Have you ever felt like your prayers are not being answered? Like, “What’s the use? Nothing is changing?”
Those were the thoughts of the missionary couple who wrote a baby congratulations card and prayer to my parents when I was born. My father was 18 years old, and my mom was 25 when I was born. He was a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation on the Ft. Totten Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Mom was the grandchild of Norwegian immigrants whose family homesteaded on the reservation in the early 1900s and I am the 6th generation to have lived there.
“Now it is my prayer that you will both invite Jesus into your hearts and home so this dear little soul will have a happy life here on earth and point others to Jesus Christ.”
The missionary couple that wrote this prayer to my parents were Arthur and Elmyra Ramse. He was the pastor at a Lutheran church near Tokio, ND on the reservation. I don’t recall having met them, but my mom talked about the Ramses and I was familiar with the name.
Decades later, my mom gave me a shoebox full of pictures, mementos, and a few cards. I am a historian, and as such, have collected tote boxes full of books, articles, and photos. The shoebox full of items from my childhood never interested me and I hardly glanced at the contents until recently, when I was looking through that shoebox for a photo from my youth. I pulled out a baby card and saw the name Ramse. This piqued my interest. Inside the small card, which was titled, Baby Congratulations, was a Scripture (Genesis 49:25) and a prayer. “The Almighty…shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above” and “May your bundle from heaven, so precious and small, bring so many blessings you can’t count them all!” The signature read, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ramse and the boys.
The impact of this little baby card, written so long ago, is far reaching. Although it’s not an easy thing to share, I would like to describe what life was like on the reservation to help you understand my background and how many Native people have come to view God.
In the government’s efforts to civilize and Americanize the Native Americans, the goal to “kill the Indian in him and save the man” was adopted as policy. To accomplish this, they sent Native children to government run schools, many of which were boarding schools. My grandfather and his siblings, and later my dad and his siblings, all attended a Catholic boarding school in St. Michael, ND on the reservation. Much has been written and orally passed down about the harsh treatment of the children by the nuns. My grandfather never talked about his experience, but my dad expressed a hatred of that time and the nuns involved. With the history of faith leaders convincing tribal chiefs and native nations to give up their land and old ways, a distrust developed of those who represented Christ on earth.
My Native great grandparents had Catholic mass in their log cabin for neighbors in the remote region of the reservation, so I know they heard the Gospel message. The Indian agents and priests had power over the wards under their care and the families were expected to attend church and school. A priest used to visit us when I was a child, and he would show us movies on the wall with the projector he brought. My siblings and I all went to Catechism, but this was about the time my father’s abuse of alcohol and abuse of the family started. This threw our family into an upheaval. We left my father when I was 11 and we never went to church again while I lived with my mom. My grandmother Greene died before I was born, and I never heard my grandfather Greene, or my grandparents Jahr, talk about Jesus or their faith. I believe the heavy-handed tactics of the government and church turned members of my family away from any desire to attend church once the rules and regulations were loosened.
My life was lived hard from the age of 11 until I was 22. Partying and taking risks with my life was common. Only by the hand of God did I live through those years. I met Ruth, who became my wife, when I was 22 and through her example and testimony, she pointed me to Christ. I understood my need for forgiveness and found it in Jesus. It wasn’t an easy transition though for either of us. I had a lot of baggage and rough edges to smooth over.
I felt that I had many scores to settle back on the reservation and wanted to go back and hold accountable the offenders for all the hurt they had inflicted on me. But during my faith walk, God led me to Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” When I read this and realized that accountability wasn’t up to me, I could literally feel a weight come off my shoulders!
My father and I were estranged following my parent’s divorce and as far I as I know, he never turned to Christ. My wife, Ruth, had written him a letter years before he passed, sharing Jesus with him. My mom did, however, show signs of faith and acknowledged Jesus as her Savior toward the end of her life. I was privileged to pray with Mom in the last hours of her life and she squeezed my hand. I’ll always cherish that memory.
Fast forward to 2022, when I first read the baby card from the Ramses. I cried after reading the prayer Mrs. Ramse wrote in the card. “Now it is my prayer that you will both invite Jesus into your hearts and home so this dear little soul will have a happy life here on earth and point others to Jesus Christ.” The realization that someone prayed for me 60 plus years ago was very humbling. Ruth became emotional also when I showed her the card. We wanted to find out more about the people who shared Christ’s love with my parents and me all those years ago! The historian in me found a mission!
So, we started searching the internet to connect with the family, and Ruth found an obituary for Arthur Ramse, and I found a YouTube video titled “Memories of Arthur Ramse” by Karen Ramse! In the video were photos of his time on the reservation and his memories of being at Tokio. I immediately emailed Karen to explain who I was and the connection to Arthur and Elmyra. She told me that they were her grandparents! I think we were both emotional while sharing our connection to her grandparents. She gave me the contact information of two of her uncles, Ben and David, who lived and grew up on the reservation when their parents were there. After connecting with them, we found out that they knew my grandparents and grandfather Greene! My grandmother Jahr was hired to drive Ben, one of the sons, and several other students to school in Devils Lake! A young lady by the name of Miriam Dynneson joined the Ramses on the reservation to help them in their mission. When my grandfather Jahr passed away, Miriam was the organist at his service and Arthur officiated the service. She later married David, one of the Ramse sons. Miriam has written books about her adventures in the mission field, and she wrote about the story of the “baby card” and prayer in one of them!
It is only by the Hand of God that this precious family has been woven into mine!
When I connected with the Ramse men and Miriam, we were all in awe of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and grace! Many times, they had heard their parents ask, “Are we making a difference?” On the reservation, ministry is slow going with seemingly no fruit, but when they heard my story and my faith in Jesus, they were overjoyed and felt blessed to hear about the card, prayer, and how God answered that prayer!
We have gotten together with David and Miriam a couple of times and have enjoyed visiting about our time on the reservation. They even joined us at Friendship Church in Prior Lake for a Sunday service! Ruth and I are blessed to call them friends and humbled by our Lord’s faithfulness.
Karen Ramse, Arthur and Elmyra’s granddaughter, teaches at Black Forest Academy, an international Christian school in Germany. She asked if she could share “my” story about the baby card during staff prayer and devotion time on Monday, October 23 which is today, the day I write this. I replied it’s God’s story, she is certainly welcome to share it.
Billy Graham once said: “I firmly believe God continues to answer the prayers of His people even after He has taken them to heaven. Never forget that God isn’t bound by time the way we are. We see only the present moment; God sees everything. We see only part of what He is doing; He sees it all.”
So do not grow weary in doing good! Keep praying and keep loving, living, and serving like Jesus. You may never know on this side of heaven how it will impact a life and the Kingdom of God!