South Dakota Mission Trip Reflections 2022

South Dakota Mission Trip Reflections 2022

South Dakota Mission Trip Reflections

By Merle Prince and Brian Harrington

Your missions opportunities funds have been well-spent this past year. One way we invested in opportunities for missions is sponsoring two FBC church members on their journey to South Dakota to serve the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Oglala Reservation.


For the past fifteen years, June has meant driving to Murfreesboro, TN and joining with a group from my youngest son’s church for a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. Pine Ridge is a beautiful and harsh land filled with beautiful and resilient people. This year’s team of 19 persons included 15 seasoned volunteers, plus Brian Harrington and three other “newbies.”

You’ve heard the key to any mission trip is flexibility. This year’s journey was a prime example of that sage advice. The advanced team of five leaders flew up on Tuesday with the remainder of the team arriving by van and/or flights on Saturday. As we drove onto the reservation with our entourage of eleven, we received a call that the advanced team was in quarantine due to a positive Covid test that morning. We would have separate quarters and the tribal council would determine if we would be able to proceed with our work for the week. Until that determination, all planned activities were on hold.

Finally, on Monday and after tests, the remaining 14 team members were given the go ahead for beginning activities on Tuesday. Since the main leaders were still in quarantine, the task of leading the men’s group fell to Brian with assistance from Jonathan who normally serves as our IT expert and photographer and another first-time volunteer. I, now, was the leader for the women’s group with assistance from our team nurse and two women from the construction crew. A children group met at another location. The groups were conducted similarly to VBS with games, craft activities, and Bible study.

The women’s group had a daily average attendance of 30 with an enrollment of 43 for the week. Each session began with a light breakfast and concluded with a give-away of practical, but not easily attained items of food, household cleaning supplies, kitchen items, linens, fabric for quilting, and personal hygiene items.

Although our participation at many of the social and cultural events where we normally meet and mingle with the community were curtailed, we were able to serve the entire community at an outdoor Indian taco dinner.

Even with the unexpected turn of events, we had a good week making new friends and renewing old relationships. Our team worked together in harmony to make everything run smoothly as we sought to serve the Kingdom, the Lakota people, and each other.

I am deeply touched that you as a congregation saw this endeavor as part of First Baptist’s mission and chose to participate through your heartfelt support. Your generous interest and support through the financial gift, prayers, and encouragement mean more than I can ever express.


Several days into the week, I asked one of the few outspoken Lakota men a question. I invited him to imagine that he had a magic wand that he could use to change anything and asked him what one thing he would change.

If I could change anything, he said, “I wish that the White man would have assimilated into indigenous culture instead of forcing us to change and accommodate White culture.”

I was shocked. When I asked the question, I naively thought that he would wish for the federal government to finally treat the Lakota with respect after centuries of broken promises, perhaps starting with something as simple, though desperately needed as repaving the road through the main housing development in the tiny village (seriously, I have driven on rural roads in Turkey and South Carolina—sorry, sandlappers—and this was by far the worst road on which I have ever driven, so filled it is with potholes that even when driving well under five miles per hour riders were shaken more than James Bond’s drink).

No, righting historical wrongs through present-day solutions, even if that were possible, would never be enough, in the view of this wise fellow. The only way to make right centuries of wrong would be by going back to the beginning of European contact with the indigenous people of this continent, with the “White man” arriving in humility, not conquest. Only by completely starting over could there be a hopeful future for the Lakota and the wasichu (us White folks), too.

From one perspective, this Lakota man’s response to me is overwhelmingly depressing, that hope is impossible without a DeLorean trip back into the past to knock some sense (some Christian morality?) into our forebears.

At the same time, however, this answer demonstrates an awareness, a pride even, that his native culture has immense wisdom and value. Our ancestors nearly annihilated his people, not because the Europeans had an objectively better culture but because of the dumb luck of differences in immunity to disease and greater efficiency in murdering others through weapons of war.

From a Christian perspective, being better at killing people makes you a worse human being, an unfaithful follower of the crucified Christ. Contrary to the horrific example of Christendom over the last two millennia, conquest is not a Christian virtue. In this way, the Lakota man better preached the gospel to me than I ever could have to him. The way of his people better reflected the way of Christ than the culture our forebears imposed on them.

Indeed, the simple message that I tried to convey to these wonderful people is that every single one of them is a beloved child of God. Ultimately, it is not a message that they should have needed to hear, except for the fact that innumerable White Christians before me lied to them, telling them that they were not fundamentally loved by God, that God only loved them if they spoke European languages and followed Europeans customs and wore European clothes and, yes, worshipped God in a European way.

God loved the Lakota people long before people like us knew there was a continent indigenous people call Turtle Island. Perhaps I felt compelled to tell them that God loves them because I, above all, needed to remember it. Maybe I was the one that needed to hear the good news.

But in a place where this profoundly wise man is known more for his alcoholism than his wisdom, there is a desperate need for Gospel-bearers who can offer even the smallest amount of hope, the tiniest notion that a more abundant life is possible here and now.

Whether or not we offered that in our brief COVID-shortened week, only the Lakota people can answer. But even for the possibility that we offered half as much of the hope for a new world to the Lakota as they offered to us, the long journey and labor were worth it. And for First Baptist’s generosity in allowing me to go, I will be forever thankful!

So along with our Lakota siblings, may we continue to hope and strive for a future with hope, a future with love and empathy and humility and community, a future that for all of us might be something like God’s New Day.


Our Missions Committee says: THANK YOU for your generosity to missions opportunities at FBC, and for allowing our teams to serve and be changed by sharing the Good News with others!

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