Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MITTENS

Hey Friends: We're wondering if you have any WOOL sweaters that you're not wearing anymore? A local crafter turns them into mittens raising money for missions and donating mittens to the kids at the Flandreau Indian School. Consider doing a WOOL sweater drive at your church or in your Youth Group. We are collecting unwanted sweaters (or scarves) with ANY AMOUNT of wool in them. Buttons are okay-they can be reused as well. Anything you can send our way would be appreciated. Contact me if you have any questions about any of this. SEND TO: Brittons, 802 W. Pipestone Avenue, Flandreau, SD 57028

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ENCOURAGED

Yesterday was a day I was so excited to be where I am doing what I’m doing. A student had gotten sent home for a personal reason, having some coping and medical issues that could have potentially threatened her health. There was a meeting with her counselors, the administration and her grandparents. At the last minute, the student asked me if I’d sit in as well in support of her. She has been getting more involved with me by going to church on the weekends and becoming more involved with my family.

This group met for several hours going over her history and really trying to assess her ability to function from day to day if she was allowed to return. At one point her grandmother said she really has seen a difference for the better in her granddaughter this fall, and she would probably attribute it to her involvement with me, her reaching out for God and in her seeking to reclaim her spirituality. Ultimately, it was decided that she could return as long as she could continue to maintain her health and move forward in her healing along with the support of others.

I am so honored to be able to play this role in the lives of students and give God all the glory for bringing us here to help make a difference in the lives of Indian students.

Monday, November 28, 2011

IMPRESSIONS

I don’t claim to be the greatest communicator or even teacher in the world but it warms my heart when kids latch on and get what it is I’m trying to get across.

I logged onto Facebook last night and one of the students who attended chapel yesterday afternoon had put all of the main points of my talk as her status for the day. Sometimes I have to wonder if I’m getting through at all or if I’m being heard in my attempts to speak and bring about life change. God uses these moments to encourage me when I begin to wonder if I’m making any impact at all.

It also happened a couple of weeks ago.  I have been able to check students out to attend church with me locally and one of the young men I have taken with me has really enjoyed being able to go. A week or two ago I asked him if he’d like to go with me again. He started telling me all of the main points word for word of a lesson on forgiveness that he had learned when he went several weeks before. He had literally taken the teaching to heart and memorized it, hopefully being able to apply it as the needed as well.

Lord, remind me daily of my responsibility to speak truth and never take my role lightly in teaching impressionable minds. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

WHAT?!? South Dakota?!?

Many don’t know exactly what I’m doing here in South Dakota.
About a year ago I was called to Flandreau to serve as the Chaplain at the Flandreau Indian School. FIS is the oldest continuously operating federally run American Indian Boarding School in the United States. We have nearly 300 high school students on campus from 35 tribes and 25 states. Students come to us for a variety of reasons: some are here for better educational opportunities, some because family members attended, some prefer to be with other Indians and some are here by court order—either they attend our school or they go to jail or JDC.
The goal of the Chaplaincy program is to:
  • serve the students and staff of Flandreau Indian School, providing spiritual guidance for those who seek it;
  • relate as a Christian friend to students and staff;
  • share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with students who, in turn, take their faith back to families and tribes;
  • counsel and help students in dealing with critical needs on and off campus;
  • be a liaison between the school and local community.

The Chaplaincy is financially independent from the school operation and is fully funded through donations from churches and individuals. Thanks to that support, the Chaplaincy has continued an ongoing partnership with the Flandreau Indian School for almost a century offering weekly, large group activities, hosting special events for students and staff, and providing ecumenical worship services each Sunday.
Consider making a financial gift so that we can continue to reach Native American teenagers with the love of Christ.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

FAITHFUL TO COMPLETE IT

“I'm convinced that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it through to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.”
-Philippians 1:6

Talking about this subject in Chapel this week with the students: how God uses all of our experiences, even when we can’t see or understand, to accomplish His will and to bring meaning to all of our gifts.

Since I began my professional life (since I’ve started working) I’ve worked as a cashier in a pharmacy, as a loading dock assistant at a feed store, I’ve gone door to door following up on people who didn’t renew their dog licenses, I’ve even had a paper route. I’ve done telephone sales, customer service, management and marketing. I’ve worked retail, worked in an office and I’ve worked in a church. I’ve even had a booth at a flea market. I’ve been full-time, part-time and volunteer.

None of these jobs would have been my first choice for how I would spend the rest of my life. At times, it was really difficult to see God in some of the day to day living.  Getting up every morning for a job that isn’t inspiring or a passion can be really difficult and downright depressing. God knew my heart and passions and yet it seemed at times that somewhere along the way I got off track, that God had forgotten.

