Saturday, February 26, 2011


"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

Why is it that we always think that we know better than God?

I am probably more guilty of this than anyone. I think I know what I want but what I want isn't always necessarily what is best for me. I'm a little slow to catch on at times. 

Before we moved to South Dakota we had a rough few years. Work was slow in coming after losing a position in Florida and we struggled with where God wanted us to go next. I was willing to go anywhere God wanted me to go...really.

Then the opportunity came up at Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota. The job seemed amazing (and it is), a perfect fit. It is youth ministry to the max...all of the training and experiences that I've had in the past leading up to the challenges that these students face. God has been training me for this position for years.

The job was perfect...but I kept saying "But God...South Dakota? Really?" Those of you who I came in contact with during that time may have actually heard me mutter those words. Fortunately, I had some Godly men around me at the time who quite literally told me that if I was being resistant like Jonah they would personally toss me from the boat if it meant I was going to sink their ship because of my disobedience. 

I shudder to think what blessings I would have missed had I not listened to God. Besides the ministry that has been unbelievable, my family has flourished in the move. Josh had an incredible cross country season shattering his old times in large part due to cooler temperatures. Bethany has made all kinds of new friends. I don't worry about her outside riding her bike, which she learned to do since we've been here. It's been fun watching her discover winter and snow. She was not quite two when we moved to Florida so she doesn't really have a memory of winter. And Kristen has rediscovered her passion of being creative while having some time to do it. She's learned knitting and is loving her role as Girl Scout Cookie Queen.

So what else have I missed out on in my desperate attempt to hold the wheel and keep God from having His way in my life? What about you?

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Beautiful Beading

We attended a Pow-Wow or Wacipi, as it is known, up in Brookings over the weekend at South Dakota State University sponsored by the college's Native American Club. We had been to a smaller Pow-Wow last fall but it really paled in comparison to this recent event. There are many of these types of events throughout the United States during the year. In the warmer months they're held outside but move indoors during the harsher winter.

Grand Entry
The word Wacipi (pronounced "wa chee pi" in the Dakota language) means to dance. Pow-wow is a term universally accepted by tribal nations as a celebration of singing and dancing. Traditionally, it is a time when people gather to sing, dance, renew old friendships and make new ones. It is an exciting celebration of the traditions and creativity of the Indian culture. It is bright and colorful with singing and banging of drums in remembrance of all who have come before and as reminder of who they are as a people. The young are learning traditions passed on from older generations and coming together as a culture they have done for centuries.

Fancy Dancer

Although the pictures do it some justice, it does not really convey the spirit of the event. The drum banging is raucous and spirited and the dancing is energetic. The adornments of the participants are absolutely stunning and you must respect the countless hours that have been spent in preparing the ceremonial regalia. 
There are two different types of Wacipi: traditional and competitive. The event we attended was competitive and the singers and drummers competed in different categories in order to receive prize money. Following the Grand Entry where all of the dancers enter the arena, the participants compete in a variety of dances including the Fancy Dance, Grass Dance, Traditional Dance and the Jingle Dress Dance. There are also Inter-tribal Dance periods that are open for anyone to take part in.

I really loved exposing my kids to this experience. It is a segment of our country that many people never encounter. My daughter Bethany was particularly taken with the Jingle Dancers and she had a hard time sitting still when we finally got home.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Pow-wow; Kristen and I loved photographing the beautiful imagery and it gave us all a further appreciation for all of the Indian culture and beliefs that we only have a novice awareness of. I think these types of events are so important not only to educate the public but also to be able to preserve customs for Indian generations as a reminder of their past. I was so excited to see some of our kids from the Indian School dancing and having a true appreciation for the event.

Enjoy the photos! There will be more available on the Chaplaincy Facebook page in the coming days.

Special thanks to SDSU Native American Club for hosting and providing much 
of the information contained in this posting.

More Photos at Facebook:

Thursday, February 17, 2011


For many the students here at FIS, there is loss so often that it is nearly unbelievable and incredibly heartbreaking. It is somewhat understandable how these types of losses could cause someone to lose hope. I’m not sure how many of us would hold up under all of the sorrow that these teens have already experienced in life. So far this year I have counseled students who have lost friends, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents due to suicide or violent crime or even natural death. Many are almost devoid of any emotion at this point. There has been so much hurt so often that it is just easier not to feel anything at all. Death and abandonment are a daily occurrence.

A Facebook status I read today sums it up well: “I always expect the worst at the back of my mind.” They’re almost afraid to feel like life could get better because with each day comes the potential for additional loss.

