Marjorie Little Eagle grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, about 200 miles east of Rapid City. She returns to the reservation from time to time to visit friends and family. But on Saturday, July 23, the 70-year-old went back for a different reason—to attend the first day of Will Graham’s Native Peoples Tour at the Rosebud Fairgrounds.
More than 21,000 members of the Rosebud Sioux Indian tribe live on the reservation, and every year many leave for a better life. But Marjorie’s life got better when she returned to Rosebud that Saturday night.
“I got saved,” she said quietly. “I got Jesus.”
Then she patted her chest and said, “I feel happy in here. I feel different.”
A light had come on inside her heart. The darkness was gone forever, and her life was transformed. This is exactly what Native American Christians had been working toward ever since they invited Will to bring the Gospel to the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations about two years ago. Some have been praying for decades. “As I’ve spoken about the Tour, I’ve met many grandmas and aunties who have been praying for their families,” said James Rattling Leaf, who helped organize the event. “They’ve been praying for their community, praying for their tribe.”
Both events began with KidzFest—which included a Gospel-based video—and was followed by children’s games, a meal and an evening service. Temperatures that had been at or near 100 degrees all week cooled down to the mid-90s and upper 80s by Sunday.
Only a small percentage of the people on the reservations are Christian, but faith leaders are hoping the Tour will spark a spiritual awakening and revival that will extend throughout the country.
“There was an outpouring of the Spirit on the reservation in the late 1970s and ’80s,” said George Guerue, a Rosebud pastor. “And many people say they think there will be another one, and I believe this could be the beginning of it.”
The Rosebud Reservation covers over 1,970 square miles and is located in the southern part of South Dakota. To its west is the neighboring Pine Ridge Reservation, which covers 3,469 square miles and is home to almost 20,000 members of the Oglala Sioux tribe. The land is clothed in beauty, with rolling hills and prairies that in some spots foreshadow the Badlands, all under a sky that is so expansive the trees look small.
Many reservation communities are lined with houses that look uninhabitable but with children jumping on trampolines or grabbing their bikes from the yard for an afternoon ride. A glance around some neighborhoods reveals houses that are boarded up with no entrance allowed.
“Meth houses,” said James, a young Lakota man in Rosebud, who was outside working on his car the morning of the Tour. “They used to cook meth in those houses, but the people got caught.”
It’s a clear symptom of brokenness, which Will preached about Sunday night.
“There’s a lot of brokenness,” he told the Pine Ridge audience. “Not just in this community, but all around the world. There’s brokenness in every place we go on earth.”
George can relate to brokenness.
“When I was a youngster, before I was saved, I was just like our people around here,” he said. But God took the desire for alcohol away from him when he became a Christian, and in its place came an endless, powerful faith and joy that has carried him through the decades. He’s 83 now, and his whole life is wrapped up in the effort to bring the hope of Christ to his people.
“God is a great God, and I want our people to know that and to experience that,” he says. “That’s my heart’s desire. I want them to experience the things that I’ve experienced. I want that for them so bad.”
David Lays Bad, a Pine Ridge pastor, was delivered from alcohol abuse when he was 36.
“I was 19 when I took my first drink,” said Lays Bad, now 59. “But that way of life became ugly. I was always in want. So I prayed and asked Jesus to come back in my life, and He changed me. And that’s what I want our people to know—He can change them. We have killings on the reservation. We have women being raped, and our people are worshipping in sweat lodges. It takes Jesus to change a reservation, not traditions.”
He doesn’t fault his fellow tribe members for having pride in their heritage, but he yearns for them to understand that their identity should be in Christ.
“I’m Lakota Indian from my head to my feet,” he said. “You can see that. But I’m a Christian first.”
Will’s sermon on Saturday emphasized that Jesus is the answer. On Sunday, he stressed that brokenness is because of sin.
“We live in a sinful world,” he told the Pine Ridge crowd. “Every one of us has sinned against God. We’ve all broken God’s laws. And that’s why we’re in the state we’re in right now. … That’s why God sent His Son Jesus into this world, to pay the price for forgiveness.”
Mirranda Worsech, a prayer counselor in Pine Ridge, knows the joy of Christ. Four of her 10 children went forward at the invitation. Not only that, but she got to encourage an older woman who had also come forward.
“She came to rededicate her life to Christ because she was noticing a drift,” Mirranda said. “She was having a lot of grief in her family. She had a grandson who was murdered in the previous two weeks, a son who was put in prison, and many other hardships. She was just broken, and she was struggling with feelings of not being heard by God. I was able to encourage her that although she doesn’t see it, God is listening and He is answering.”
Vernon and Donna Four Bear’s hearts were warmed during KidzFest on Saturday afternoon when they saw a young man named Robert Bracha among those who had come forward to receive Christ. Earlier that morning as they drove from Montana to Rosebud, they had passed Robert, who was hitchiking. Immediately, they decided to turnaround and offer him a ride, and invite him to the Tour.
“He looked drawn out and weary,” Donna said. “I gave him a New Testament and asked if I could pray for him.”
Robert, 28, sensed that Vernon and Donna were Christians. He had lived with a Christian missionary family for about a month, and they had shared Christ with him. But he had lost all hope when he came back to the reservation eight months earlier.
“I had no Bible, no church, and there were no Christians,” he said. “I felt lost and suicidal. I feel so much better now. I am at peace.” ©2022 BGEA
Above: Counselors pray with Marjorie Little Eagle as she receives Christ.
Photos: Ron Nickel/©2022 BGEA