In retrospect, I can see how God has been preparing me for years for the place I am today. I have learned perseverance and patience. I have definitely learned to market my program and myself which assists in promoting events on campus and fundraising. I have learned to listen to the customer and hear and respond to needs which translates well to ministry. It helps me appreciate all that I’ve gone through and that He has been gently preparing me for what’s to come.

Most of all, I’ve learned patience and that all things happen in God’s timing. And not a second sooner.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I AM DOING A GREAT WORK

A sermon I heard a long time ago from Andy Stanley continues to impact and influence me today.

In the sermon, Stanley was looking at the life of Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer who was called by God to help restore the wall around Jerusalem after the Jewish people were exiled from that area. The king that Nehemiah was serving under allowed  him to go and do this work but he was met by all kinds of opposition; many distractions threatened to keep him from his God-appointed work of restoring the city. As people or things or situations attempted to distract him and call him away, Nehemiah’s response was “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah 6:3) The thing God had called him to do was his life’s work and he wouldn’t be distracted by other things that would lessen that focus no matter how worthy or important it seemed to be. He wanted to remain true to the calling that God had placed on his life.

This has been a huge influence in my life. I have been called to serve youth, Native American Youth at Flandreau Indian School specifically. There may be other things fighting for my attention, good things—worthy things for sure. It may be serving on a committee in town or becoming involved with a sports team or even becoming heavily involved in a local church. None of these things are bad things but as those things fight for my attention, I must remind myself often that God has called me to a specific task. I must say to myself “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”

If you ask me to do something and I decline, don’t be disappointed, don’t take it personally. Just know “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BE A MAN

“Boys play house. Men build homes! Boys shack up. Men get married! Boys make babies. Men raise children! Boys invent excuses for failure. Men produce strategies for success! Boys look for somebody to take care of them. Men look for someone to take care of!!! Boys seek popularity. Men demand respect and know how to give it!!! Repost in HONOR of all the men who DO the right thing.”

This FaceBook status got me going this morning.  We are suffering for male role models in our society generally but certainly within the Indian community.  One of my greatest privileges is to represent a man of God who is committed to his wife and family. The greatest challenge is to get across to the boys on campus that being a man does not mean who can score with the most women or father the most children on the reservation.

Within the Native American Community a father, especially one who is in a married relationship with a child’s mother, is a rarity so for some of them this idea of fidelity is new information. They see adults hooking up without any sort of expectation of responsibility for what (or who) may result from their relationship.

It can take me a great deal of time to figure who is related to who on campus because often kids from the same family have different last names, different dads, live in different homes even. It’s not unusual for there to be six or eight or ten kids in the family and there to be four or five dads among them.

While exaggerated in Native American culture, I don’t think this is unique to the Indian population by the way. The sexual revolution has brought this about in many areas of our society.  Divorce rates and lowering of moral standards society wide have led to this lack of father figures and stable male influence in the lives of children.  Women have this longing to be loved by a man, any man, having lacked this component in childhood and move from one sexual partner to another in order to satisfy that longing.

Pray for me as I represent a Christian dad and husband to the Native American teenage community represented on campus. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

HOW TO LOVE

I love when students share stuff that’s going on in their world and want me to see it so I can understand them a little better.

A student shared this video with me the other night. I was kind of surprised how much I liked it and could appreciate its message. It talks about how this young girl had only ever known disappointment, abuse and disillusionment in her relationships with men and how those poor relationships had caused her to make poor decisions in her life that eventually played out in the life of her children. And then it backs all the way up and replays her life if she had made different choices.

I think it’s a really telling video about how our choices will affect our children and how women have become so desperate to know love that they are willing to compromise themselves and give up self-respect in order to find it. I was really surprised by the source but am encouraged that an artist with this sort of influence can deliver this message to young listeners.

I think we often feel we know ourselves better than God. We try to run after relationships or careers because we are desperate for acceptance. We end up settling for good when God wants GREAT and we trade in our self-respect in order to get something that God never intended for us to have in the first place.

Take a minute to watch the video and I’d love to hear your comments.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

LETTING KIDS BE KIDS


I see part of my job as allowing kids to just be kids. I think we force our kids to grow up way too fast sometimes. Life and circumstances in the Native American culture forces kids to act as adults and to mask what’s really going on in their lives by showing a tough exterior to the world.

Having said all that, I get a big kick out of big tough guys who come into our program wanting to race rubber duckies or are dead serious when they say “I don’t want that flower, I want this one” in their freshly painted flower pot. I suppose there’s a little bit of competitiveness involved; they just aren't going to let anyone show them up no matter what the activity it is. They drop the tough guy persona for a few moments and allow themselves to enjoy life. It’s kind of refreshing that they can leave their troubles behind for a little bit.