I have been talking with some staff about it this week. This sense of loss begins when many of them are much younger. As small children they need to learn to cope with parents who leave the family or are not prepared to be a parent or are even lost to the family due to a drug or alcohol addiction or a prison sentence. A lot of them are raised by grandparents or other friends or family members because of absent or non-functioning parents. Many of the kids are forced into parenting roles because adults have not been able to provide the care needed for the family. This sense of abandonment is great and they seek to fill that emptiness with sex or drugs or alcohol in order to blunt the pain. And so the cycle repeats itself and they become the parent that can’t function because that’s how everyone around them has dealt with the pain in their lives.

I know that many of the behaviors that I see are in reaction to hearts that are hurting. It is a crying out to be loved and cared for. It is lashing out against a life that has been cruel and insensitive. I can only continue to share the comfort I myself find in seeking after God. I believe that He will continue to love me and protect me and provide opportunities for me to show His love to those who have never known the Father’s love. And I believe the promise of scripture in Revelation 21:4 that says “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain.” He will comfort in a way that no man or substance or human relationship ever will be able to.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


“The devil’s only tool is discouragement. Don’t use it.”
-Tony Firman

I saw former Chaplain Tony Firman at the post office yesterday and he offered the above advice. He knows firsthand how the enemy seeks to stop any sort of hope through discouragement.

This has been a tough week for me so far. I found out some news on Sunday at our chapel service that will potentially change some lives forever. Kids are going home for having too much sex or for dealing drugs or for assault on other students. Someone I care about told me that he was done with Christians and Christianity and not to expect him at anymore campus functions because he’s through with it. It’s as if it has been a practice run up to this point. The enemy is holding nothing back now to break the students and staff and me down by removing any hope of a future.

A student who just arrived Friday was called back into the director’s office this morning because she hasn’t been going to class or even attempting to get plugged into the school for two days now. As we met with her, the director asked her how we could help. Her reply is indicative of just how hopeless some of these kids feel: “You can’t help me. Nobody can help me.” She has been shipped from school to school by a parent who doesn’t care if she ever comes back. There is such a sense of loss and abandonment.

And how do you respond? She has heard all sorts of promises from adults who never come through for her. She has been shuffled from one place to the next because no one knows what to do with her.  I just sat close by and listened as she got angry and cried and lied and treated the adults in the room as if she didn’t care. There have been promises made to her before that have never been followed through on. Actions have not reflected that anyone cares. There was nothing I was going to say that was going to greatly improve her perception of adults. She is already headed back home, another failed attempt for her to find a place where she belonged.

Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

I truly believe I am in a spiritual battle right now for this campus. Pray with me that the campus would be freed from the battle that it is experiencing right now. I ask that you pray with me that it would not fall to Satan but that God would have victory here and that the students would begin to feel the hope that only Christ can offer.  

Monday, February 7, 2011


Adjusting to life in South Dakota has not been as big of a stretch as we might have thought. Obviously moving from Florida to an upper mid-west state has required a clothing overhaul for us all to keep up with the temperature drops.  It started snowing at the beginning of November and hasn't let up too much since. Although the temperatures have dropped below zero often, we have found we're not as cold as when we lived in New Jersey where dampness often accompanies cold weather. It's a different, drier kind of cold. 

We came from a larger metropolitan area in Florida. Flandreau has just over 2,000 people so this is a return to small town for us. The pace is a little slower than we've been used to. On campus it's called "Indian time." If we begin chapel at 2:00, then kids might start to show up ten or twenty minutes later. I like to be punctual and start things on time so I need to take a deep breath and remind myself that it will happen in God's timing. A surrendering of control is not necessarily a bad thing.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the kids to accept me on campus but it hasn’t been an issue. Kristen, my wife, thinks it’s because they’re not quite sure if I’m Indian or not, with my dark hair and olive complexion. They have been really open and, for the most part, honest with me. I have fallen for this group of students in a big way.  

My heart aches for these kids to see their potential and to realize all that God has for them if they’d allow Him to direct them. There are a lot of drug and alcohol issues, teen sex and relationship problems. Suicide is rampant in their culture and among their families. I have counseled at least a dozen students who have lost family members to suicide already during this school year.  Statistically, in 2007 suicide was the 11th leading cause of death among all ages and demographics in the United States. Among Native Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 suicide was the second leading cause of death. There is such a sense of hopelessness among the Indian people.

I learn a bit each day as I get to know the students and hear their stories. I’ll continue to share more as I learn more. Thanks for reading!