JEFFERSON CITY - A team of four from First Baptist Church of Jefferson City partnered with Wings as Eagles Ministries (WAEM) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Pine Ridge is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The reservation is home to two of the poorest counties in the U.S.
Pastors Gary and Lori Mc_Afee founded Wings as Eagles and have ministered with the Lakota people for the past 15 years, eight on Pine Ridge.
"WAEM works closely with the Lakota people in the communities of Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee and Manchester on the reservation," said team member and FBC associate pastor of youth and missions Melissa Hatfield.
The McAfees purchased 114 acres on the reservation to build the Dream Center, a facility used to meet the spiritual, physical and economic needs of families on the reservations.
"They are currently completing stage one, which includes a large warehouse building that will hold a food distribution center, a worship area, conference rooms for prayer groups, and offices for the WAEM staff," Hatfield said.
The Jefferson City team also included Jessica Foumena, Jeff Feeler and Paul Camden.
They helped install drywall and built a rock patio extension onto the pavilion area where host teams eat. The team also traveled into reservation communities to visit with the Lakota people and to distribute basic toiletry items, diapers and clothing.
The team shared a meal at the Dream Center with people from the community and played games with the children.
They also ministered to a family in the death of a loved one whom Lori McAfee had visited and cared for several months. They attended the Lakota man's wake and provided items such as food, water and wood for the three-day vigil attended by family and friends.
Needs on Pine Ridge are substantial, Hatfield said, with significant rates of unemployment, diabetes, alcoholism, infant mortality and suicide - especially teen suicide. During the two weeks after the team returned home, five suicides involving children 12-17 were reported.
Many people live in homes without indoor plumbing, with dirt floors and walls of hay bales. Many are overcrowded and provide limited protection during the winter.
"Through the 15 years of ministering to the Lakota people, the stories of close encounters with violence and the rejection of God's word that they have experienced would scare most people away," Camden said. "But it only seems to draw Gary and Lori even closer."
Added Foumena, "Seeing the physical and spiritual needs on the reservations has been an eye-opener, a heartbreaking ex_perience and a blessing. The Lord made me realize that social injustice and poverty exist in my native country, Camer_oon, as well as in my adoptive one, the United States of America."
For more on Wings as Eagles Ministries, visit www.waeministries.com.