I have to remember to program more moments that just allow them to let go of life for a little bit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WARM WELCOME

Through the generosity of several churches and individual sponsors, I received enough quilts to be able to give a warm blanket to every student in the freshman class at our school this year. I don’t know if you’ve heard but it can get kind of cold in South Dakota. We woke up to 20 degrees this morning and we’re still in October.

It’s kind of amazing how God provides for all of our needs.  One church who has regularly given quilts came by a few weeks ago and gifted 55 quilts to the students. We have about 70 freshmen this year so I was going to come up a little short if I started distribution.  I was really excited but knew if I didn’t have enough to go around then I shouldn’t get started.

A few days later we got a knock on the door at home. Another quilt group in town had some more quilts ready to be passed out to the kids—15 to be exact. I think we’re all ready to go! God knows exactly what our needs are if we’ll just ask.

Please pray for new relationships over the next couple of weeks. I am personally going to meet face to face with 70 freshmen to give them each a quilt and introduce myself to them. Pray for opportunities!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DON'T THROW IT AWAY

I am a fairly new Tweeter (or Twitter-er) but as I get more involved I notice people constantly upgrading their technology to the newest model. I would be so grateful if you would consider donating some of your newer items that have simply been upgraded but are still perfectly usable. I could use a projector to plug into my laptop to be able to use technology more in my work with students. Before you get rid of it, consider passing it on!

Cleaning out that supply closet and can’t think of a use for it? Maybe it was last year’s evangelism handout or an overstock of art supplies. Perhaps it’s a box of tongue depressors or a case of…I don’t know what you’ve got but before you throw it away, contact me and find out if I can use it, if you don’t mind. You’d be surprised what we can turn into an outreach event based on just a couple of items.

Also, if there’s something that’s worked well for you reaching students in the past, feel free to pass it along. There was a great flip card that was used in the New York VBS from Lifeway last summer. Maybe it’s just the nature of my campus, but kids “take things” on a pretty regular basis from my office. It makes me laugh when students think they’re “stealing” things from me when they’re taking tracts or bibles or some other sort of handout that ultimately could lead a kid to Christ if they really understood the message of it.

Thanks for thinking of us!

Monday, October 17, 2011

WAGING WAR

Over the weekend, there was a pow-wow (celebration) put on for the students. There were various competitions of dance, drums, games and even flute playing. The kids were competing for gift certificates to local stores where they could shop for soft drinks, coffees, chips, etc. Many of the kids came away with prizes valued at $10-20.

Our boarding school campus is a closed campus which means students are not allowed on or off without adult supervision or being signed out by a close relative. I was out shopping yesterday for a couple of the students who had asked me to get them some things with their gift certificates. When I went into the store I noticed what I thought were a couple of our students at the cash register but unaccompanied by any staff member. A minute later a staff member came in and the students went out the front door.

It turns out the kids had been AWOL from the campus and were attempting to buy cough medicine with the gift certificates they had received. They were going to try to get high off of the prizes they had won.

I don’t know what it’s like in your area but we have a battle ground here with drugs and alcohol. Kids are always looking for the next way to get high. I have to keep my hand sanitizer locked up so kids don’t drink it. I always have to be on the lookout that something I mean to be completely innocent is taken and abused for students looking for the next high.

I know these are just symptoms of kids looking for something to take away the pain they’re going through.  I continue to witness to and pray for students to come to know the One who will take away their pain and fill them with the love they so desperately are searching for.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

MAKE A DIFFERENCE


If you missed the Diane Sawyer “20/20 Special-HIDDEN AMERICA: Children of the Plains” program on Friday night, then I’d encourage you to at least watch the trailers on the ABC Website (link below). We were really encouraged as a family that it was a true representation of just a few of the stories that make up the Pine Ridge Reservation. Remember though, for those few stories that were told there are thousands more with no one to tell their story.


We get a large number of our kids at Flandreau Indian School from Pine Ridge as well as many other tribes, often with the same sorts of issues. Our students have firsthand experience with alcoholism, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, suicide and abandonment. They have felt the pain personally of many of the problems that were highlighted in the Diane Sawyer piece.

We are making a difference in South Dakota! This year I have been able to pray with students at the loss of a loved one, had students pray to receive Christ, and had tons of questions about baptism. We’ve been able to take students to worship with us in town at local church…the list goes on and on of how God is moving. He is opening doors for us to share His love and it is through your support and encouragement that we are able to stay here.

Remember, I am able to serve on a federally run high school campus through donations of denominations, churches and individuals. I am 100% privately supported and we are the only program of our kind operating in a Boarding School setting.

PLEASE CONSIDER becoming a monthly partner with us. Any amount of money will help us to continue all that God has begun and for us to continue to build relationships to bring the love of Christ to a hurting people. Donate online through the PayPal button or additional information is listed on the right side of this page on where to send donations. Thanks for all of your support.

