In May of 2015, Lutheran Indian Ministries asked us to move to the Green Bay, Wisconsin to do ministry on the Oneida Indian reservation. Bob would be taking classes to become a licensed deacon and work at an internship at Zion Oneida Lutheran Church under Pastor Schumm.
It was a hard decision. We were leaving our safe zone, leaving our family and friends, but ultimately, it was God’s decision, not ours.
We were excited about our new journey. You know how kids get when they are excited to go off to college and make their own life, but you, being older and wiser, know that they are so naive to what the world is really like? That was us, passionate and willing and horribly naive!
We were warned that when went into ministry we would have a huge bullseye on our back. When you begin truly working at God’s Will, you get Satan’s attention, and he will try, again and again, to lead you away. But, we were starry-eyed (and naive) and said: “Oh, we got this! Look at our past, we can get through anything!”
Well, I stand before you today, CORRECTED.
We pride ourselves on looking good on the outside, but on the inside, we are bloody and battered. Yet through our wounds, we are praising Jesus and pressing forward. And, I might add, we are slightly less naive.
Let me take you through our Green Bay battle.
When we first got to Green Bay, we truly believed we were going to be the Wisconsin Native’s Billy Graham, standing on Lambeau field, Natives filling the stands and waiting for us to tell them about Jesus. The funny thing about ministry is that it’s built around real, person-to-person relationships. We shouldn’t have been shocked – Jesus’ disciples were the people he knew and loved, those He helped and healed personally.
Two weeks after the move, our four-month-old son, Jorey, started having seizures. He was diagnosed with infantile spasms, a form of epilepsy that can cause severe mental and physical impairment. Doctors and researchers call it one of the “catastrophic childhood epilepsies” because of the difficulty in controlling it. Beyond that, Infantile Spasms are so rare that, in most cases, they are misdiagnosed. If we did not get the seizures under control immediately, his future was in jeopardy. Suspended seizures could leave him unable to eat, speak, or walk. It could cost him his life.
Do you want to know the first thing we did when we found out? We pointed at God and said, “We listened and followed you, and you allowed this to happen? Is this how you repay us?” I will admit, It was not our finest moment.
Now, looking back, we understand that this was not the correct response, but it was our first reaction. After our rage and shock wore off, we did all that we could do. We saw doctors and WE PRAYED. We prayed in moans and accusations and apologies and tears and wild promises.
During that time in the hospital, I discovered that I was strong. That was the first true thing I had ever learned about myself.
I also learned a few other important lessons:
1. I’m not strong because of me; my strength comes only through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. It was only when I bowed to Him that I felt the strength and courage to get through another day.
2. Wifedom, motherhood, sober life, and Christianity are really difficult, each of them, on their own, but when you put them all together, watch out!
I began to wonder if other women found these things to be as hard as I did. And if they did, why didn’t we ever talk about it? This was the beginning of God revealing my ministry.
Then, we added some more chaos.
During the time Jorey was having the seizures, Bob went on a mission trip to Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Prior to his arrival, the community was in mourning. They had experienced 33 children commit suicide in a three-month period.
From South Dakota, Bob went to Alaska where he teamed up with Dave and Rosemary Sternbeck (LIM Ministry Staff) who were also dealing with a suicide epidemic among Alaska Natives.
Pretty heavy, right? All the while wondering if our son would end up brain dead.
When Bob got back from his mission trips, I was frazzled from dealing with a seizing five-month-old and a hyper two-year-old. He was exhausted from the hard physical and spiritual labor. So, we added to our life some marital un-bliss. We began to argue and take the stress out on one another.
But, we’re not done yet.
In December, we got a call that Bob’s brother had been shot and killed by the Rapid City police in South Dakota. More pain, more shock, more anger, and another bad response. We pointed at God and said, “Why did you let this happen? How many Natives are you going to allow Satan to destroy before you do something?”
And when we were done with our tantrum, we did all that we could do. We found the support we needed, and WE PRAYED. We prayed in moans and accusations and apologies and tears and wild promises.
In the midst of all the chaos we were going through as a family, we still had a job to do. We were in the Green Bay area to do ministry with the Oneida Indian Reservation. We moved our family so that Bob could work at the Lutheran Church on the reservation. He preached and learned the dynamics of a church, and we found that connecting with the Oneida people was hard. The relationships we desperately wanted to nurture hadn’t even begun to sprout.
