When this all started in 2014 I had no idea it would lead to where I am now, and what I am a part of in South Dakota. I just saw it as another adventure, and another opportunity to see a new place with friends that I had come to know. There are many parts of my upbringing that allow me to relate to the people in Pine Ridge, many parts of my story that most do not know. I am so grateful for the journey, and for how far the story has been written by an author much greater than I could ever hope to become.
This is the story of three girls that changed my heart and life. I have been involved in short term missions since I was eight years old. Out of all the places that I have traveled, Pine Ridge has become the closest and most dear to my heart. In the summer of 2014 I traveled to Pine Ridge, South Dakota for the first time. I went with a missionary friend Jake who had been hurt by the church and ministry in almost every way imaginable. I met him and his family in Haiti doing missions work after the earthquake. I had spent the last two and a half years getting to know him and his family, and had seen the father heart of God through his life. He invited students from ORU to do life together, to work on his ranch, and to worship God in simplicity.
The first family that he introduced me to on the Rez changed the focus and perspective of missions for my life. Most of the trips I have been on have focused on evangelism and building projects that moved quickly and went from place to place without ever spending more than a few hours with each family. Jakes approach to life and ministry was different. He showed a willingness to simply pour life into this one family no matter how many times they disappointed him or rejected his genuine love for them. The battle we face in life is not one that we win one day and then walk in victory for the rest of our lives, but one that we pick up our weapons each morning and head back out to defend and fight for our continued freedom.
That first trip shifted what missions meant for my life. I had been on countless trips where preaching and performing were central to the trip, this place was different, spending quality time with one kid for an entire week was normal, connecting on a personal level was expected. I asked this question on one of my first trips, is it better for the vision of our future to be clear or blurry? If we saw with clarity what 5 years later felt like? Would be pursue that? Or would we choose an easier path? Looking back to the countless hours spent with the children on the Rez, my life is better because of them.
Simply being with the kids was enough, giving them a hug, pushing them on a swing, feeding them dinner, giving them a ride home after school. Those were the things that we did, we never preached at them, but simply showed the love of Christ through everything that we did with them while we were there.
This genuine love and care brought me back again and again, not because I had to keep going, but something deep within kept compelling me to go. For the hope within that somehow life would be better for these kids, that somehow change would take place, that in some way God would move to bring lasting love and hope and peace amidst the poverty and chaos of their lives.
I believe I am drawn so deeply to this place because of how similar it looks to my own childhood and upbringing. My father was always working or sleeping, only a few of my memories included him in my life. When I look at these kids who do not even know who their father is, it beacons something inside of me that says they need Godly men in their lives. Men who are consistent and who speak life and hope into their future. In the times when we want to figure it all out and do it all ourselves, we need people who have been there before, and who have insight on how to fix the issues in our lives.
Juba and Dulce were the first two in this wonderful family that I met and began to feel the father heart of God for. Then came baby Jess Hope, the namesake of this page. She is the sweetest soul that any person will ever meet. Her joy in the midst of heartache will ever be the reason that I will give all that I can for this family. If you will stop for just one moment, you will see that it is worth it to give up who you want to be for who God wants you to be. These three girls will likely never know their father, they will hardly feel the love of their mother, and their Aunts and Grandmother give the love that they know, but that love is limited and seen in a very limited way. When I tried to help baby Jess with the scooter in the picture, she wanted to do it all by herself, I think she was maybe two years old at the time. She was good at first but was sure to fall if I let go, her desire to be like her sisters who rode around the gym by themselves was not yet matched by her ability to stay balanced. There are so many moments like this where the desire and understanding of the kids does not have balance, and being with them helps them not to fall and hurt themselves.
The simplicity of the gospel is to bring care and love to children who are abandoned and forgotten. James 1:27 “Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world.” The deepest desire of these children is to be wanted and to be kept close. To play on the playground and to eat hot Cheetos while playing games on an iPhone. They love car rides from school to the Rec center, and car ride karaoke to Disney’s frozen soundtracks.
The moments we spend helping others are what is most valuable in this life. These kids have each other, they have their dogs, and they have Jesus. Beyond that it’s mostly mud and cold and challenges that you and I would never understand. I believe that their story is just beginning, I have hope that their future is bright and full of life and joy and peace. The prayers that have been prayed over these kids, and the love that so many of my friends have for them gives me confidence that God is with them and watches over them when we are back home at work and at school.
You have to see some of the mess that these kids grow up in to realize how important your consistent coming back means for their future. They have lots of people who come and help, give a few things, and then leave, but few who either stay and live among them, or consistently return to be with them. On the good days and in the bad days, they need people who will continue to show up and be a part of their lives.
To bring hope to this family is enough, they are worth it. They are worth constant prayers and endless miles of travel, simply to remind them that they are worth it, that they are not forgotten, that they are loved, cared for, and never forgotten. A weekend spent with them eating lunch and moving furniture into their cousins new home, and sitting in kids church with Juvia on Sunday morning. Simply being with them is all that they desire so many times.
Somewhere between the twists and turns, the trails do lead. In the waste and ruins we can begin to see the extent of loss and brokenness beneath the veil of hearts that live near here. The hope that’s kept alive is found in the enduring grace that lives even in the midst of such brokenness.
“Once you’re moving in a direction that is aligned with the character and heart of God, you find God’s personal mission for your life begins to come into focus.” – E. McManus
Until they know the love of God and we meet our Lord and Savior. Forever family, forever friend, forever the reason that I will keep going. Because being with them is important enough to give my life to.