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At the end of February I got a call from the Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, where I spent the first 12 years of my missionary life. A lady that had been part of our family as a young child, had been killed in a head-on crash. Her 14 year old son was killed with her, and her 12 year old daughter was in critical condition. Lynell is from a family of 12 brothers & sisters. I lived with her Aunt's family for several years back in the early days at Potato Creek, when I had no where else to live and almost no support. They kept me as a son and I ate at their table. When they found out I had no home, they came to me and offered me their home, so I was very close to these people. I held the funeral for Lynell's mother some years ago, so I made a quick trip down to the Pine Ridge Reservation to be with them and help with Lynell's funeral.
When I left South Dakota to live in Canada and carry on our work in the North, the organization we worked under, sent some leaders from back east to visit the Pine Ridge Reservation. When these leaders drove through Potato Creek, they went home and told their board there wasn't anything at Potato Creek worthy of a missionary, and they abandoned the field. Of course the people were hurt and disillusioned, and they have carried on these last 40 years without a church and feeling they weren't worth much in the eyes of the church. In spite of all that, when I drove into the second largest Reservation in the U.S., late at night a few weeks ago and went into the wake, I began to meet Lynell's brothers & sisters, one by one and find out how each of their lives have unfolded over the years. My heart was torn when I saw the sufferings and heartaches they have endured. But through everything, there was a faith in Jesus and deep determination to build their lives on what is right. I can't express what it meant to me to have them thank me for bringing Jesus to them with tears and deep emotion that showed how much they meant it.
These people have built their entire lives and world on their families and their children. For years the Lakota have had nothing of this world, just their families, so their families are everything to them. In that perspective they are much richer than the rest of the country.
Lynell's wake was the most amazing I have ever been in. It was held in a large gymnasium/multi-purpose hall. The entire front was stretched a line of 25 beautiful, hand made star quilts, and the side was lined with as many large slab cakes, all which were donated by friends and several by the hospitals where Lynell has served as a nurse, which was her career. I will be posting a video link which shows this.
The contrast from the wakes held here on the Sunchild Reserve, was quite dramatic. In a typical wake held here at Sunchild/O'Chiese, if it isn't held here at mission, you won't hear the name of Jesus or a Christian song. But at Lynell's wake there was hymns and preaching all night long, and even an altar call with about 12 people going forward for prayer and commitment. It's incredibly difficult to preach at a funeral of someone that is part of your family, and there's no way to prepare for that. There just isn't words to describe much more than that. Over the years, after we left Potato Creek, Lynell and several of her family have lived in our home for periods of time, as our own family and their families call our kids their brothers & sisters.
One of things I think about, is how the folks from back home in the hills where I was born, have so faithfully and quietly helped out where ever I've gone in the Lord's work. At first, it was only Mrs. Ice, who always sent $15 every month, and I could count on that. I remember going into the market at Pine Ridge and looking at the food and leaving without buying anything, because I had to wait for Mrs. Ice's check. I had to use that check for gas money, (I was holding 6 to 7 services a week over a 70 mile circuit) but I'd promise myself that I'd buy one can of something when it came. Eventually several church's from where I grew up have helped out in the same way. Over the years it hasn't been possible to communicate to these folks the multitude of stories of what their faithfulness has meant to our family, but I know their love & care is as important as my life being here, and I believe someday they will share in the joy of what God has done for these people. Just the smiles on the faces of these folks when I saw them told me everything I needed to know.
The burial was held on a hill top overlooking Potato Creek. Throughout the graveyard was graves of Lakota scouts that had served with the army back in the 1800's. I couldn't find a marker for little 10 year old Jerry Swift Hawk, who we buried back in the 60's. Jerry was the most dramatic story of God working I've ever seen on the Reservation, and that is another story. All through the wake & funeral a large blizzard was churning in the north and during Lynell's burial the sky just a few miles north was black with blizzard conditions, but the cemetery was in the sunshine.
The next day, as I made my way back to Canada, I was diverted at a roadblock in Montana and had to change my route. That night the blizzard hit with all it's fury, and I got buried in a snowdrift right in the middle of the road. I set in that drift for 15 hours before some equipment came and opened the road. The wind packed the snow in and around every inch of the vehicle, even the bottom was packed solid. The danger is that of carbon monoxide exhaust because the snow capsule around the vehicle will hold it in. I always remember my first winter on the Reservation when 4 young people died close to my home when they got stuck in a blizzard like that. I had to rent a van to make the trip, since I wasn't sure if my van would make a trip like that, and it handled it all just fine. I was so conscious of God's help & blessing on this trip. Our daughter Jenny, flew down to be with Lynell's family for a few days, but we're the only ones of our family to be there.
Our snow is melting fast now, and we are gearing up for the busiest time of the year for the mission. Preparations are being made for the two VBS camps we hold on the Sunchild & O'Chiese Reserves. In the month of July we will have about 50 different workers here to take part in these camps.
We also are having a wedding here at the mission in July. The groom grew up in our Sunday School and his family has been closely involved with the mission over the years. They were here today making plans for the big day. They decided the church is too small for the crowd they expect, so we will be having most things outside
It takes several days work to get this letter posted, especially processing the graphics parts, and right now (Saturday the 28th) I'm in the middle of it, so be sure to come back in a couple days when it's finished.
Below is a video of the quilts & cakes at Lynell's wake. The control buttons to play the video are at the bottom of the picture.
Lynell's Wake from Rodger Rinker on Vimeo.