GIFTS IN KIND are also appreciated. Subway Gift Cards in the amount of $5.35 are great (the price of a foot-long sandwich plus tax). I use them for prizes or treats or to share with kids just having a bad day. Wal-Mart Gift Cards in any amount help when we have kids with physical needs (coats, shoes, toiletries, etc.) or I can run a whole program event and am able to shop from one card. Or be creative! Think kids away at college and what they might like. I go through a lot of candy for my office (anything but chocolate), Ramen noodles and instant cocoa and Cappuccino mixes. Send GIK to: Bill Britton, 802 W Pipestone, Flandreau, SD 57028.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GENERATION TO GENERATION

Some of you may have followed on Twitter yesterday that I went along with the Flandreau Indian Students to chaperone a school outing to a Pow Wow in Sioux Falls. We don’t celebrate Columbus Day in South Dakota but recognize Native American Day instead. The South Dakota legislature voted to make 1990 the year for reconciliation between the white and Indian populations. They voted in this day of observance as a way to work towards that healing.

The school tries to do things that help the students learn more about their heritage. Like many cultures, history and traditions are lost when elders die and younger generations forget what has gone on before. You’d be surprised how many of our students have no real idea of their heritage or what it means to belong to the particular tribe that they come from.

I think maybe South Dakota itself is beginning to realize what a uniquely American heritage the Indians have, a heritage that goes back hundreds of years, years before European settlement.  The Sioux Falls School District announced this fall that it will offer the Lakota language (local Indian dialect) as a language elective in their schools next fall. Also, PBS in North and South Dakota will be airing episodes of the Berenstain Bears in the Lakota language to reach the younger generations who are highly impressionable in retaining language.  These are all amazing steps in preserving a heritage that is part of our country’s heritage as well.

I had the privilege of arranging a meeting of two individuals during the Pow Wow. I met an older gentleman who was dancing in the Pow Wow and he asked about one of our runners on the cross country team who has been running exceptionally well this season. He said cross country running had helped him travel all over the world and he wanted to encourage the student in his efforts to keep on going. The runner was with us at the Pow Wow so it was exciting to be able to arrange a meeting between the two.

It was a greater thrill that the meeting became important to both of them. I introduced them and then left them to share but Griffin’s Facebook status last night was priceless. “Talking to me about running... Each step is a prayer.”  (photo posted above) To be able to introduce wisdom from the older to the younger was exciting for me to be able to facilitate.

Psalm 145:4 “One generation will commend your works to another; 
they will tell of your mighty acts.”

Friday, September 30, 2011

CONTENTMENT

What is it about us that is hard-wired to constantly be looking for the next thing to make us happy. Is it rooted in our sin condition; this idea that we’re unable to be content with where we are and with what we have?

Many of the students who I am in contact with have this condition as well. “If I could just go back home” or “if I went to a different school” or “if I had a different boyfriend/girlfriend” then things would be better or different. There are a lot of complaints related to looking for something else that they currently are not experiencing.

For many of the kids who come to school at Flandreau this is the most structured environment they have ever had to be in so rebellion becomes a natural reaction. They have never had to keep a class schedule because they barely went to school a number of days in a row at home let alone a number of hours in a row. They have never had a curfew because there were few functioning adults at home that kept any sort of order. It can be a difficult transition for many who have never had any sort of organization in their lives.


Many of us as adults are the same way. If we could just have a promotion or a new house or a new car or even a new spouse or relationship then our lives would be different and we could find contentment. The problem is we never get there. We get what we want and we find it doesn’t bring us anymore satisfaction than we had before.

Paul said in Philippians 4 “I've learned to be content in whatever situation I'm in. I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I've learned the secret of how to live when I'm full or when I'm hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little.” If we could all just reach this same level of contentment we’d be much better off.

But then Paul goes ahead and shares the secret of his contentment: “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.” He gives us the strength we need to endure trials and even to look around and consider how God is blessing us despite the trials we’re going through. It’s much easier to make a list of the things that we don’t have rather than list the things that God has already provided.

I hope you’ll take a minute to enjoy what He has already provided instead of wasting your time on “if only’s.” Be content and make the most of exactly where He’s placed you for the present. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

GOD IS IN CONTROL

Some days I just have to be reminded that God is at work; I don’t always know or like the final outcome. He continues to work even when it looks like He has abandoned. Yesterday was a tough day for me to remember that.

Gang activity flared up on campus yesterday; it happens occasionally unfortunately. People who are looking for identity, protection and community come together in attempt to belong to something and to dominate others.

An incident happened in the dorms on Thursday apparently that caused some sort of retaliation at lunch time on Friday. About a dozen young men, all dressed in some form of red, gathered together on the sports bleachers harassing other students as they passed. The faculty was able to break it up before anything serious happened.

