Every year, our staff and New Life Program participants at Harvest Farm make a short trip to Whiteclay, Nebraska to work with Lakota Hope and Hands of Faith, two ministries that are trying to help people when they need it most.
If you’re like me, many of you have probably never heard of Whiteclay, let alone the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Whiteclay is located two miles south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where alcohol consumption and possession is prohibited, but just because it’s prohibited doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. A significant part of Whiteclay’s economy is based on alcohol sales to Pine Ridge residents. According to a recent article by the University of Nebraska, alcoholism rates on the Reservation are estimated at upward of 80%; and other alcohol-related problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and domestic abuse are rampant.
As you can imagine, this causes issues, not only with the Pine Ridge residents, but with state and local government as well. You can go on YouTube right now and find 50 different news programs and documentaries showing the deterioration of Whiteclay and the number of people who have gotten caught up in alcohol addiction.
Image Credit: Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News
Denver Rescue Mission encourages trips to Whiteclay to motivate the men in our New Life Program to get out of their comfort zone and find out how much of a difference they can make on other people’s lives. At the Reservation, Mission staff and program participants work on projects ranging from gathering wood, so people can keep their families warm, to constructing new buildings from the foundation up.
These experiences instill in our men the idea that helping others is often the best way to help yourself. Not to mention that it gives them a glaring example and realization of how substance abuse can lead to the destruction of families, communities, and even entire cultures.
One of our New Life Program participants, Steven Leasa, had this to say about his recent trip to Whiteclay:
“As a participant in Harvest Farm’s New Life Program I went on the Whiteclay mission trip in 2015. I had been in the program for 2 months at the time and was excited to connect with Native Americans. However small that help may have been, it was worth every second I spent with each individual on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The amount of emotional distress on those peoples was more intense than I ever could have imagined. It was harrowing to empathize with them but it was necessary for me to perceive a greater picture of what is going on in the world.
I learned how creativity, innovation, and compromise are all necessary parts of life in places where the struggle to figure out who you are is so intense–it extends beyond the individual and throughout the community as a whole, eventually revealing the fact that unity is the most important aspect of healthily overcoming adversity. Although there seemed to be no light in Whiteclay, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will live on, and hope will maintain the strength that their ancestors embodied so well. Whether or not they return to their traditional ways, and rediscover their spirituality, or take on the modern world as the only resort they know of, people will relate, establish community, move on, and life will continue.”
The annual mission trip to Whiteclay means so much to me as a Denver Rescue Mission staff member, but also for all our guys in the program. I get to see Christ’s love pouring out of them each time they empathize with a Pine Ridge resident or the pride that they feel when they build a new home for the community.
It’s a trip I look forward to going on year after year.