The Week of Prayer for North American Missions is March 5–12, 2023. For more information, click here.
Growing up in a mission-minded church often means young members will be encouraged toward entering the mission field themselves. That’s exactly what happened for Matthew Hadden — except rather than serve outside the United States, his desire to become a missionary led him to South Dakota.
“God closed a number of doors for me to go to different countries,” Hadden recalled. “My wife and I were willing to go anywhere in the world, but there we were, still in Newnan, Georgia.”
In 2011, he was frustrated about an opportunity in Nicaragua falling through when a short-term trip in South Dakota hit his radar. Hadden owned his own construction business doing home remodels and made the two-day drive with a few construction workers for a ministry opportunity on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“I was driving when we came into South Dakota,” Hadden said. “My friends were asleep as we crossed the state line, and I felt the Lord speak clearly to my heart that this was where He wanted me. I felt like I was in another country. There were different cultures and poverty. I remember thinking, ‘Where am I, and how have I not heard about this?’”
Hadden’s group had plans to stay at a local school during their trip, but they received startling news when they arrived.
“We got to the school where we were staying and were told, ‘You’ll be sleeping here, but you can’t go in yet because there are bodies in there right now,’” Hadden said.
The night before, there had been a tragic accident. That particular school served as the overflow any time there was no room left in the morgue to house the deceased.
“As we were told this, there were two Lakota elder gentlemen who were speaking Lakota to one another,” said Hadden. “It was all so surreal because I realized there was such desperate need. I stayed awake on my air mattress, googling about the reservation where we were staying.”
The Pine Ridge Reservation was originally established under the Sioux Treaty of 1868 designed to end the bitter clashes between Native Americans, the government and Americans seeking to expand westward during the mid- to late-1800s.
Hardships and sad statistics
Today, the reservation is one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, and those living there face the myriad hardships that accompany such economic difficulty.
“We lead the nation in just about every statistic you don’t want to lead the nation in,” Hadden said.
There are few job opportunities, a housing crisis and woefully inadequate medical care. On top of the material hardship, Hadden noticed during his first trip that there was also a sense of hopelessness and a need for a dedicated, contextual gospel presence.
“After more than 400 years of attempted evangelism, less than three percent will claim to know the Lord Jesus,” Hadden said, explaining that many early attempts at outreach there appear to have gone awry.
“A lot of times, whether intentionally or not, there was a sense by many on the reservation that in order to become a Christian, a person also had to be more like white Americans,” Hadden said. “God didn’t make any mistakes when he made the Lakota people. He designed everyone to be in relationship with Him no matter their skin color or culture.”
Hadden spoke with his wife, Amanda, and two months after his week-long trip, they had moved out of their house and into Amanda’s grandparents’ home while they prepared for the transition from Georgia to South Dakota.
A Southern Baptist church there, Creator’s Fellowship, needed assistance to accomplish a big vision of creating a camp for kids and finding ways to serve those on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Eleven years later, Hadden is leading the Chankü Wasté Ranch, a Send Relief ministry center that hosts camps for children during the summer months.
For 10 weeks, mission teams from different churches come in to support the camps, and Hadden and his team provide the long-term relationships that carry the impact of the camps beyond the summer.
Izabella “Bella” Deible went from house to house in the foster care system on the reservation and regularly participated in the summer camp growing up. As a 15-year-old, she started on a journey to Christ as a result of the Chankü Wasté ministry.
“I got to see everybody, got to hear their Jesus stories and just realized that I needed Jesus because I was in a very bad place,” Deible, who recently graduated from college, said.
The Haddens gave Deible an opportunity to intern at the camp while she was in high school, and their faithful ministry continues to be an encouragement to her.
“The internship allowed me more time to really see Matt and Amanda. They were there during my high school years. So, they got to see how I was before I met Jesus,” Deible said. “To see that they’re still consistent and that they’re great people and how much they serve within my community, it’s crazy.”
‘Always-here gospel presence’
To meet the desperate need, Hadden began building a facility where those in the community could receive free dental care with plans to expand into other healthcare services. The Oglala Lakota people struggle with many physical and mental health needs. But professional help can often be difficult to access.
“People giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering have provided what my family and I need to be here permanently,” Hadden said. “To be a recipient of that reach, of that network of churches all over, is pretty overwhelming, and along with the missions teams that come, God is using our always-here gospel presence to draw Oglala people to Him.”
Pine Ridge residents such as Dieble are grateful for the Haddens’ obedience to the Lord’s calling.
“I’m just happy that they listened to Jesus to come here,” Deible said, “because if they didn’t, people like me probably wouldn’t have been able to make the connections and have good people around.”
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the field. The offering is used on the field for training, support and care for missionaries, like the Haddens, and for evangelism resources.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Brandon Elrod and originally published by the North American Mission Board.