Administration gathered everyone together who was wearing any form of red to talk about the school’s no-tolerance stance on gang activity. Since they didn’t know exactly who the students were that were involved, a great number of other students got involved in this sweep by color as well.  A couple of the students got up and left because they felt they were being unfairly lumped in with an element that they had nothing to do with.

The students who left the meeting were sent home directly after the meeting was over. It grieves my heart when students get sent home for misunderstandings or simply for reacting to situations they find themselves mixed up in. I know discipline is important especially in a boarding school setting but it still upsets me when pretty decent kids get sent home for fairly minor infractions when the real culprits behind incidents continue to be present.

I know that God is in control, that all things are accomplished for HIS purposes and not mine and that He is teaching me through different situations as well.  Continue to show me Lord what it is that I need to learn. And continue to work in the lives of the students as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

OFF AND RUNNING

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."   
-Jeremiah 29:11 
We are off and running for another great year at Flandreau Indian School. Students returned last Wednesday and school began the very next day. I recognize a lot of faces but there are a lot of new ones as well. I’m really looking forward to getting to know new kids!

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what has changed but things seem different this year. Maybe I’m reading more into it than there is, but it seems like students came back ready to learn! A lot more reserved than last year—there are even kids carrying books around with them! I don’t know if the fact that we started a few weeks later meant that kids were getting a little impatient waiting for school to start or if it’s something else. Maybe it’s just the new DNA of new students on campus.

We kicked off our chapel worship schedule for the year this past Sunday for the 2011-12 school year. We had 23 students come out for our first week! There were more students than we had any Sunday last year—nearly 10% of the student population.  We are off to an amazing start!

In chapel we talked about allowing God to show us something new this year. Sometimes we have expectations for certain outcomes or expectations of how we think situations might turn out but we end up in a completely different place than we thought we were headed.  We have hopes and desires but sometimes God knows better and leads us in a different direction. What’s important is not to be mad at God for bringing us to a different place or situation but to be open to what He is trying to teach us.

Who’d have thought just a little over a year ago that we would be in South Dakota working with such amazing teenagers? I certainly had no idea that places or ministry like this still existed in the United States and yet God knew exactly where we needed to be to have the greatest impact for Him.

I am excited for what God has in store for us this year!



Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

Neighbor's garage
This week we celebrated an anniversary as a family. A year ago Kristen and I first visited our new town of Flandreau, South Dakota to see where exactly it was we were considering taking over the Chaplaincy ministry at the Flandreau Indian School. We immediately fell in love with this place we now call home with its rolling farmland, small town charm and close knit community. Everyone kind of chuckled that were moving from the warm temperatures of Florida to a bit harsher climate in the upper Midwest.
Getting cleaned up

Flandreau’s greatest challenge this year, though, didn’t turn out to be the cold and snowy winter but a storm that hit while we were away this summer. A thunderstorm/tornado came through on July 2 that downed trees and knocked out power for a few days. The tree loss at the Indian School alone was estimated at 50-75 trees. There hasn’t been a storm like this to hit this town in quite a number of years. No loss of life or injury was reported. Generally, trees that came down did not cause widespread homelessness or catastrophic loss as these storms can sometimes bring.

What's left of another garage
Part of the charm of this area though is the community’s willingness to help one another out. While the town looks much different than it did a year ago, the spirit of community that first attracted us to this area is still very evident in how they react to a crisis. Neighbors have helped out neighbors and life has quickly returned to enjoying summer even as the cleanup continues.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Quick Trip North



Canada at sunset
Kristen and I made a quick trip to North Dakota and Canada yesterday. We agreed to return a family who was having a tough time making it in Sioux Falls back to their reservation in north central North Dakota. We hadn’t really been this far north yet since we've lived here and it was a great opportunity for us to be able to visit some students from the Indian School at their home and to see firsthand one of the areas that the students are coming from.

The incredible remoteness and vastness of this area is amazing and a little hard to describe. Growing up in the northeast and then living in a city in Florida, it’s easy to forget that there are still places in the country that have not been developed to the point of overpopulation. North Dakota certainly is one of those places that has wide open spaces and miles and miles of farmland and unspoiled landscape. The countryside at this time of year is beautiful and lush. I can’t say that I would have appreciated its beauty so much had it been January when temperatures can drop to 50 below zero up in this part of the country.

Moose munching on breakfast
I am in awe of how the Chaplaincy position can be so far reaching. God is still showing me the potential of how I can be an instrument in reaching others for Him.  This trip came about because I had come into contact with the mother of several of my students at Flandreau Indian School. Due to a medical crisis with one of her daughters and her newborn grandbaby, we have been able to spend some time with her in the last few months in person and on the phone and she’s gotten comfortable in asking us to help her out when she needs it.

