Malcolm and Esther Wenger arrived as missionaries in Busby, Montana, in 1944, sixty years after the reservation to confine the Northern Cheyenne had been formed. They were eager to teach, but found they were ill-prepared and had much to learn, as they worked in the area for the next 22 years. This book is a chronicle of what they learned from a variety of Northern Cheyenne people whose stories they share, what they learned of the traditions of the Cheyenne people and also of the lives they led on the reservation. From their daughter Ann, who absorbed the experience of being brown, come the poems in this memoir, interspersed among the chapters of her father's prose. The poems introduce the visual detail and provide the emotional impact of the experience of being a white girl among the Cheyenne.

Malcolm Wenger's observations come often from distinct characters: Stands in Timber's knowledge of buffalo hunting helps Wenger to understand the definition of manhood for the Northern Cheyenne and why they so often (and still do) go directly into military service as scouts; Pastor Little Bear meets an angel which helps Wenger to understand the role of God's guides toward salvation. There are certainly little victories—like keeping the young boy who vandalized their home, taking asthma pills—keeping this child out of reform school, as he stayed with them a month. Many of the stories point to themes one could expect, having read the literature of a popular writer like Louise Erdrich who depicts reservation life: boarding school, the role of the car in Cheyenne life, fry-bread and feasting, the ravages of alcohol, the traditional chastity of Cheyenne girls under the protection of their mothers. But Malcolm Wenger's slant is always from the viewpoint of a Christian missionary eager to be of service to the Cheyenne people, wishing to offer Christian hope and the love of Christ, but ever aware of the paradoxical act of offering this white Jesus who is the religious model of a conquering people. Thus, some expected images take on new meaning: the fire which ravages the dry Montana prairie lands seems to Wenger to symbolize the searing desecration of native church leadership which he longs to see. He is convicted too, by his own personal attributes, nurtured in the culture of his youth, which often do not serve well the culture in which he is sent to live; for example, his Mennonite ways of careful thriftiness seem simply penurious among the generous Cheyenne people. His tone is generally that of a discouraged worker and seeker.

Healing the Wounds is ultimately, however, a confessional—from Malcolm Wenger, the missionary, for his mistakes, and certainly for the errors inherent in a project of Christianization for which he too often feels that he was offering Cheyennes the 'living water' in a white man's cup (38). Whether he is re-examining the missionary position on peyote, the sad tale of Twenty Stands whose attempts at Christianity become a hollow promise turned to ashes or the difficulties of explaining sin—for which the Cheyenne people have no word—he is constantly aware of the sins of the conquering white culture, the awkwardness in bringing a faith which results in the loss of Cheyenne traditional customs, for example of burial, or the commitment of a man and woman similar to marriage. From the poet Ann Wenger, too, come confessions—primarily, her announcement of a sexual assault (The Dark One Comes), undisclosed for many years, and its damaging repercussions—but also, the confessions of the young girl's steady unblinking eyes, observing the debris of pain around her. Gratefully, the poems probe somewhat more deeply into the interior self, the emotional self of one who experienced life among the Cheyenne people, adding a needed dimension to the stories which too often only skim the surface, provide the bare bones of a human life, sketch-like, when a reader longs for deeper portraits; these are used, rather, to point to issues, most often alcohol or church leadership.

The last chapters describe how old wounds are healed with love, both human and divine, seen best, perhaps, in Ann's last poem, Joy Is Tan:

What comes of Western shirts,
Prussian lace and beaded moccasins,
Ferns on high wooden pedestals,
Peyote buttons in low enamel pans,
Fry bread, and pluma moos, and potato chips,
Home-spun linen, Persian rugs, floors of earth,
Sage brush, rattlesnakes, peace roses in perfect rows,
Church bells with masses and church bells without,
Spirits, and science and predestination,
Branding irons, homemade sausage,
And Christmas trees from forests of pine?

It all comes in the package that I'm wrapped in,
Tied with the ribbon called love from the One who said,
Let there be . . . and there was.

Raylene Hinz-Penner
Bethel College