Coming Alive at Wounded Knee

Coming Alive at Wounded Knee

You can’t make me go, Mom!” Lonny put his hands on his waist and kicked the wastebasket next to his bed.

“Four sixth graders are going, and you were picked to go, Lon. The church is paying.” Lonny’s mom sighed. She was tired from being on her feet all day at the dry cleaner’s where she worked to support the two of them.

“But those kids hate me. I don’t fit in. Don’t you understand?

I’m not like them, Mom. They live in the rich section. We live . . .”

Lonny was sure the other kids talked about him. He couldn’t forget the day he had heard Charlie say to Jay, “That Lonny kid is weird, don’t you think?”

Lonny put his face in his pillow, remembering the pain of that moment.

The phone rang. It was Ralph, the youth pastor at their church.

“Oh, hi, Ralph!” Mom exclaimed. “Yes, Lonny’s going on that mission trip if I have to hog-tie him!”

Lonny’s mom mumbled something else to Ralph. Then she hung up and called, “Supper’s on!”

“I’m not hungry, and I’m not going to that Indian reservation!” Sometimes Lonny felt so angry and frustrated that he wanted to break things.
He kicked his sandals from his feet. They made a loud thump against his bedroom wall.

After church Ralph approached Lonny.
“Hi, kid! How ’bout riding with Moxy the hound dog and me out to the reservation? You and I would leave a couple of days before the others and do camping along the way.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Lonny tried to act cool, but inside he felt excited. The chance to be with Ralph and Moxy for a few days without the other kids around was a dream come true.

But what would he do once he was at the reservation? Where would he sleep? What would the food be like? Would the other kids team up and leave him out? He had a lot of questions.

On the day they were leaving for South Dakota, Ralph loaded the back of his Ford F-150 truck with camping gear and boxes stuffed with things to give away: bedding, school kits, clothes, and toys.

Lonny brought an old Army duffel bag, his torn backpack stuffed with candy and a CD player, a red gym bag, and a nylon tent he’d won in a Scout raffle.

The three days heading west on I-90 to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, went quickly. Lonny had lots of questions about Native Americans.

“Where we’re going will be a whole lot different from what we’re used to, Lon,” Ralph said gravely. “We’ll be entering another country, the nation of the Lakota people.”

“So the reservation is like a big corral where the Plains Indians were rounded up and put away, huh? People thought they were in the way of progress.” Lonny sounded angry, as if he knew what it felt like to be shoved aside.

“Maybe the work we do there will help heal the wounds,” Ralph said.

Toward the end of the last day of their drive, Ralph spotted the familiar green Chevy church van turning into the Exxon gas station. Its passengers were exhausted after 24 hours on the road.

Inside were several familiar faces: Charlie, Megan, Thomas, and others.

Lonny’s heart sank. He knew that some of the kids were a clique and didn’t want him as part of their gang. He chewed nervously on his left thumbnail.

“We’re almost at Wounded Knee,” Ralph hollered to the driver as he pulled up beside the van. “Why don’t you go ahead and set up camp? Lonny and I will bring in some provisions from Pine Ridge. See you there in about three hours.”

Once in Pine Ridge, Lonny knew they had entered a different world. As Ralph turned into the Shell station, children circled around the truck. Lonny waved meekly, then looked at his pale skin and light hair, feeling out of place.

Miles and miles of open prairie stretched around the straight, narrow road that took Ralph, Lonny, and Moxy to Immanuel Mission church, where the others were waiting.

As they pulled into the dirt driveway, they were shocked to see the others gathered around, looking stunned. Carol and Jennifer hugged each other, crying.

Ralph, Lonny, and Moxy leaped out of the truck and ran quickly into the building.

The sight was not good. The tiny cinder-block church building, which was to be their home for the next seven days, had been decimated. All the windowpanes were broken. Giant stones used to break the glass lay on the tiled floor.

The mattresses on the beds had been slashed. The giant particleboard bunk beds and the old refrigerator had been knocked over. Dishes and glasses lay in shards on the tile floor. Water ran over in the kitchen sink, flooding and loosening the ceramic tile.

But what hurt most was the bright orange and black graffiti sprayed across the building walls: “Go home, Whitey; we don’t want you here!”

While the others were anxiously discussing what to do, Lonny opened a door that led into another room. In the far corner hung a tattered and faded blue curtain. Lonny pulled the curtain aside. Behind it was a tiny chapel not much bigger than a large closet. It was perfectly intact, as if worship had let out five minutes before.

The intricately carved wooden pulpit caught his attention first. Beside it stood a tiny stone altar holding two simple wooden candlesticks and a small, tarnished brass cross.

A big Bible, its torn leather binding smelling of mildew, sat on the floor by the pulpit. Seven small benches were stacked next to the wall.

A simple stained-glass window with the image of a shepherd carrying a lamb covered a tiny opening to the outside. It seemed miraculous that it was not broken.

A stained, white felt banner proclaimed in faded red and gold, “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

“You guys, come here!” yelled Lonny.

Ralph came and peered behind the tattered curtain. The others followed. The sight of the chapel seemed to cast a spell over the group.

In total silence Charlie, Thomas, and some others arranged the benches. Carrie straightened the banner. Jonelle blew the dust off the Bible and placed it on the pulpit. Jennifer breathed on the tarnished brass candlesticks and polished them with her shirtsleeve. Charlie found two green candles and some matches.

The Bible was opened to Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (KJV).

Ralph fetched his guitar and strummed while he sang, “Come by here, Lord, come by here.” The tiny flames of light flickered on the two candles.

Sitting with his nine companions in the closet chapel, Lonny knew in his heart what his mind couldn’t explain.

He wasn’t worried anymore about where he would sleep or how the others would treat him. The destruction he saw around him was a sign of pain and anger much bigger than his own.

All of a sudden he knew nothing was so big that God wasn’t bigger still. Here in the tiny closet chapel he and his friends were safe. God would show them what to do and give them the power to do it.

Lonny closed his eyes and sang, “Come by here, Lord, come by here . . .”

Written by Betsy P. Skinner
Illustrated by Marcus Mashburn

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Coming Alive at Wounded Knee

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