I was given a great opportunity this year to co-lead the Anderson University Tri-S trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation. As a way to bring people along, and to process my experience I’m planning to blog each night. This is my third trip to Pine Ridge, but it’s the first trip where I will be working with the Wounded Knee Church of God.
March 20, 2013
Visiting White Clay, NE, the city of Pine Ridge, and Wednesday Night service
Peace to visit White Clay, NE…
Before the trip, I knew we were going to White Clay. I knew we were going to hand out sack lunches to people. I knew it was the thing that I was going to dread the most.
Not because of White Clay specifically, even though I knew that it was a dark place where a few people made a living off of the addictions of others. Not because of the evil that I knew crushed people there, because I knew that’s what happened there, even if I’d never experienced it first-hand. Not because the people would be drunk, or because they weren’t white, or because they’re poor. I’ll admit each of these elements certainly added to my anxiety, but none of these were the reason I was dreading going to White Clay.
More than anything, I was anxious about the same thing I’m always anxious about, approaching someone I don’t know, and making myself known to them.
Nothing makes me feel more like I’m 12 years old.
Nothing makes me feel more insecure.
Nothing makes me more uncertain about my future as a pastor.
So I’d been dreading this morning all week long. In some ways it was the day to get past, the day I just wanted to get done and over. Then the morning came, and an odd thing happened. I woke up with a strange sense…an unexpected realization…a feeling, of peace. As we walked the street in White Clay, the peace didn’t fade away.
Did I do everything just as I would have liked? No.
Was I completely comfortable the entire time we were there? No.
But I was not overcome from anxiety. I didn’t shut down as we met people, or as we talked with them. Instead I found myself pausing as they spoke, and seeking to see the face of Christ in the person before me. As I did, I saw people who needed to be loved, and heard, and seen simply for what they are…people.
As the day has unfolded into the best day of the week so far, I’ve tried to understand what happened. Best as I can figure two things occurred.
First, God’s Spirit has been at work in my life over the last four months and was active in giving me peace and courage when I needed it the most. I pray this is the case, I pray and I am hopeful that God has truly been at work in me in this way.
But I also know a second thing happened as well.
Second, I knew I didn’t go alone.
I knew I’d go with a group of people I have bonded with. A group of people who are really seeking to experience what God has for them this week. A group of people I could trust as we ventured into the unknown together. The funny thing is, it’s taken putting myself out into the group, being open and honest, and trusting before I normally would, all the things that make me anxious and nervous, in order to have the strength and the courage and the peace to do the thing that scares me the most.
…and a Word to Trust the Lord
My experience this morning carried over into the night and I got to share a meal with a family who lives on Pine Ridge before the evening’s service. I enjoyed meeting new people and talking with them, hearing their stories and even getting to learn some of the Lakota language (even if I’ve already forgotten all of it). It was great meal, made complete by the best Indian Tacos I’ve ever had, and I was thankful for the day.
Then the service started. It was the first service on the Reservation that I have not been involved in, and I was looking forward to hearing from Pastor Stanley. As I get older I’ve learned to appreciate the words spoken by men and women who have walked a long path before me, and out here it seems that some people simply carry with them a wisdom that I cannot deny.
As he spoke, I was moved, encouraged, and humbled.
He spoke about walking in the hidden path with God. Heeding his direction, and being set apart for his service for the sake of loving others, others like the people of White Clay, NE. These words would have been convicting in and of themselves, but as he spoke, Pastor Stanley spoke these words directly to me.
By that I mean he used my name. From the pulpit. He spoke about my being set apart for the service of the Lord, to be a pastor.
After the day I’d dreaded. After seeing the hopelessness, and not backing away. After meeting people, and not being afraid. After realizing that I’ve trusted more quickly and more readily than ever before. I longed to look to God and say, “I am nothing. Use me.”
It doesn’t surprise me that it happened in this place. You see while I mentioned in a conversation today that I don’t know when I’ll be back here, I have no doubt that I will. And after today it seems to have less to do with the place, and maybe just a bit more to do with the people I’ve met instead.