Thursday, July 26, 2012

100 Miles From Ideal

Okay, so I have to give some credit for the title above to my brother--Ben was brainstorming good blog names a while back, and came up with something similar: 112 miles to Hope.  I'm not sure if he will end up using that as his blog name, but if he does, it will be a good choice: Ben is (as of last week) living in Kyle, South Dakota, exactly 112 miles from the city of Hope.  I tried to find Hope on a map, and couldn't... but I did notice that Kyle is 100 miles from Ideal, South Dakota (hence my title for this post).

Either way, the geographical word-play happens to sum up, to some degree, the circumstances that Ben will be working in this coming year, as he begins a two-year contract teaching high school math on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a placement arranged by Teach for America.

It's not ideal, and hope, indeed, appears elusive when one considers the history of this land.  Pine Ridge is home to a group of Native Americans commonly known as the Oglala Sioux.  Having attended college in Iowa, in a town called Sioux Center, in the middle of Sioux County, about halfway between Sioux Falls, SD and Sioux City, Iowa, I always assumed that Sioux was a legitimate name.  Not so--"Sioux" is, in fact, a derisive term.  The inhabitants of the Pine Ridge Reservation are actually members of the Lakota tribe; the name "Sioux", like so much else, is a battle-scar from their history, a product of the injustice and violence brought against them in the name of "Manifest Destiny" centuries ago.  The most famous incident to take place on the land was the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890, in which U.S. Cavalry opened fire on a Lakota camp, killing women and children as well as warriors and slaughtering many who were unarmed.  More than 150 Lakota died that day.

The Old West and the American Frontier are long gone, but time has not been kind to the descendants of the Lakota who endured such tragedies as Wounded Knee.  The list of societal challenges is grim, the statistics staggering: high suicide rates, low life expectancy, high diabetes rates, high alcoholism, high rates of pedophilia, not to mention high drop-out rates within the schools on the reservation... sadly, the list could keep going.

This is the situation that my brother has stepped into, and it is in the small town of Kyle, South Dakota that he will strive to be an agent of healing and at the very least, care, as he teaches 9th and 10th grade math classes.  As Christians, we live (or should live, anyway) as those who have hope.  Even when life is difficult, we can rest assured in the truth that our hope is built not on earthly success or failure, but on Christ's love and righteousness.  We also know that it's a struggle to live this way consistently, and very easy to get caught up in our own problems when things aren't going well.  Imagine, then, how very difficult it is for a person who is born into a world where the numbers predict that you're likely not to graduate from high school, likely not to have steady employment, likely to die before you turn 50... how difficult it would be to hold onto hope.

No, it's not ideal.  Yet we know that hope is not just an ideal, but a reality and a reality worth sharing.  Ben is a wise and talented guy and I know that the LORD will use him to do great things in this situation.  I invite you to join me in praying for Ben as he becomes a part of this community--prayers on his teaching, prayers on his relationship with his colleagues, prayers on his relationship to a group of people who have essentially been beaten up by history and prayers for his own spiritual walk in a challenging climate.

On behalf of Ben, thank you for your prayers!

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