ICOM has, and is, making a transformative impact with a people group in the United States that has known heartache and despair for almost two centuries.
In 1863, the United States government established the Crow Creek Agency in central South Dakota as a “repository” for a Native American people, the Dakota, in the aftermath of the Dakota-United States Conflict of 1862 in the neighboring state of Minnesota.
Over the decades, many hardships confronted those on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation: broken treaties, diminished reservation borders, encroachment by non-Indian homesteaders, introduction of alcohol and general loss of an entire way of life are a few of the tragic events. Eventually the federal government would construct a series of large hydropower and flood control dams on the Missouri River, including Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson. The result of the dam construction was the flooding and loss of the only well wooded areas on the reservation, the lush Missouri River shoreline. Even the community of Fort Thompson was moved from its original location to higher plains north of the old town site.
Crow Creek became synonymous with all things bad. Tragically, this description was all too often fitting. Following are a few current statistics which reflect the depth of the darkness still facing those here.
- The median income for native families on the reservation is $13,750, far lower than the median family income of the state of South Dakota ($43,237) or the U.S. ($50,046).
- The poverty rate on the reservation remains at 56% and the unemployment rate is 58% for native people.
- According to the U.S. Census, only 32.9% of Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Members received their High School Diploma or equivalent.
- A report by the Business Research Bureau of the University of South Dakota declared the reservation,One of the highest risk environments in the nation for children. The high-risk status results from multiple factors such as: poverty, lack of proper schooling, generational child abuse and neglect, unemployment, high suicide rate and other negative environmental conditions. Currently, the children of the Crow Creek Reservation endure inordinately high rates of physical abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol-related neglect, teen pregnancy, child and adult alcohol and drug abuse, alcohol absences and drop-out and seven times the national rate of suicide and delinquency.”
Twenty-five years ago a job opportunity became available at Fort Thompson within the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. The federal government was looking to hire a Park Ranger/Wildlife Biologist to help manage the federal lands along the shores of the river, which primarily were within two Native American Indian Reservations. It is this position that Rod Vaughn accepted in the fall of 1990.
Rod graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Management from the University of Nebraska in 1987. More importantly, he accepted Christ his sophomore year through a campus ministry of a local Church of Christ. There he met Valerie, whom he married his senior year. Upon graduation, Rod began a federal Natural Resource Management career. It is this training and experience, along with his background growing up with many Native American friends as a youth in western Nebraska, that helped him to be selected for the position in Fort Thompson.
Rod and Val lived off the reservation for several years, but in the spring of 1999, they and their children moved into the heart of the reservation, just three miles west of the primary community on the reservation, Fort Thompson. They believed they were put in this unique situation for a special purpose, a channel for God to work in and through in order to bring hope and light to a place where hopelessness and darkness prevailed.
In 2001 Rod, Val and a Dakota man from the reservation officially formed Diamond Willow Ministries, a Christ-centered 501(c)3 organization to serve the Dakota people of the reservation. The Vaughn’s held Sunday worship service in their living room, had an adult Bible study, formed a Sunday night youth group and had some food and clothing available for those in need at their home.
This small, grassroots organization, serving as both a local church and a relief and development organization, quickly began serving and assisting a large and growing number of people in need. In 2002, with the support of the nearby Highmore Church of Christ, the Vaughns and several members of the His Laws, a local Dakota family, decided to get a small table-top display board for photos and travel to Wichita, KS for the National Missionary Convention which is now known as the International Conference on Missions. (ICOM). This proved to be a significant decision for the ministry that in turn continues to positively impact the communities of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.
At this convention, connections were made with several churches including Kingsway Christian Church (Avon, IN) and what is now Current, A Christian Church (Katy, TX), International Disaster Emergency Services (IDES), as well as the Christian construction ministry of World Mission Builders. This special group of people that God brought together at the convention uplifted prayers, made plans, and the process was soon set in motion to construct a permanent structure on the reservation from which Diamond Willow Ministries would be able to serve those from the Tribe coming to seek assistance and guidance.
Construction on the facilities began in the spring of 2003, and included a bunkhouse and eventually in 2004 the primary ministry facility, the Ikce Oyate Christian Center. This facility serves as a “church” building with an average attendance of over 100 Dakota people per Sunday. It is also used for summer camps, serving over 300 of the local Tribal youth each summer. It serves as a base for much year-round community outreach including a summer youth job program, care of the homeless, community events, and it just serves as a safe and sheltering place of comfort within the community.
ICOM continued to play a critical role throughout the construction phase of the ministries’ facilities. Rob Minton of CrossRoads Missions was one of many partners that a relationship was developed with through ICOM. CrossRoads Missions provided architectural design assistance and then constructed all the interior and exterior walls for the facilities right at ICOM utilizing the students building walls at the convention. Watching the teens construct the walls in sections was inspiring, but the real impact was God’s word and prayer. Each section was prayed over, scripture verses from God’s word and words of encouragement were written on them, all while God’s word in song was being played in the background. They are the Walls that Love Built. In every building on the ministry grounds, the power of God’s word and strength of prayer literally surround the ministry and individuals that need to know Jesus. ICOM, CrossRoads Missions, and these walls continue to pour out the love of Jesus to a hurting people each day.
ICOM is the venue that God has used to build and support Diamond Willow Ministries and in turn bless and bring hope to the suffering people of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. DWM staff continues to attend ICOM annually to build and sustain relationships, learn, and be encouraged.
Praise God for ICOM!