…. I was asked by Lakota Christians from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to come serve their people after finishing my training for Native American missions in Oklahoma. Their one stipulation was that I not set up a website or post degrading poverty photos online. They extended their request to include any shots of their people, calling it “standing on our faces so you can be seen.” Apparently images of Pine Ridge people are hijacked all the time for ministry gains, scams and self promotion.
I honored their request, not doubting their words. Years later, I was surprised to see a picture of myself and a picture of my sister’s children while watching an Oklahoma Native American ministry website video. I had someone take the photo of me standing next to some people in a recording studio, and I had shot the photo of my sister’s children during the Christmas holiday of 2007. My face appeared while the ministry leader’s unmistakable voice stated they financially supported missionaries on the reservations. A poverty shot of an elderly native woman and a mentally challenged young man were partnered with the photo of my niece and nephews. This narrating pastor asks for money to help them continue to improve the impoverished peoples’ lives of the Native American Reservations.
The video was well done and looked legitimate. Unfortunately, it was deceptive in that I had not received financial support from this ministry, and my sister’s children, who had never been on a reservation, had never received a charitable handout from anyone, ever. My camera holding the images had come up missing around the time the video had been produced. The ministry removed it from their website only after my family threatened to take legal action.
I thought about that video while looking at the pile of sticks blocking the Primrose House driveway.
It had grown into a six-foot long, four-foot high, and three-foot deep man-made barricade. I could have moved it but wasn’t into playing games with the unknown builder over property that did not belong to either of us.
My friend Kathy, a 25-year-old nanny who had a bachelor’s degree of finance, was with me while I looked at the wood pile that took a lot of work . A former college athlete, she’d moved to K.C. with a goal of preparing her heart for the future. We arrived in Kansas City about the same time and met while sitting next to each other in a structured prayer setting.
She’d grown up in a small town on the west half of Oklahoma while I had gone to Native American Missions training on the east half. We had dirt roads, knowledge of how to kill a snake, what kind of horse we liked, and Sunday School teachings in common. Kathy had let me sleep on the couch of her rented basement apartment for a week at the beginning of December 2015 and I decided to love her forever. We stayed in touch over lunches, dinners, and church.
By her own confession, she’d not met an African-American or Asian person until high school. Her isolated upbringing did not deter her from aggressively seeking friendships with people of all nations. Kathy’s boldness in love showed as she walked in front of me towards the house. After waiving at the neighbors watching us, she helped me lift the plywood used to cover the basement entrance. We avoided tripping over the piles of garbage in the basement by using the flashlight features on our phones. Once we got to the main floor, she bravely inspected each room without me guiding her. She even climbed the narrow steps to the attic while I stayed in the kitchen. I could hear her footsteps above me as she crossed from the back to the front and back again.
Kathy was not intimidated by the situational poverty of the house or the neighborhood. We both had been raised with some privilege and rather than feeling repulsion, she was consumed by compassion. During prayer in the backyard, she wept, asking God to give me things too personal and dear to share on this page with strangers. She asked for so much that I interjected, “Not yet, God, please, I am tired, let me rest first.”
My time in South Dakota had carved hard lessons into me, hard lessons that I was still healing from.
Walking towards the street, I realized the wood pile barricade looked like a beaver dam. Sitting on the ridges of the drive, it looked like a stinking dam waiting to divert water from hidden culverts. I thought of the ministry that had used my private images for their brand and the funds that had been diverted from me. I could remember being disgusted about the video, but now I just felt compassion.
I do not think of the Oklahoma ministry until life pushes in a reminder like the dam I am able to walk past. I do think of the Lakota people daily and all that had been stolen from them.
Kathy and I prayed in silence as I drove, both of us triggered by personal things at Primrose House. Life is not fair, but God is just, and there is always something to pray about.
….To be continued ….