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July 31, 2000

Lifestyle: Touched by an Angel - Life's most persistent and urgentquestion is: what are you doing

By Sanford Wexler

Since 1992, Acee, his wife, DeeDee, and a group of adults and youngsters from St. Martin's church have traveled from North Carolina to the reservation in South Dakota. The three-and-a-half day caravan journey usually consists of two 15-passenger vans loaded with essential supplies for the Sioux Indians. One van pulls a huge U-haul trailer stacked with extra supplies, including building material and hundreds of pounds of food.

On their first trip, Acee and his industrious team constructed and transported two prefabricated outhouses for the Cheyenne River Episcopalian church. "There was no running water at this church," Acee recalled.

The church group usually spends about a week on the reservation. "We literally sleep on the prairie out there," Acee said. "We set up our tents about sixty or seventy yards from the church."

The main task on each trip, Acee said, is holding a morning bible school for the Sioux children. The teens from St. Martin's are the religious instructors.

"The [Sioux] children are like sponges. They absorb absolutely everything you tell them," Acee observed. "They crave love and attention. It's an extremely moving experience for our kids."

After a week on the reservation teaching, as well as renovating the church building (originally built over 40 years ago), the youngsters from North Carolina get a sightseeing tour of South Dakota. They visit Mount Rushmore and other favorite tourist spots.

No Steady Work

With little industry in the area, it is difficult for residents of the Cheyenne River reservation to find steady employment. The alternative is to pack up and leave for distant, metropolitan areas. "But the Sioux do not want to leave," Acee explained, "they don't want to leave their culture behind."

Alma Hutchinson, a Sioux Indian friend of Acee's, once told him that the Sioux are misunderstood by outsiders. That's because they are so different from all other cultures.

Acee said the Sioux strongly wish to preserve their heritage. "The Indian culture has no written history, it's an oral history and it's passed from generation to generation," he said. "One of the really sad things is that the old folks are dying and the children do not have as much of that history [passed on]. There are very few left who speak their native languages."

The Acee's commitment to the Lakota Sioux does not end when they pack up and leave the Cheyenne River Reservation for their trip home to Charlotte. They regularly stay in contact through letters and phone calls. And on their last trip this past June, Marshall and DeeDee became godparents to three infant Sioux children.

"It's so important that you establish a continuing relationship with these people," Marshall Acee said. "They are extremely shy. They have good reasons to doubt our intentions because they have been treated unfairly so many times."

"It takes years to develop the kind of relationship that we have with them right now," he added.

Like the long-term investor, Marshall and DeeDee Acee deeply appreciate the tremendous value of planning for the distant future. Their annual returns cannot be quantified. They are making a difference, priceless and remarkable, in the lives of young people, both Sioux and non-Indian.

That will undoubtedly last for a lifetime.

For further information about participating in the mission trip to South Dakota, contact DeeDee Acee, 201 Highland Forest Drive, Charlotte, N.C. 28270.