Pine Ridge Mission Update

What a beautiful place God has placed us in this week! Yesterday, 12 students and 6 adults from the Church arrived in Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We will be spending the week being the hands and feet of Jesus and getting to know the people of Pine Ridge. Monday was our first work day - and it was hot!! However, the students worked hard, kept a great attitude, and were a joy to be around. We also got to visit the Wounded Knee Massacre Site, learn more about what happened, and meet some really need people who helped us understand life on the reservation a little bit better. 
Our work projects include:
  • working on a bathroom addition for George Afraid of Bears - including the siding on the outside of the house.
  • building bunk beds to distribute to families in the community who need beds
  • work at Susan's house - including dry wall, replacing a ceiling, reinforcing some roofing, and adding a hand rail
Today Matt and Emily's team worked at Miss Susan's house. While there, Susan took a fall down her steps as she tried to go outside to leave for an appointment. Susan is an older woman and uses a cane to get around. Praise God we were there to help her!! While we were sitting with her, we found out that not only is she not able to get in and out of her home, but she hasn't had running water since February due to a cracked roof and broken pipes. What a blessing it is that there are groups like Next Step that are in a position to help meet some of Susan's basic needs! And what a privilege that we get to come alongside, for even just a short period of time, to make a tangible difference in Susan's life.
The pictures you see include:
  • The site we are staying at, including the building the boys are sleeping in.
  • Susan's house and the students working
  • Walking up to the cemetery at the Wounded Knee Massacre Memorial
We would love your prayers this week! Internet and cell reception is spotty but I will update as often as I can. If you want to learn more, google Pine Ridge Reservation or Oglala Lakota Sioux.

Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life

All of us have been care receivers throughout our lives; we’ve received care from our parents, teachers, doctors dentists, pastors, children, and friends. Most of us have also been caregivers to our children, parents, students, or friends, and some of you reading this are professional caregivers. Remembering the importance of receiving care from a particular person or at a specific point in our lives is often an encouragement to step up and care for others.  

Kenneth C. Haugk’s book Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life is beneficial in a number of ways.  First, it is a valuable resource because Dr. Haugk is a pastor, clinical psychologist, and founder of the Stephen Series system of lay caring ministry. He writes from experience and his educational background.

Second, Dr. Haugk frequently uses the words “distinctively Christian,” pointing out the unique opportunity Christians have to care for the whole person - what a great way for us to connect people to life in Jesus! God made us whole persons. Physicians treat our particular physical ailments; some only discuss the physical concerns, while others are good at including emotional, mental, and even spiritual aspects when treating health issues. “Distinctively Christian” does not mean only spiritual, rather it refers to the whole person.  ”Distinctively Christian” is a way of love, and we love others because God first loved us. In 1Corinthians 13 Paul reminds us Love is the Greatest: “but if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  

Dr. Haugk’s book covers many helpful guidelines for Christians to follow in reaching out to others no matter when or why. Based on his education, experience, and passion, he addresses his book to answering, “How?” Knowing how to engage with individuals in talking about difficult topics is so critical. It is easy to speak from our experience and try to convince someone of what we believe would be helpful in certain situations. But we don’t always know what will be helpful to someone else, who will always have a different perspective. Caregivers encourage discussion, listen well, and ask more questions. It is so important to allow the Holy Spirit to speak into the situation; God knows what the person is in need of and will guide the process, as we pray and encourage others to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit.

Often times knowing where or how to start a conversation is the biggest hurdle. Care Notes -- typically a 6-page booklet dealing with life issues and concerns -- can be an ice breaker. Sharing a booklet with someone can show you care and are concerned, and can easily lead to questions, discussion, and opportunity to pray with an individual. Care Notes have been available on the wall across from the mailboxes in the back hallway by the restrooms (at our Fitchburg site). Recently Sharon Kelly organized the booklets according to topics that are now available in two plastic bins in the Church library under the TV. The booklets cover a wide range of topics such as aging, illness, dying, and grief, to name a few. Many titles begin with “How to Cope with…” There are specific booklets for Teens and for Kids and Prayer Notes. For assistance in locating the booklets or finding a specific topic, ask Sharon or me or any of the church staff.  

At some point in their lives, we hope everyone has received a meaningful smile, a genuine “how are you?” question, a prayer, or a hug. We all are, and are called to be, caregivers to family, friends, and neighbors wherever God has placed us. Finding yourself in the position of caregiver can be overwhelming. Dr. Haugk’s book is one helpful resource, the Care Notes another.   Caregivers themselves need caring for. If you have a need or have a passion to be part of Caregiving, there is a place for you at the Church to receive or give. Feel free to talk with me or Pastor Matt Wipperman as a possible first step. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Allow God to do the work. Be an instrument of God’s love as a distinctively Christian caregiver. Our world is in desperate need of such care, and God is with you as you care and are cared for.


Higher Ground Mission to Pine Ridge

Imagine a community made up of these statistics:

  • 40,000 people live in this community.
  • The average yearly income for a household in this community is $6,286.
  • The average number of people living in a single small home is 17 and 33% of those homes lack basic water and sewage systems.
  • 80% of the people are unemployed.
  • 80% are also suffering from alcoholism.
  • 70% of students drop out before finishing high school.
  • 58% of grandparents are doing the job of raising their grandchildren.
  • The suicide rate among teens is 4 times the national average.
  • The infant mortality rate is 300% higher than the national average.

These numbers describe Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to 40,000 members of the Lakota Sioux tribe. Pine Ridge is the 2nd largest reservation and 3rd poorest county in the United States. It is a place where hope is as great a need as new homes and running water.