It’s rare for me to become involved with families because our school is a boarding school setting. The students live at our facility during the school year and the school is responsible for transporting them in and out. This was a unique opportunity to get to know more members of this family and to be able to minister to them and meet physical needs.

North Dakota Countryside

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ALL IN THE FAMILY

We’ve had the opportunity to get caught up with family for the last couple of weeks as we’ve headed east to share the ministry of the Chaplaincy program. There has been a great response to our ministry and we have already been able to meet many new friends along the way.


During our visit there was a family crisis that we weren't expecting but it was a reminder to me about the bond and power of family. We were able to rally together as a family, sharing some of the burden and offering emotional support to each other. We laughed together, cried together, prayed for one another, talked and visited with each other. It was a deep time of sharing that I can’t remember ever having done in such a short visit. The timing was extraordinary in that we were all available for one another.

As I continue to meet with people on my summer travels I am struck by having that feeling of having met someone before even if I haven’t before. My wife and I call it that “Spirit connection,” being connected through our love of Christ and in following His direction. It's a recognition of Christ who lives within us and is not limited by age, gender or denomination.

One of the beauties of the Chaplaincy program is that it is supported by the family of God. It is not dependent on any one denomination but by a network of believers who see the potential for reaching American Indian students with the love of Christ. There are few ministries that strike a chord in people’s hearts so interdenominationally.

This week I have visited with Baptists, Reformists, Methodists and Lutherans. We are also supported by many others. It is truly the body of Christ coming together for a common purpose and it is a joy to serve the students and staff at Flandreau Indian School on behalf of those supporters and in the name of the One who has sent me.

I’ll keep updating as we go. I’ve been to New Jersey in the first week and a half of travel. Then back to South Dakota for some denominational meetings this past week. I return to Pennsylvania tonight and head south through DC and the Outer Banks of North Carolina before arriving in Florida by the end of the month to renew some relationships there. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Strangely Quiet

It’s a really strange feeling to wake up this morning and know I won’t see any FIS students today. We ‘graduated’ the seniors yesterday and then sent all of the students home for the summer. No more kids dropping by in the afternoon to check Facebook in my office or calls for me to pick up a Subway or stopping by my office to get candy. Weird.

I wouldn’t have believed how quickly I could fall for a group of students. There are so many tender souls lying just beneath the surface of tough exteriors and as I have dug in just a little, I’ve gotten to hear enormous stories of disillusionment, abandonment, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse and relationship infidelity among others. It’s not like I haven’t heard any of these issues before in youth ministry because I have.

I think the big difference between ‘American’ culture and the Indian culture is total disclosure. Non-Native kids have the same problems generally as Indians but pretend that they don’t. We don’t talk about the junk in our lives and pretend that issues aren’t going on even though they clearly are. A left-over “don’t ask-don’t tell” mentality from the Clinton era perhaps? I’m not sure. Maybe we just don’t discuss such things in “polite company.”

I have found with Native teenagers that they are much more open with their issues. They are not afraid to admit that they have an addiction or drug problem or about disclosing some of the situations that got them to that point. Last week after chapel was over, I had another one of those candid moments where kids just sat around talking about home life. They freely admitted that it is not unusual for the family to sit around getting high together or drinking until everyone has blacked out.

One of the hardest things for me to do this year has been not to see things only from my perspective but to consider cultural perspective as well. I have had to get out of that “polite company” sort of thinking because there are real issues going on here and I’m hearing about them. While I don’t condone kids getting high or wasted, it is a real challenge to counsel students about making bad decisions regarding substance abuse when that is so culturally rampant among their family groups. They simply have never known anything different.
Having said all of that, I think these kids have seen the negative consequences that these types of behaviors have brought on their families and long for someone to offer them something greater. I truly believe that they all desire something greater for themselves beyond getting wasted every day and being held back by limited reservation opportunities. They want more for themselves.

They may never admit that openly because, again, it’s not culturally acceptable for them. Yesterday at graduation I saw it in the pride of accomplishment and the self-worth that came with receiving a diploma. For some of them, it had taken years to get there and they were among the few in their families to have achieved that honor. Some will go on to college, unheard of in many of their families.

I’m an optimist. I pray that one life a t a time I can have an influence and make a difference by letting kids know there is so much more out there for them if they’ll chase after it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

ON THE ROAD

We’re just finishing out our first academic year at Flandreau Indian School. It is unbelievable that we have made it through our first winter in South Dakota (happily) and are witnessing our first crop of seniors graduating this week.

