“Shhh…Nobody Cares!” That was the statement I saw on a T-shirt worn by a young Native American during my last visit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. For Natives everywhere, they are a forgotten people. They do not have the media spotlight that Black Lives Matter with law enforcement, Hispanics with the immigration issues, and Muslims with refugees and terrorism all have. All of these matters deserve attention, but why not the Oglala Lakota? Why not Native Americans?
It’s no wonder that many Natives feel that no one cares. Pine Ridge, one of the 326 resettlement areas around America that were set aside by the government for Native Americans, and where the Lakota now call “home”. Over the last few decades, it has either been the first or second poorest county in America. They have the lowest life expectancy in America at 48 years old, which is second in North America only to Haiti. Unemployment shifts between 80 to 90 percent, and alcoholism is as high as 80 percent. One of their most secret problems though is domestic abuse,but it’s unknown how widespread it actually is. To this day, Lakota face racism and sometimes violence when leaving the reservation and come into contact with the rest of society.
Some ask, “Don’t the Lakota get any money from the government or lawsuit settlements or casinos?” Yes, but I have spoken to many Lakota people, and every one of them is angry with the corruption that runs rampant. Millions of dollars just disappear on the reservation. It is no wonder that so many lose hope. After years of living this way, to them it is not even worth surviving if nothing is going to change.
In 2015, a wave of suicides swept through Pine Ridge. Between December 2014 and October 2015, 19 young adults between 12 and 22 committed suicide. Even the New York Times mentioned in an article that appeared in May of that year that a spirit is “appearing to these kids and telling them to kill themselves.”
During my week-long trip to Pine Ridge this past June, I met with John Two Bulls, a local minister on the reservation. John was mentioned in that article as he recalled a night when a dozen teens gathered around trees with nooses that they were going to use to hang themselves. He told me that he pleaded with them not do it, sharing that Jesus loves them and that they can have hope for a better life. Over a year later, he says he still speaks with every one of those kids today!
I was on Pine Ridge from June 18-25, my second trip there in about a year. I met with many Lakota Indians, both young and old. I can affirm from my own experience and from their testimonies that unfortunately each of the above problems is true and that spiritual warfare is a way bigger issue than what is printed on the Internet. I have not yet met a Lakota that has not seen the “Tall Man spirit”, “Slender Man,” or other “shadow figures” on the reservation. This isn’t just a Lakota problem either; I know of many whites who have seen them too. They play a big role in the suicides, even sometimes appearing as family members who have passed away that tell them, “Come be with me.”
That week I met a 14-year-old girl who attempted to hang herself just months ago. She said she had no hope. I asked if she believed and had a relationship with Jesus; she said no. She was pretty resistant and protested that if God rules over everything then why would he let things get so bad on the rez. Why would he let evil spirits terrorize kids here, alcoholism and drug addiction get out of control, poverty and corruption reign over the people, and so many of her friends kill themselves?
I explained that while God is the Creator and Ruler over all, there is still a war going on. Humanity and demons both wage war by sinning against God. Jesus wants us to stop rebelling and follow Him. Before Jesus died on the cross for us, he said, “Now is the judgment of this world, now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). The cross was the ultimate moment in history where Satan lost, and through the work of the Church bringing the Gospel of the Kingdom, he would continue to lose ground. I told her that 1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” The reason why the rez has the problems it does is because of the evil one, “the ruler of this world.”
But, I continued to tell her that through Jesus we can bring hope and lasting change. God wants us to believe in Him for the forgiveness of everything we’ve done wrong so that we can have a powerful, loving relationship with Him in this life and the next. He wants to use us to take back territory from Satan by persuading others to believe this Good News and by doing His will.
The resistance melted away. “I believe,” she said. “I would love to give my life to Jesus.” Hope was born, and Satan had just lost another one! No wonder the Bible says the angels in heaven rejoice when someone believes.
Some Natives say though that Christianity is a “white man’s religion,” but we know that that’s so far from the truth! Yes, there is a history of hypocrisy and abuse by many Christians, but true Christianity brings hope, transformation and joy for people of every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 7:9). It is my prayer that the Oglala Lakota will be one of those tribes in heaven. I know they will.
So what can we do now? The first thing you can do is to remember and pray for the Native Americans. Share this post and other stories about them so that others will do the same. Pray for all their needs. Pray that they would know Jesus as the one and only God. Pray that a “discipleship-making movement” would take off like wildfire in their midst; that they would realize the most Native American thing they can do is to believe the Creator sent His son Jesus for them to be the last sacrifice for sin once and for all.
Secondly, go and listen to their stories and hear their pain. Don’t come with your own agenda; just listen first, and then give them hope and ask how you can help. They need to be encouraged to dream again, and we can serve them to help meet their goals. Thirdly, you can share Jesus and help others follow Jesus and share the Good News too.
Billy Graham declared this about the Native Americans’ future: “The greatest moments of Native history may lie ahead of us if a great spiritual renewal and awakening should take place. The Native American has been a sleeping giant. He is awakening. The original Americans could become the evangelists who will help win America for Christ! Remember these forgotten people!”
Together, we can see it happen in our lifetime.