Denver Rescue Mission Posts

Finding Light in a Town Ravaged by Alcoholism: The Whiteclay Mission Trip

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

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.

Spiritual Journeys Come in All Shapes and Sizes

The main reason I chose to intern at Denver Rescue Mission was because I wanted to grow spiritually. The thought of being surrounded by other Christians in a professional work environment really appealed to me. I prayed to God that my time here would change me for the better. My prayer was answered, but it did not come as easy as I thought it would. It took time and a lot of getting out of my comfort zone.

Being a double major in journalism and international relations, I interned with the public relations department. I was loving the work that I was tasked with, my supervisors and what I was learning. Everything in the department was going well. It seemed like God had answered my request to grow professionally, but not spiritually. What was going on?

I realized that although I was working in a Christian environment that did not mean I would experience spiritual growth right away. So, I prayed and well…everything changed.

Denver Rescue Mission interns Ashley Montano and Shannon Stewart

Shannon Stewart (pictured right) and I formed a close friendship interning at Denver Rescue Mission

One day, out of nowhere, I ran into a fellow intern in Denver Rescue Mission’s administration building named Shannon. We talked about how our internships were going and about life in general. Before you knew it, phone numbers were exchanged and a friendship was formed.

Shannon introduced me to all of the other interns. We prayed before meals, encouraged each other and it pushed me to want to build an even stronger relationship with Christ. This was the complete opposite community that I had during my college years. It was refreshing and I noticed that I was happier, overall.

 

 

 

The spiritual journey did not stop there. I was able to volunteer at Denver Rescue Mission’s Easter Banquet on Good Friday. I was expecting to be moved, but I did not think that I would come out changed. As the homeless sat down, there was a look of sadness in some of their eyes. When I brought them their warm plates of food, there was a sparkle in their eyes. In that moment they were being taken care of. In that moment they felt safe.

Guests worshiped together in Denver Rescue Mission's chapel before enjoying their Easter meal

Guests worshiped together at Denver Rescue Mission’s Easter service

I then journeyed down to the chapel where our guests were able to sit through a church service. As I walked in the middle of it, I noticed that some people started to cry when the pastor told them that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and He loved them. I kind of lost my control and shed a tear as well. I was sad that these people were in such a vulnerable position in life. I was moved by the fact that Christ still loves them and that he could change their situations. It was at that exact moment that I connected with Denver Rescue Mission as a whole.

This organization saves so many lives through all of the programs that it offers. I also witnessed this at Champa House when I shadowed an intern there. Champa House is a nurturing place for single mothers that shelters and cares for up to nine women and 20 children at one time. Observing how the moms have a strong desire to change their lives was astonishing. It was shocking considering the hardships that they went through. Some of them said that only through Christ were they able to find that will to change.

I have seen how Christ was working through all of the employees and interns at the Mission. I am so happy that God answered my prayers. I learned that it is important to put yourself out there in order to gain experiences. I believe that this experience changed me for the better. God changed me for the better.

God may not have answered my prayers the way I expected him to… but I’m glad he caught me of guard.

If you’re looking for your own spiritual journey, learn more about interning at the Mission at www.denverrescuemission.org/internship.

College Students Trade Beach Towels for Lasting Experiences at Harvest Farm

March has never been my favorite month. Everything is brown, it’s windy, sometimes we get lots of snow, and all the fun holidays are over. It’s like this 30-day holding period before the real signs of spring and renewal start to show up. I’ve always just muddled through it with a grim determination to survive until the color comes back and the wind goes away. Then, I started working for Harvest Farm as their Northern Colorado Volunteer Coordinator and everything changed. Now, March is one of my favorite months of the year. Why? College students. Wonderful, inquisitive, hard-working, kind, amazing college students!

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Alternative Spring Break students and a New Life Program participant work together in the Harvest Farm green house

Harvest Farm offers Alternative Spring Break opportunities for dozens of students from universities all over the U.S. Instead of hitting the beaches, these students volunteer their time to live on the Farm for a week during their Spring Break. And they’re awesome! Every year I can’t wait to meet them. This year we got to host Vanderbilt University, Xavier University, Iowa State University, and University of California San Diego.

The student groups bring energy and fun to the Farm. They come with open minds and hearts, ready to learn and interact. They ask questions. Their perspectives are challenged. Stereotypes are shattered. Some of them even change career paths. Why is that? What is it about the Farm that is life-changing for these young adults? I could say it’s our unique program or the actual volunteer work they’re doing, but as great as our program may be, that’s not what makes people re-asses their lives. Honestly, it’s the men in our New Life Program that changes things.

We have 72 men living with us on the Farm who are working to turn their lives around in our long-term New Life Program. These men come from all walks of life, some come to us directly out of prison, and others have experienced chronic homelessness and addiction. Students have open dialogue with these men and talk to someone they might otherwise never speak with. It’s about sharing stories and learning from one another. At the end of their week, I debrief with each group of students. Without fail, they tell me how our New Life Program participants have changed their lives.

One student volunteer said, “I had expected that we would be helping the men and learning more about addiction and homelessness, and experiencing a bit of how it feels to be in that position. We helped them, yes, but they helped us as well.  The Farm was a place which helped everyone – even us – to discover [more] about ourselves.”

 

Students from Xavier University pitch in at the Farm

Students from Xavier University pitch in at the Farm

Alternative Spring Break groups bring something to our participants as well. These groups give our men the chance to share their personal journey with people who want to learn from and understand them. Getting to interact with people when they’re sober, in an environment that feels safe allows something cool to happen. Suddenly, our men have purpose. They’re teaching people how to do things like milk cows, build fences, and start a garden. They’re gaining confidence and starting to feel that they have value and something to offer.

Another student said it well: “One day at lunch, Tim asked me what my favorite part of this trip had been.  My answer was, ‘getting to know you all!’ He looked a bit shocked or confused with my answer.  So I asked him, ‘Were you expecting me to say something else?’  He responded, ‘I thought you were going to say the animals…’ I could tell by his facial expression he was pleasantly surprised with my answer.  I was telling Tim the honest truth; my favorite part of my time at Harvest Farm was simply getting to know the guys. Their laughter and silliness was contagious. Their stories and life experiences were captivating. Their determination for sobriety was inspiring.”

And something must have clicked for Tim. I can safely say he felt special. I wonder when the last time was that he felt special. I wonder when the last time was that someone considered it fun getting to know him. I wonder how many of our men believe, when they first get to Harvest Farm, that they are not worthy of being known and that they have nothing to offer anyone. When, in reality, they offer so much.

Simply put, Alternative Spring Break is about so much more than students volunteering. It’s about connection, and seeing the beauty in the brokenness that we all carry inside us. It’s about understanding, accomplishment, laughter, learning, and hope. We get some work done, sure, but the real “work” is in the lives of the students and the men as they interact with and impact each other.

One of our New Life Program graduates said “We so desperately seek to redeem ourselves that our souls spontaneously connect.” How beautiful is that? Yes, it’s about souls connecting and the healing that comes from that. March is now a really great month for me. I will continue to welcome fresh faces, open minds and willing hearts and I will be blessed by their time with us.

To learn more about our 2017 Alternative Spring Break program at Harvest Farm, contact me, Heather Pulley, at hpulley@denrescue.org.