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Church group lends helping hand at Pine Ridge, S.D.

Sisters Becky and Alissa Rutledge traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as part of a mission trip from July 31 to Aug. 5. Pictured above, Becky, left, and Alissa, right, are pictured with Clara, one of the children living on the reservation.

When sisters Becky and Alissa Rutledge heard about West Immanuel Lutheran Church's plans to travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Kadoka, S.D., they both jumped at the opportunity.

"I just think it's really interesting that they were so close but needed so much help," Alissa, 15, said.

The two Star Prairie residents joined a group of 15 youth and five adults who left the rural Osceola church property on Sunday, July 31, and returned Aug. 5.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the eighth largest reservation in the United States.

While on the mission trip, the group was charged with cleaning up a vandalized church, mowing and weeding a cemetery and supervising during "Kid's Club."

While on site, the group from West Immanuel met up with youth from several other mission trips.

"We were all divided up," said Alissa. "There were six different work crews from four different churches."

Becky, 17, said some of the projects were really interesting.

"I thought the cemetery was really cool because some of them had really different names. One was named Blue Legs," she said.

Unfortunately the group didn't get to spend much time at the cemetery because of a rattlesnake spotting.

"We were only there for about an hour and a half," Becky said.

On another day the group visited a small church that had been vandalized with mud.

"That was really hard because all we had was water, rags and sticks," Alissa said.

The group had to be careful not to chip the paint because it was unclear whether it was lead paint or not.

"When we were there an old guy - Marvin Little Cloud - came up to us and was talking with us. He was so grateful that we were there. It made us feel really good," said Alissa.

Clearly the favorite part of the week was the time spent at "Kid's Club."

Kid's Club is a recreation program offered to children on the reservation, Becky said.

"A lot of them have to take care of their younger siblings - even at just 6 years old," she said. "Kid's Club was an opportunity to get away, play and relax in a safe place."

Becky said it was fun to drive around in the big white van asking kids if they wanted to go to Kid's Club.

"It's fun to see kids watching for the white van and run out of their houses," Alissa said.

Although it might sound alarming to parents that people were driving around picking up random kids, Becky said that's normal on the reservation.

Both Becky and Alissa said they have memories from the trip that they'll always remember and the two both said they're hoping that another mission trip is planned for next year.