Like most visitors to Whiteclay, Nebraska and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, New Life Program (NLP) participant Kris Wise was shocked by the alcoholism and poverty that plagues the local Native American community. Every year, NLP participants at Harvest Farm go on a mission trip to Whiteclay to serve and minister to the Lakota Native Americans who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located two miles north across the South Dakota border. Whiteclay exists almost primarily to provide alcoholic beverages and groceries to the reservation, where the sale of alcohol is prohibited. Kris notes:
“What stuck out the most to me was how the town with the population of 14 had 4 liquor stores [and] the streets being flooded with drunken people who consumed a lot of alcohol.”
As many as 80% of adults in Pine Ridge suffer from alcoholism, and roughly a quarter of newborns on the reservation suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome (The New York Times). Most of the alcohol consumption occurs on the town’s sidewalks, resulting in what The New York Times has called a “rural skid row.” Barred from drinking on the reservation, customers often huddle together against the elements, sleep on mattresses in nearby fields, or lie incapacitated in the open air. Poor health, domestic violence, and lack of opportunity has led to a sense of hopelessness and resentment among the community.
That’s where our New Life Program comes in. The power of the NLP participants, such as Kris Wise and Luke Cooper, is to share their own experiences with members of the Pine Ridge community and to serve the communities’ physical needs. In working with local ministries Lakota Hope and Hands of Faith back in June, participants have been able to share their own struggles with substance abuse with the Lakota community. Living and serving in Whiteclay allows participants to witness how a long history of alcohol dependence can impact families and whole communities. In contrast to the therapeutic refuge and tight-knit community at Harvest Farm, Whiteclay demonstrates how isolation and substance abuse frequently becomes a vicious cycle. Our NLP participants speak into the experiences of Pine Ridge residents and have helped construct new homes for families living in cramped conditions, completed landscaping projects, and gathered firewood among other projects.
In addition to the tangible benefits that their service has for families, our New Life Program participants have shared how serving the Lakota families has impacted their own perspectives on poverty and self-sufficiency. Luke Cooper writes:
“As a group of guys from the Farm and I were helping pour a house foundation for a family of ten who were living in a single-wide trailer, I looked around to see FEMA trailers surrounding us and felt fortunate to be at Harvest Farm with all of its resources and people. The Lakota people do not have the opportunities for employment or the stable income that we have here in Colorado, which is apparent when we drove through Pine Ridge and saw the number of people walking around or hanging out in the middle of the day. Being able to help a couple families get new homes built for them, replacing the old, beat down trailer homes that they were currently residing in was a great feeling and experience that I will always treasure.”
Although the participants note that the impact of their service is limited within the grand scale of the Pine Ridge reservation, they were glad to have provided long-term change for those two families, who now have suitable homes.
Participating in mission trips together likewise strengthens the NLP community and the bonds between our participants. They are able and encouraged to work on several different projects throughout the week. Kris Wise writes:
“I chose to do a different [project] each day. By doing that I got to work with different people every day. I got to know some of the Native Americans who had a few stories to share with me… I also got to work with different guys from the farm who I didn’t really hang out with before. That was nice because I got to develop new friendships.”
The synergistic impact of the Lakota and NLP communities is the reason why the Whiteclay Mission Trip continues to be one of the most meaningful weeks for Harvest Farm each year. In paying forward the hope and help they have received at Harvest Farm, participants expand their personal growth and bear witness to the power and possibility of attaining new life. We hope that through continued prayer and missions to Whiteclay, our men at Harvest Farm can continue to bring healing to this community every year.