The Log of the Guinston Gutters
The Log of the Guinston Gutters
Second Mission to the Sioux Nation, Fort Thompson, SD
April 18 - 26, 2015
In September 2014 the Guinston Gutters Volunteers had traveled 1500 miles to build an outhouse at the
Iron Nation Messiah Church and to help with repairs to 2 other small churches on the Lower Brule and
Crow Creek tribal reservations. We found a poverty-stricken reservation where many Lakota families
live in decrepit shacks, and where the Christian churches suffer from long-term physical neglect and
popular mistrust. The community infrastructure is similarly decrepit, permeated with chronic
unemployment, widespread poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional families, suicide, and
political corruption. We intentionally limited our service on that first mission trip to the 3 churches in
order to develop trust and personal contacts within the reservation community; a century of bad
relations and mistreatment at the hands of mainstream government, business and church institutions has
created a cultural barrier which makes simple Christian service and witness into a real challenge.
A Request for Help
In February 2015 Willie Wood asked if we were planning any additional mission trips and if we could
do anything to help the Gonzales family; Grandma Charlotte and Grandpa Ray were unexpectedly
tasked with raising their 3 young grandchildren in a ramshackle trailer. Pastor Kim Fonder and several
elders from the churches we had helped in 2014 also requested our help for some other senior residents
in Crow Creek tribal housing, and for a deck and handicap ramp at the Iron Nation church. After
considering the winter weather in South Dakota, the Easter holidays and previously-scheduled events at
Guinston, we planned our second Sioux mission for mid-April.
The Iron Nation Church
Our mission team of 12 arrived at the Habitat for Humanity volunteer quarters on Sunday, April 19
after mercifully uneventful travel to Fort Thompson by road and air. We spent Monday morning
planning our work, then started the Iron Nation Church entrance deck and handicap ramp. We removed
the original entrance steps, laid out the footprint for the deck, and dug holes for the supporting posts.
We then placed the supporting posts in their holes, adjusted their position, and set them in concrete.
We screwed the main deck beams to the posts and used gravity, string, tapes and a laser to make the
framework plumb, square and level. The joists were then laid across the beams and fastened.
We laid the decking boards across the joists and secured them with screws.
The salvaged front steps were moved to the side of the deck and attached to the revised main entrance.
We constructed the handicap ramp by the same method as the entrance deck.
As a finishing touch, we put up railings to prevent accidental falls. With some help from Pastor Kim
and several of the Lower Brule church elders we provided greatly improved access for church services
and a snake-free deck to keep the younger kids out of danger.
Hymn Sing in Lower Brule
Monday we were treated to an evening casual dinner at the Holy Comforter church, followed by a
hymn sing with some of the congregation. We sang familiar hymns from hymnals with the words in
Lakota, as Willie accompanied us on the the organ. We did our best with the Lakota phonetics and the
congregation were gracious in apprecciation of our efforts. The highlight of the evening was a
traditional Lakota song done a capella by three tribal elders, with an emotional intensity rarely
encountered in any kind of musical performance.
The Gonzales Trailer
The Gonzales family includes Grandma Charlotte, Grandpa Ray and their 3 grandchildren (ages 2-7),
who live in a ramshackle trailer south of Fort Thompson. Their daughter has been in prison since last
year; the grandchildren's father is not Lakota, not present, and not supporting his kids. Ray had been
earning a few dollars by doing backyard auto repairs in a lean-to shed built against the back of his
trailer - until a winter storm picked up his shed and deposited it in the Missouri river.
Their trailer is located on a high, windswept bluff overlooking the Missouri River; the beautiful view is
the only good thing about it. The trailer was purchased used in 1984; decades of exposure to extreme
weather have taken a heavy toll, and chronic poverty has not allowed much money for repairs. In
addition to marginal weatherproofing, semi-functional heating and hazardous electrical wiring, the roof
was parting company with the front wall of the trailer.
