Last night at our team meeting I was sharing with the team members the importance of being spiritually prepared for the trip because we just never know what kind of situation may come across our path while we are there.
Last year we met a man named Marcus (pictured on the far left in the blue/gray t-shirt). On Friday the missionary on the reservation called and gave me the sad news that Marcus was killed this week. I'm not sure of the details, but he was hit by a train and most likely was drunk at the time. Marcus was 35 years old and left 9 children, the youngest being 4 mos. old.
Most of our team will remember Marcus as the kind young man who invited us to a sweat lodge and offered to do a sweat for us - quite an honor since most outsiders are not permitted to participate in the Lakota sacred rites. Our team may also remember the incident when Marcus came to the mission after a drunken fight with his girlfriend in which he had been stabbed by her with some sort of sharp object. Another team member and myself cleansed his wounds and bandaged him as he told us his side of the story while we waited for the tribal police to come.
I will remember those things too, but mostly I remember Marcus as an extraordinary man of grace. As we stood on his property last summer he gave us an open invitation to come to his place anytime we wanted to ... that we could have a bonfire or camp or hike his property and drink out of the fresh spring there ... no need to ask for permission, because we were welcome. I specifically remember him saying "this is your land too". I remember those specific words because they struck me as such an unexpected statement of grace. With the tense history between the American Indian and white man, I marveled that he was so willing to share what land he had with those who represented his enemy. It reminded me of a something Jesus once said about how if someone takes your shirt, give him your coat as well (Matt. 5:40).
I had been looking forward to seeing Marcus again this summer but that reunion will have to wait a bit longer. The last conversation I had with him, he told me that he had accepted Jesus Christ and been baptized and really wanted to live right but was having a tough time. He was pretty drunk when he told me that. I don't think I remember ever seeing Marcus when he was not drunk. And the girlfriend who had stabbed him was not his wife. Some might condemn him for his behavior but his attitude of grace was so pronounced that I am humbled with the knowledge that I have a long way to go to represent Jesus to the extent Marcus did.