In 2015, Ric Camp, then senior pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Trussville, took six volunteers to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota — a place some call the poorest spot in the nation.
Compelled by the needs they encountered and the work of Send Relief missionary Matt Hadden, the group resolved to partner in the work.
Pine Ridge is home to more than 46,000 members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. According to Camp, joblessness and poverty plague the people and contribute to issues like diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, suicide and hopelessness. Access to medical care is limited, he added, and sometimes completely unavailable.
“About 1.5% of the Lakota people are evangelized,” Camp said. “There is a great need for the gospel to be shared, not just verbally, but personally, and lived out.”
Because of past hurts, Camp said, the people are reluctant to accept new people into their community.
“Trust is [built] only when you demonstrate a true love,” Camp said.
As executive director of Chanku Waste Ranch, Hadden offers the Oglala Lakota people free summer day camps for children and a ministry center focused on physical well-being.
During the first week-long missions trip, Camp said he witnessed a great need for medical care. In 2017, a team from Ridgecrest Baptist used the North American Mission Board Send Relief medical truck to help volunteers conduct health screenings for Pine Ridge residents. The need for ongoing dental care and medical aid — more than just one week per year — became evident.
While the team prepared to return with the NAMB dental truck in 2018, optometrist Gussie Branch of Eyes on Albertville and Eyes on Guntersville volunteered to perform vision screenings. She also enlisted the help of VSP Vision Care, an insurance company that provided volunteers, eyeglass frames and services to build eyeglasses free of charge.
“God was just putting it all together,” Camp said.
Modeling Christ’s love
NAMB joined the partnership and Chanku Waste Ranch became a Send Relief Center, where missionaries meet real, tangible needs, modeling Christ’s love and the gospel message to those they serve who, in turn, multiply the ministry.
“It was a great partnership between all of us,” recalled Send Relief missionary Jason Tipton. “Needs were truly being met, but the demand for these services was still incredibly high. We were happy to come alongside of [Hadden] to increase his capacity to serve his neighbors.”
The clinics revealed the need for a more permanent way to provide health care and serve the Oglala Lakota people. Hadden recalled praying and believing God would lead those efforts. In September 2019, work began on a permanent wellness center.
“We had just enough funds to do the foundation and so that is what we did,” Hadden remembered. “God has provided all along the way.”
Camp now serves as associational mission strategist with Shelby Baptist Association. Other Shelby churches have joined the partnership along with several from Birmingham Metro and Limestone associations.
Ridgecrest Baptist continues to support the partnership with volunteer teams and through prayer, love offerings, specific gifts for the missionaries, donations of nonperishable food items and giving through the Cooperative Program.
“This summer [our team] put together a children’s playground outside of church plant Creator’s Fellowship,” said David Surratt, Ridgecrest associate pastor/student ministries. “The mission complex received a deep cleaning and minor maintenance and reorganization of supplies and storage areas.
“With the use of the medical truck we [served] over 200 patients who received professional eye care exams and free glasses. Most … heard the good news and over 30 made a public declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ for the very first time. It is not enough simply to meet their physical need.”
First Baptist Church Oneonta joined the partnership four years ago, working in dental and vision clinics and sports camps, helping with construction projects and sending non-perishable food, handcrafted items and monetary support.
Larry Gipson, FBC Oneonta senior pastor, has seen the impact of the partnership on the congregation.
“People who never have gone anywhere have actually gone to the reservation to help,” he said.
The medical clinic is now about 90% complete, Hadden noted, though dental and optometry equipment still is needed.
“We are looking for optometry and dental professionals who love the Lord and would desire to come serve alongside of us in this field for a short missions trip,” he said. “We are also looking for financial partners to help us get the needed medical devices and supplies to get the building stocked and ready to go.”
But the greatest need is for strengthening of local believers, Hadden asserted.
“Pray for the churches here on the reservation. There is a great pushback and resistance to young people going to church and following the Lord that adjoins all the many other things that put a strain on the growth of believers here.”
For opportunities to give or go to the Pine Ridge Reservation, visit sendrelief.org/projects/south-dakota-ministry-center