In Pennsylvania the trailer would have been condemned; on the reservation the only thing to be done
was to patch it up as best we could. Ken, Dennis and John pulled the roof structure down and secured
it to the trailer frame, then coated the roof with sealant, patched the damaged fascia and caulked
multiple open seams. Walter worked on the electrical wiring, replaced burned-out receptacles, repaired
rat-chewed wires and disconnected lines with unrepairable short circuits. The rest of the team repaired
damaged siding, fabricated skirting from salvaged tin roofing, and caulked drafty doors and windows.
After a day of attention from the Guinston Gutters, the Gonzales trailer was noticeably less drafty
inside, better weatherproofed, and less likely to lose its roof in a strong wind or to catch fire from faulty
Three Little Old Ladies in Eastside Tribal Housing
We drove to the Eastside tribal housing project just south of Fort Thompson to build a short handicap
ramp for a little old lady named Phyllis. She had her own little house and had trouble using the front
steps. She had asked the tribal housing people who maintain the houses for a little entrance ramp and
waited over a year with no action due to lack of money and manpower. We hauled a few pressuretreated posts and boards from the builder's supply place in Chamberlain, dug some footing holes for the
uprights, and 2 hours later she had her ramp.
Phyllis was delighted with her ramp; she told us her sister Sandra would be terribly jealous. It seemed
that Sandra lived in a similar house across the street and had similar difficulty navigating her steps. So
with another couple of hours work, sister Sandra had a matching entrance ramp.
Another old lady named Audrey in an Eastside house had been waiting over a year for a wall-mounted
handrail to help her get up and down from her front door. We installed a railing for her, but discovered
that her storm door was hinged on the wrong side for easy access. We considered switching the hinges,
but the door structure was too rotted to re-use. We installed a new properly hinged storm door so that
Audrey no longer had to face a challenge entering and leaving her home.
While we were working on Audrey's storm door, we were approached by a young woman in obvious
distress who was barely coherent enough to ask for the use of a cell phone to call her family in
Chamberlain. She said she had just awakened in bed with a sleeping man she didn't know, in a strange
house in a place she didn't recognize, with no recollection of how she had gotten there. She claimed
she had gone to a party in Chamberlain with a girl friend the previous night, and had no memory of
anything after that. She was terrified of being seen by the man with whom she had awakened; Willie
took her in hand and attempted to contact her family by cell phone without success. Curt and Willie
drove her to her aunt's house in Chamberlain. We can only speculate on the rest of her story.
A Friday Un-Labor Day
By Thursday evening we had finished all of the work projects in our week's plan, except for the repair
and re-installation of a handicap stair lift at Christ Church in Fort Thompson. We then were informed
that a 65-person volunteer group had just been scheduled for arrival in June, and they would need some
challenging work projects. We were happy to leave the stair lift for them, and declared Friday to be a
day off for sightseeing and recreation. The following photos are a small sampling from our “day off”.
On the Road
The Lakota people are as deeply in need of help as the Hurricane Katrina victims we served in New
Orleans. We should not presume that we can heal the major misery there, but we can extend our effort
to serve those in need. The Sioux reservations are at the practical limit of our road travel with vehicles,
tools, equipment and volunteers for 1-week mission trips. We expect to cope with the tedium of road
travel, week-long manual labor, rudimentary volunteer quarters, lack of supporting infrastructure, and
an unfamiliar native language and culture. The economics of what we do as a long-distance amateur
construction crew are far from competitive with what a competant local contractor could provide. But
our objectives are outreach, understanding, development of our own faith, obedience to the Great
Commission, and a demonstration of the love of Our Lord, and these may be done only with our own
hands and hearts.
Our mission team for this trip included: Walter and Sue Blumenfeld, Tony Deller, Jenette Dunlap, John
and Judy Flaharty, Becki (Tompkins) Krug, Nadine Ruth, Dennis Tompkins, Ken Tome, and Curt and