Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The First Days

As part of Wesley Theological Seminary's requirement for graduation, we are required to take part in an intercultural immersion to experience Christianity from another viewpoint/perspective.  A lot of people may wonder why it is necessary, but I believe there is a purpose somewhere behind it, as it is a matter of keeping an open mind and objectivity, as well as being open to the Holy Spirit and God's work.  For my immersion, I chose to go on the immersion with the Lakota at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota at the Lutheran/Presbyterian Shared Ministry led by Rev. Karen Rupp. 

Although today is only the second day of the ten day immersion, it feels like it has been much longer because so much has already happened.  Although yesterday was low-key with a scenic drive to the reservation from the airport, we did have a great orientation with fourteen of us altogether, seven from Wesley and seven from Wartburg Seminary in Iowa.  From the get-go, everyone has a story, I am grateful for each person here and what they bring to this experience.  We ended our first night together watching the film, Thunderheart which was filmed at Pine Ridge and based around events that happened in the 1970's between the American Indian Movement and FBI. 

Today was a very powerful day, as we were with Kelly and Suzie Looking Horse.  Kelly is one of the few remaining full-blooded Lakota and it was fascinating listening to his stories and his experiences.  After breakfast and morning devotions, we joined Kelly on a walk down the main drag to the Bureau of Indian Affairs office and met superintendent Cleve Her Many Horses, then went to the tribal office of the Oglala Tribal Nation and met with the tribal president.  Throughout the day, we heard three different viewpoints, although the relationship between the BIA and tribal council can be on the contentious side, then add Kelly's perspective and you get a whole other viewpoint.  Kelly pointed out the many broken promises by the U.S. government and how the tribal council and BIA do not do as much as they can to help the Oglala and Lakota people.  Kelly was quite passionate at many times, which amplifies my empathy and helplessness that I cannot do more to help alleviate the poverty that we are witnessing. 

The cemetery where the mass grave of those killed int he Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890 was overwhelming.  Especially poignant was the prayer that Kelly led, which also included an offering of tobacco to the deceased.  The bitter cold and bleak day made things even more poignant and reflected the somber mood.  The hardest thing was also seeing people come to try and sell goods, which is their livelihood and feeling bad that I really cannot buy anything because I don't have much to give myself.  We then proceeded to KIRI radio, which is the main radio station at the reservation and each got a chance to talk on air and why we were here, thanking the people and Pastor Karen for welcoming us. 

As I write this, I am still continue to process everything that has happened so far.  One highlight has been welcoming children from Pine Ridge to the retreat center for playtime, ranging from 3-13 so far.  They have embraced us all and amidst the hardship they may face, they have so much joy and energy.  I look forward to sharing more along the way with all of you.  Thank you all for the prayers and financial contributions so far. 

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