It’s exciting to hear about plans and for kids to begin to realize that there can be a future if they are willing to pursue it. There are so many opportunities available for Native Americans if they’re willing to check into them. Scholarships, financing and special programs are accessible at nearly any college that an Indian student could possibly be interested in. Hopefully, many realize their full potential and don't settle for life on the reservation that yields little opportunity for the longterm.

So you might ask. “What now? What are you doing all summer now that the students have all left?” We’re hitting the road visiting as many supporters as possible, educating about the Indian School and sharing our experiences with serving Indian students over the last eight months.

We will leave South Dakota on May 26 and head for the east coast where we hope to catch up with many old friends in the Hunterdon County, New Jersey area. I will return to South Dakota to attend the South Dakota Methodist Annual Methodist Conference on June 8 & 9 then will travel south to Sioux Falls to take part in the South Dakota Synod Assembly of the Lutheran Church on June 10 & 11. Back to New Jersey after that and we’ll head down the east coast visiting friends and making new relationships along the way.

We’ll eventually end up in Florida by the end of June where we have many previous connections from the last six years. We hope to be back in South Dakota by mid-July in time for the Flandreau Pow-wow.

Keep an eye out for us and if you’d like to get together with us please contact us. The support we received over the last year has been tremendous and we look forward to meeting up with many of you over the next couple of months.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pebble In Our Shoe

Sometimes we cannot recognize our blessings because we are dwelling on the "pebble in our shoe" 

That was the statement I presented to my chapel students last Sunday asking them what they thought it meant. We were discussing gratitude and how we fail to experience the blessing because we’re so focused on the present instead of the larger picture.  They didn’t even hesitate to give an answer.

One answered and the others quickly agreed that Native Americans as a people cannot get past the fact that the white man took their lands. The government has since provided them with housing and food, places to live, education—you name it, it has been provided to them but ultimately it just returns to that one excuse of “Yeah but they stole our lands.”

It was really eye opening to me that this is still such a raw, open wound; so many generations later it has been handed down to the next age group that this is a wound that shouldn’t be allowed to heal. There wasn’t even any hesitation trying to think of an answer to this statement. I don’t know if it was really keen insight or if this is truly what all Indians are taught and believe.

By holding onto the past the Indians fail to recognize all that has been provided to them in order to move ahead as a people. By failing to forgive they are locking themselves in a place where hope is limited and opportunities are squandered.

I continually am telling kids that as Native Americans they have so many opportunities that they don’t even realize. One of the students was really stressing that her ACT scores weren’t high enough to get into the college she wanted. She was saying “My mom doesn’t even make $15,000 a year. How can I afford to go to college?” I looked at her and said, “You’re Native, your mom’s at the poverty level and you’re smart! Where do you want to go?” Talk about  getting every box checked for acceptance.

Continue to pray that the I, along with the rest of the staff of Flandreau Indian School, can influence kids to know that there are so many more opportunities beyond the reservation that do not include drinking and smoking away the rest of their lives. There are so many bright possibilities and God wants these lives to realize their full potential. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WISDOM

“If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!”
Deuteronomy 32:29

I have been wrestling lately with this idea of wisdom.  I’m not talking intelligence here because there is a vast difference between wisdom and intelligence. The dictionary definition of wisdom itself is: “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.” It’s not enough to merely possess knowledge but wisdom comes in the way that we apply what we've learned.

Why aren't we born with wisdom? Why can’t we have all of the knowledge and judgment necessary to navigate life early on instead of having to gain wisdom through experience? We go through life trying to figure things out and making observations. The wisest among us are those who have lived the longest although age does not necessarily guarantee wisdom. It’s what we learn along the way and what we take away from those experiences that point towards wisdom.  Do we learn from our mistakes or do we just repeat the same things over and over again failing to recognize where we might do things differently the next time?

As an adult, we all just want our children to “get it.” We watch as children make decisions that we know are going to cause pain or have far reaching consequences, yet when we offer instruction it’s disregarded or minimized as unimportant. It can be painful to watch as our kids repeat some of the same mistakes we’ve made, mistakes we are certain could have been avoided if “they would just have listened us” or “followed my advice.”

Growing older we begin to realize how all of the consequences of our decisions earlier in life shape and point the direction for the rest of our lives. Classes we’ve taken, grades we've received, reactions we've had to certain situations, decisions to go in one direction instead of another, how we chose to spend our time, who we chose to spend time with, etc. all have added up to who we became later in life. If we had skipped any of those learning moments, painful as some of them may be, we would have failed to become what we are today.

I listen to and counsel students on an ongoing basis and I desire for many of them to “just get it,” to avoid some of the mistakes that their parents or older siblings or friends have made and to choose a different path in order to avoid some of the heartache and disappointment that is sure to follow. I also have been at this youth ministry thing long enough to know that many do eventually get it and go on to do great things with their lives.

