Friday, May 25, 2007

Part 1: Lord, can You heal this land?

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14

The picture above is a photo of the Badlands, a region of South Dakota which French settlers said were bad lands to travel across, and whose Lakota name mako sika literally means "bad lands." There are remnants of life holding on to this landscape--here or there you will see a puff of rugged flowers fixed to a slope or a dwarf tree shooting up out of the rocky ground, and there are dry stream beds that run along the valley floors which indicate that in days gone by, the Badlands were indeed alive. In their barrenness there is beauty... but this dry, dusty chasm is not what they were meant to be.

I just returned from a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Our purpose in this trip was not to Americanize the Lakota people or to bring them a "white man's religion." Our ancestors in this country did enough of that, and committed many horrors against the indigenous people of this land in the name of God. In many ways these people are forgotten, and the wounds that we left them with have never healed. As one Lakota man whom we met told us, his people are not angry with ours, and they don't want vengeance. They simply want us to listen to them and remember them, and love them. And that was the purpose of our mission.

There are so many things I could say about what I saw and learned in South Dakota... I will have to cover them in a series of posts. For now, I will say that I learned so much about God's heart of reconciliation. Not only does He want to reconcile His people and His creation to Himself, but He wants to reconcile them to each other as well. There is power in asking brothers and sisters for forgiveness for the sins of our ancestors, and we did this. We asked the Lakota to forgive us, and we gave ear to their stories and learned how deeply connected they remain to their history--a history we as Americans are not generally taught in the light of truth.

We worshiped and prayed at the hill of Wounded Knee--where the American government committed a massacre against men, women, and children of the Lakota tribe on December 29, 1890. More than 300 Lakota, unarmed, were killed that day, including many innocents. The U.S. government subsequently issued 20 Medals of Honor to American soldiers in connection with the event... and the Lakota, even today, still remember this tragic event and mourn, and ache to understand why it had to happen.

This memorial marks the mass grave into which the bodies of the Lakota were thrown, days after their death, having been left to freeze in the blizzard. The inscriptions honoring the brave and innocent Lakota victims made my heart ache.

Horn Cloud: The peace maker died here innocent.

Big Foot was a great chief of the Sioux Indians. He often said "I will stand in peace till my last day comes."

Many innocent women and children who knew no wrong died here.

As we prayed at Wounded Knee, and we watched the sun set over the hill, I knew that God's purpose is to bring healing to this people and to their land, which has been bitterly contested for hundreds of years and has been host to tragedies and abominations beyond number. As the Lakota have remembered and ached over their past, they have lost hope for their future... and much of the life that God has intended for them has dried up. But as God breathed life into the valley of dry bones, I believe He will breathe life into these people again, and I believe that He will literally heal their land as He heals their spirits... and that the "bad lands" will be called "good lands" as streams flow and birds sing and flowers grow once again.

As I continue to remember and pray for the Lakota people, I pray that reconciliation will come--that the relationship between whites and Indians can be healed, and that we may finally treat each other with love and respect, as brothers and sisters. Then will God be able to move in a powerful way to bring the healing that should have happened long ago. Black Elk, a Lakota Medicine Man who survived the Wounded Knee massacre as a youth, reflected on the incident as he approached the end of his life, nearly sixty years after that day.

I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.

Sunset at the hill of Wounded Knee.

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