From July 30th – Aug. 5th, Higher Ground will be heading to Pine Ridge to bring hope In the wee hours of the morning on July 30th, 20 students and adults will load up the vans and begin their summer mission trip – to bring hope through building and repairing homes and showing the love Jesus to the people of Pine Ridge.

Please pray for our students and leaders this week as they prepare and next week as they are in South Dakota:

  1. Praise God for His goodness – for the youth who want to go, for the financial assistance we have raised to help fund the trip, and for the 6 adults who have a passion for youth and mission work.
  2. For God to be preparing the hearts of the people we will meet and serve. That they will be open to the Gospel message and ready to build relationships with us.
  3. That God will prepare the hearts of the youth and adults preparing to go. That we will dedicate time to His Word and prayer so we can overflow the love of Jesus in South Dakota.
  4. For safety in travel and during our time spent on our trips. That God would give us discernment to make wise choices.
  5. That each participant would grow in their love of the Lord, prepared to return home to do God’s will in our communities.
  6. For our NextStep project leaders. That their work preparing for us will be according to God’s will and without conflict or difficulty.
  7. For the parents of the students who are attending the trip. That they have peace and little fear about this trip as they help their children pack and prepare.

We would like to invite you to join the youth and myself on August 13th for Coffee with the Youth between services. We will be sharing our stories and pictures from the trip and celebrating the ways that we saw God at work – and the ways we were privileged to participate in God’s Work.  Thank you for consistently believing in our young people and helping us to be part of these life-changing trips each summer.

Check out this video filmed the last time we were in South Dakota:

Voices of South Dakota from Next Step Ministries on Vimeo.


Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

A couple of weeks back, we had our first Fitchburg Regional Impact Gathering.  We were challenged to think about our neighborhoods, our city, and the ties we have to people that are the context and foundation for relationship and life together.

We were asked to draw out our home neighborhood, our “walkable community”, the place we are geographically tied to because of our home.

As the challenge comes to be in our neighborhood more, with our neighbors often more, resistance bubbles up.

“I don’t have a walkable community.”

“I only sleep at home.”

“My community is at work.”          

Jesus confirmed this summary of God’s commands for life as His people:

Love God

Love Neighbors

The Pharisee who answered Jesus’ question responded to Jesus’ affirmation with his own question that might have justified his actions, or lack thereof.

“But who is my neighbor?”

We live in a time where neighborhoods and neighbors are often defined more by hobbies and common interests than by geographical boundaries.

When you think about God’s command to love your neighbor, how do you answer the question, “but who is my neighbor?”  How do you think your neighbors would answer that question?

It’s not your fault, by the way. 

Instead of suggesting that we don’t do what we should, I want to challenge our conception of home and place, and the importance of our geographical neighborhood especially as we love our neighbors and make disciples…  in our going.

Where you live, where you sleep, eat, whatever, your home provides some foundation for all the rest.  Even if you feel like you spend your life living elsewhere, you wouldn’t be able to do that without the shelter, safety, and security you have.  Many of those basic needs are fundamentally bound with your home. 

You share a strong bond with your neighbors, around the ways that some of those fundamental needs are possibly met in your neighborhood.

As we seek to be Visible Reflections of Jesus,

the Word became flesh who made his home among us,

how much time to we spend in our neighborhoods?

Over the next 4 weeks, open yourself to the possibility of more connection in your neighborhood and with your neighbors.  Decide to intentionally be in your neighborhood one more time per week.  You could go for a walk or a drive.  You could invite neighbors over for dinner or drinks (or both).  Whatever it is, just be there a little more, and observe your neighborhood.  What you and others love about it. 

Remember, most people, including your neighbors, are used to having more connection outside of the neighborhood.  But, maybe, there could be more.

Be the catalyst in your home and in your neighborhood, and see what God does.

How are you choosing to be present in your neighborhood?  What are you noticing?  Please let me know in the comments or via email:


Prayer Walking

Summer is such a wonderful time of the year!  We are able to be out and about and visit with neighbors. We get to enjoy the bike trails, and lakes, and play outside.  The next time you are going for a walk, why not also pray?  You can let what you see inform how you pray.  Here is an example:  If you walk past a house that has toys, and strollers in the driveway you can pray that the children enjoy good health to play and that they are blessed with friendships, and are loving toward each other.  You can pray for wisdom for the parents as they raise the children. You can pray that God would provide for their every need.  If you see a home with a beautiful garden, you can thank God for the beauty in His creation and for the hands that planted the flowers.  If you know the families that live in the houses you can pray for them by name and that they would know just how much they are loved by their Savior Jesus.  You get the idea!  You can pray for the police officers and firefighters in your city, that they would be safe.  Pray for local businesses to thrive.  Pray for our communities to be filled with love and not hate, and that people would be kind to one another and feel valued. You can pray scripture by placing the person’s name right in the passage.  For example:  “Lord, I pray that you would open _______ ‘s eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you.”  Acts 26:18


As we walk through our community talking to God about what we see He begins to soften our hearts for our community.  We pray for ourselves as well, that we would have God’s heart for others and see people like He does.  As we walk and pray it helps us to be more aware of our surroundings.  He helps us SLOW down and take notice.  Thank God for where you see shalom, that is wholeness, or peace where God is working.  And also recognize where there is Broken Shalom, the potential for God to work and restore what is broken.  


Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16    We can approach God Almighty with confidence.  Prayer is a powerful gift that we have been given.  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17  What a promise, our God hears us!  Even if you can’t get out and walk around, you have an amazing gift to offer others as you can sit and pray for them.  


If you aren’t sure where to start, just begin by saying thank you for all that you see.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6   Instead of carrying the burdens and worries that you have turn them over to your Heavenly Father who cares for you!  

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7  


The next time you take a walk on your own, with a friend or your whole family… why not give it a try and talk to God as you walk!