That’s when the fantasy, of what our ministry life would be, burst. We almost quit and packed up our bags and went home. This Native ministry stuff was too hard, and all we wanted was to go back to our nice, quiet life. I believed Bob would become this holy preacher and answer all of my requests with “yes, dear” and “immediately, my love.” Despite what people had told me, I thought we would be the perfect family – God would protect us and life would be all sunshine and roses. I was certain that all we needed to do was to show up and people would be flocking to us and begging to be baptized. When you work for God, life is perfect, right?
Well, sort of.
Nobody’s life is perfect. But, I learned the greatest lesson at this point: our life wasn’t perfect, the way I envisioned it, but it was perfect for what God had in mind.
We wanted to quit, but God wouldn’t let us.
When we raised our flag to surrender, God took the reins. He used what we had gone through to develop a better relationship with Him, which in turn gave us the opportunity to develop better relationships with the people around us.
He opened our hearts and gave us our ministry.
Mine was to women and children. God gave me a huge ministry through my own children: Jorey with his medical issues and Tre with his "toddler-itis," (they say terrible twos, but I beg to differ. It is terrible threes). I was able to build relationships with many women, not by trying to help them, which I thought was my job, but by seeking their help first.
We started going to the Oneida Elementary for programs offered through the school and to therapy at the hospital for Jorey. Through those two outlets, which I sought to help me with my children, I was able to tell other women about Jesus. We started a women’s group based on honesty and a Sunday school class for mothers and their small children.
God blessed me with so many friends who carried my burdens, so that I, in turn, could carry theirs.
In the same way, God showed Bob his ministry through the trials he had experienced personally and those he had seen on his mission trips. He was acutely aware of the pain of his Native people. Bob’s calling is to teach and preach the Word of God and that calling was confirmed to us when Bob was accepted into seminary this summer.
Looking back over our last year in Oneida, I am reminded of the story of the velveteen rabbit. You become real when the shine wears off of life. When things are falling apart, that's when you can really live, and see God's plan fall into place.
We have learned that God brings people to you to help and grieve with you. Grieving with another human being is where God can work. We avoid pain, and we avoid grief, but that is the place to be if you want to be Christ’s hands on earth. We have found that God is able to use the grief, pain, and brokenness for good when Satan intended it for bad. When we grieve with a person, we form a deep connection, and this is where Jesus works, in things deep and personal.
When we began to share our personal grief, God worked. So that is what we want to encourage you to do, share your pain, allow people to grieve with you – make it a ministry!
God did, however, call us back home to Lawrence, Kansas, and we made the move closer to family in July. But, our time in Oneida was not in vain. We grieved, and we shared Jesus. We lost our shine, and we became real.
1 Peter 5:10 says, "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you."
During our time in Green Bay, God strengthened mine and Bob’s relationship as husband and wife. He confirmed our calling. He gave us GRACE. In all this, he worked according to his plans and purposes. He not only restored, confirmed, strengthen, and established Bob and I, but he saved our son in the process. God provided the #1 pediatric neurologist in the world, less than 5 minutes from our home, to care for our son two weeks after we moved to Green Bay.
We are the newest and youngest members of Lutheran Indian Ministries. They have invested a lot into us. We began with a story, a story of the redemption Jesus provided in our lives. They have supported us while God has used various trials and experiences to better equip us for ministry. Bob begins seminary in September, Praise God! It is such an important place for him to be. Right now, there are only four Native American ordained Lutheran ministers in the United States to reach 5 million Native Americans, on 566 reservations and in cities around the nation, only 3% of whom know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We have a big task at hand!
We, at Lutheran Indian Ministries, allow our hearts to be broken for our people. Grief and pain are the points where we connect. This much grief and pain can become overwhelming! Satan is constantly attacking Lutheran Indian Ministries and its staff, thinking this is the way he is going to keep these Jesus-loving, grief-stricken, pain-bearing, storytelling-Natives down. But he couldn’t be more wrong!
Our vision is to raise up native leaders to share the gospel with their own people while helping them to heal from their own trauma and wounds. You can bet that we all stand behind this vision and find ourselves on the battlefield, each and every day, fighting for our people and for Jesus, and there's no place we'd rather be.