Over the course of this summer I've had a substantial paradigm shift in how I think about ministry in Pine Ridge. When I first moved to Whiteclay, I bemoaned the lack of manpower we had to meet spiritual and physical needs on the reservation. In several prayer meetings I prayed Luke 10:2 “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few!” I prayed for a day when God would raise up Lakota leaders who he would ultimately use to transform the Oglala Lakota Nation, but like most non-native missionaries and pastors, I got a little discouraged by how long that was taking.
I thought and felt this way until Lakota Hope hosted a ministry round table at the beginning of this summer. All around the table there were passionate, competent Lakota ministry leaders wanting to do more in more in ministry. However, many Lakota Pastors and ministry leaders expressed the difficulties of being Lakotas in ministry. They were under resourced, didn’t have meeting spaces, and struggled to move forward in ministry while working full-time jobs.
At that meeting I realized that the problem is not a lack of Lakota’s who are called or qualified for ministry: The real problem is that Lakota-led ministries are under-resourced and generally don’t receive enough support from their non-native ministry counterparts. This problem is leading to a shift in priorities for Lakota Hope. Before I tell you about how Lakota Hope is supporting Lakota-led ministries let me tell you about some of the inequity that holds Lakota-led ministries back.
First and foremost, Lakota led ministries are under resourced. Fundraising is all about who you know. As someone who grew up in the suburbs or St. Paul, I know a lot of prospective funders for ministry projects. But someone who has lived most of their life on a reservation with 80% unemployment is going to have a much harder time getting the support they need to run a ministry. Because of the lack of funding, most Lakotas in ministry need to work full-time jobs, and have limited time to put into their ministry work. Many Lakotas in ministry also lack buildings, so churches and youth ministries meet in homes or in borrowed spaces.
Before writing this article, I had several conversations with Lakota ministry leaders. All of them expressed feelings that non-natives and natives alike often viewed or treated them as less qualified. Lakota leaders may receive leadership training, be invited to share their testimony, or even preach, but it is less common for Lakotas to be put in positions of true leadership. Pastor Joe Cross pointed to this as the root of one of the biggest misconceptions on the reservation: that Jesus is a “white man’s god.” We can argue against this misconception until we are blue in the face, but as long as white people own the churches, run the churches, and seem to have a special claim on the “call from God,” that misconception will be preserved, and Jesus will always be viewed as a “white man’s god.”
Lakota-led ministries often need technical support. There are diverse talents and areas of expertise in the local church, we just need to be better at sharing those talents with each other. Some ministries have expressed the need for help with websites or online fundraising. Others needed help with grant writing or getting 501(c)(3) status.
Lakota Hope currently has a staff of one (me) and limited financial resources, so we can only become a small part of what is needed to give Lakota pastors the support they need, but we are doing what we can to build up Lakota ministries. Our primary areas of service are helping Lakota led ministries with funding, providing technical assistance, and helping native and non-native ministries with networking.
To help ministries with finances we are sharing a portion of what we fundraise with Lakota-led ministries. Currently about 10% of our budget has been diverted to Lakota-led ministries. We also help connect Lakota ministries with resources by encouraging outside ministries to support Lakota ministries.
Technical support is another way that we are supporting Lakota ministries. I’m fairly savvy with online fundraising and website building. I hope to pass those skills along to Lakota pastors as well as bring in people to educate in other areas such as person-to-person fundraising or perhaps help on some of the paperwork.
Another way we have already started to help is by connecting ministries through our round table meetings and by creating a website as a living ministry directory.
In future posts and newsletters, I hope to highlight some of the awesome Lakota men and women of God who are currently making their foray into ministry and share ways that you all can support them directly. We’ll do so much more for the kingdom when we break down the dividing fences between out ministries and distribute the tools we have as non-native ministries to the Lakotas already doing the work. The harvest is plentiful, AND THE LABORERS ARE TOO!
~ Abram Neumann: Interim Director at Lakota Hope