or the bright smiles on their faces as we tutored and played with them. For that matter, I will never forget anything from my week on the reservation. It was the best experience of my life.