It’s about trust on my part that God knows exactly what He’s doing and that through experience He is shaping these young lives into exactly what He has intended all along.

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”
Proverbs 1:5


Friday, April 8, 2011

License Plates

We gave up our final set of Florida license plates today so I guess it’s official; we’re South Dakota residents. The Indian School year is winding down. We are just a few weeks away from prom (held at the local casino) and graduation scheduled for a few weeks after that. It is amazing to think that we have been here almost a full school year already.

Someone asked me the other day if there have been any surprises in my ministry that I didn’t quite expect. The kids are pretty much what I anticipated although I probably couldn’t have foreseen the depth of the problems that many face. These kids are incredible: creative, funny and wanting to be loved, looking for purpose and finding their way in the world just like normal teenagers.

Unlike most American teenagers, however, they have already experienced a lifetime of dysfunction and pain that most people never will. They know poverty, abandonment, rape and incest, drug dependency, alcoholism and death plus a whole lot more. They have experienced it all firsthand.

I told my wife Kristen that if I was a brand new Youth Pastor this position probably would have crushed me under the enormity of the need. Having fifteen years’ experience prepared me to know the issues, but this is Youth Ministry at warp speed. 

Six months in and I have just scraped the surface. There is so much potential for the ministry that can happen here. I am just beginning to find a place on campus; people think to call me before an event or incident instead of me finding out about things afterward. I feel incredibly blessed to have been placed here by God and to be continually discovering how I can make a difference in the lives of teenagers. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"...so it was thought..."



"Jesus was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph."
Luke 3:23

As I was reading this passage the other day, those four little words jumped off the page at me. “so it was thought.” How many times have I made assumptions about situations because of what I thought to be the truth? 

I think I know why people act a certain way or have the attitude that they have because of assumptions that I’ve made. They or may not be based in reality but in my mind it makes perfect sense. I have no real information that supports my position but I assume I know things based on what little I do know. 

As I work with students, I probably fall into this trap as well, thinking that I know what’s going on when I actually know nothing. I see students who don’t seem engaged in school or indifferent to relationships or angry for seemingly no reason. There are drug situations or drinking situations, even sex situations, and I think, “why can’t they just cut it out?”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to justify behaviors. I know people can make choices to do something or not to do something. I also am becoming aware just how much actions are a desperate attempt to self-medicate and take away the pain that threatens to destroy. By not feeling anything, one can take away the pain even for just a little while.


What I eventually find out is that they have been abused as a child by a family member. Or perhaps a family member or friend committed suicide recently or died of a self-abusing behavior. There are incredible abandonment issues as adults around them move from one relationship to another ignoring the children who badly need them. They feel like no one cares and in many cases it’s true. There are disappointments beyond words when an adult has let them down yet again. They may even feel abandoned by God. “If God loves me why would He allow me to go through what I have gone through?”  

Another truth that struck me last week was that the “more I know the less I understand.” That is, even as I learn about situations, I have no experience that is even remotely similar to be able to relate. The most extreme situation I can imagine is further beyond anything that I could dream up. Pretty much all I can do is to listen and pray that God will comfort even as I have no understanding. I praise Him that He is a God of infinite knowledge even as I come to an understanding of my finite knowledge.

“Father, help me to remove what I think I know about a situation and let me be a source of comfort to those who are hurting. Remove judgment from my vocabulary and let me develop a spirit of compassion instead.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

HEY, DO YOU HAVE A MINUTE?

I love when students come to check out our programs for the first time. So far this year we've had Bon-Fires, Twister, Root Beer Float nights, lots of Game Nights, Limbo, Gingerbread House making and Bingo, just naming a few. There is a lot of activity and laughter; these are some of my favorite times of ministry. Being able to witness kids enjoying themselves and having fun is one of my greatest joys in ministry. But by far, the greatest fulfillment for me is in the moments that come afterward in the unplanned times. These aren't the moments that I've planned in advance for but the stage has been set for them to occur.


I'll be cleaning up after an event and there will be all kinds of things to clean up in order to get the room back to being "livable." One or two students are hanging around helping out and inevitably one will say something like "Hey have you ever thought about..." or "How will I know if..." and the conversation will go from there usually developing a life of its own as it goes. Last night it began as "I'm not really into religion but I'm always open to new ideas." It's a sort of testing of the waters to see what my reaction will be. We're building trust with one another before we get any deeper.


These aren't huge profound moments for the most part but they usually lead to further conversations down the road. Many times the continued conversation will begin with "Hey, do you have a minute to talk with me about something?" That question inevitably comes as I'm headed out the door late for something or already staring at a full schedule. These usually are the conversations where we begin to share things that maybe have never been shared with anyone else...ever. 


I pray that I'll never be too busy to hear the hearts of students and continue to recognize those moments as opportunities from God.