Dan Galenkamp

Doing Justice to Short-Term Mission Trips

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Short-term mission trips are a hot topic in the Christian Reformed Church right now, and in the broader Western church in general. Millions of North Americans travel to both far off and nearby places every year with the intention of sharing the good news of Christ to those living in poverty, or places where the gospel is not well known.

These trips, otherwise short-formed to “STMs,” usually involve travelling to a different country for a brief period of time—anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. Most groups are composed of volunteers within a church congregation. These volunteers sacrifice time, money, and resources to travel, serve, and share the gospel. It sounds great, right? What could be possibly be wrong with that?

Short-term missions frequently do very little to address injustice.

This past weekend I spent three days in Ridgetown, Ontario, at a festival called “Cahoots!” It’s organized by the Student Christian Movement and the Beansprout Collective, and is in its third year.

The idea behind Cahoots! is to gather anyone who is interested in the intersection of faith, justice and activism. All are welcome: LGBTQ+, refugees, people of colour, privileged white folks, clergy, queer persons, and anyone on the margins of the church or of society.

By no means was this a “Reformed” event, and it pushed me far out of the comfort zone I sat in for nearly 20 years at a fairly traditional CRC. However, I definitely found the presence of the Spirit among the wonderful, ramshackle group that gathered. And, interestingly enough, I found myself a minority. The amount of straight, white men there was minimal. Perhaps I was given an extremely small taste of what life on the margins is like for many people.

Part of my participation at the festival was leading a workshop with my good friend, Justin, on STMs, entitled “Doing Justice to Short Term Experiences.” Justin has spent large parts of his life involved in short-term missions in Canada, the Philippines, Guatemala, and this coming autumn, South Africa. Justin brought a lot of knowledge of cross-cultural experiences, while I brought a keen understanding of Biblical justice, and my own STM experience in Northern Ireland, to the workshop.

During the lead-up and the debriefing of the workshop, I spent much time reflecting on what I had been reading, and what I heard during and after the workshop. I was left with four ideas about short-term experiences that I would like to highlight:

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about the people and place you’re visiting. Churches usually send out short-term missionaries with the intent of hearing from the volunteers when they are back in North America, rather than hearing from people in the receiving place. This attitude can allow for neo-colonialism, paternalism, and privilege to rear their ugly heads, creating what is now commonly known as “White Saviour Complex.”
  2. It’s not a vacation. Cross-cultural experiences are complicated, and we need to learn how to take postures of listening and humility—not which posture is best for our next “selfie.”
  3. Language matters. The commonly accepted term for missions in the CRC comes from the Latin missio, from mittere, which literally means “to send.” The notion of sending Christians out to evangelize is a popular and attractive one to many Western Christians today. However, as we embrace this sending, it sometimes speaks to the faint (and often unnoticed) colonial repercussions of concepts like the Doctrine of Discovery. This is not to deny the importance of mission, but our sending can come at the expense of transformed relationships, and be tinged with paternalism.
  4. Robust preparation is crucial. In order to communicate and learn well across cultural boundaries, education about the country, city, or village being visited is of paramount importance. What is the theological background of the receiving location? Who are the leaders in the community? Are the people being sent empowering and inviting the community they’re visiting to participate in our process?

Ultimately, a cultural and structural change within our churches needs to happen. There must be a fundamental shift in the way we talk about, practice, and listen to stories of short-term missions. Rather than calling them “missions,” we may be better off to call them “learning trips” or “cross-cultural experiences.” We need to begin asking if these trips are creating any lasting or transformative change in those being sent, or those receiving.

If the goal of Biblical justice is to return to the shalom we experienced when God created us, then the motives and end goals of short-term mission trips need to reflect this.

Want to talk more about short-term missions and your church? Contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, and dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

A Part of the Body

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I was born and raised in the Christian Reformed Church. My parents were missionaries in the Navajo Nation. As a passionate believer, I witnessed to my playmates and started begging to take communion when I was seven because I had asked Jesus into my heart. I expected that God would one day call me to serve. When I was sixteen, two women at Rehoboth Mission were discovered to be lovers and were expelled. A year earlier, I’d had a romantic relationship with my best friend, which confirmed something I’d sensed for a long time about who I was. I was terrified, thinking that I, too, might be expelled from the church that had cradled me and nurtured my spiritual growth, the church I loved.

Within two months of what happened to those two women, I became what would today be a statistic. I tried for the first time to kill myself. Studies show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.

In Canada, 33% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general. About 25% of transgender youth report suicide attempts in the USA, and 28% in Canada (Taylor et al. 2011). In 1964, we were so invisible that such statistics, if they were compiled at all, were probably highly inaccurate.

Sadly, the statistics on LGBTQ depression and suicide among churchgoing youth are even higher than in the general population. The place where we should feel the safest and most supported as we struggle to understand God’s will for us as believers is most often a place fraught with danger and judgment. I struggled with my sexuality, scripture, and my place in faith communities for the next nine years, attempting suicide a second time. In 1973, when the CRC position on homosexuality was published, I left my church.

For the next forty years I tried to reconcile who God had made me to be with how most Christians saw me and how they interpreted what the Bible had to say about me. I learned from other spiritual traditions, where I was welcome. I also served the LGBTQ community in a peer-support and advocacy organization I cofounded and as a professional counselor.

In a recent discussion, a member of the CRC suggested that the church was right to deny LGBTQ people full membership. She compared the organization I’d served to the church, saying that our group would have rightly kept out people that held anti-gay positions. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad analogy. Then I said to myself, “No! The Church is not just an organization. The Church is The Body of Christ. The Church is not allowed to say to one part of the Body, ‘We have no need of you.’”

Anna Redsand’s memoir, To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond will be released in July. Anna lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she is a part of The Body of Christ in a Presbyterian church. She cares deeply about what happens in her first church home.

For more information:

Eisenberg, Marla E., and Michael D. Resnick. 2006. “Suicidality Among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth: The Role of Protective Factors.” Journal of Adolescent Health 39: 662–668.

Kim, Y., & Leventhal, B. (2008). Bullying and suicide: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2), 133–154 Saewyc, Elizabeth M. 2007. “Contested Conclusions: Claims That Can (and Cannot) Be Made from the Current Research on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teen Suicide Attempts.” Journal of LGBT Health Research 3 (1): 79–87.

Sanchez, J., Diaz, R., Huebner, D., Russell, S., and Caitlin Ryan. 2010. “Family Acceptance in Adolscence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults”. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 23 (4): 205-213.

Taylor, C., Peter, T., McMinn, T. L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., et al. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final Report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

DMC Announces Next National Director

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Dear Friends of DMC:

This year marks a significant transition for Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC).  After serving for more than 14 years as the National Director of DMC, Hans Kater will be retiring as of June 30th.  We cannot express enough thanks for his wise and gracious leadership which has been a constant blessing for our organization and to our staff, board, committees and partners. Under Hans, DMC developed from its early inception state into a cohesive ministry with a strong staff team.  This team daily serves our churches and communities with clear vision and purpose. As a board we will miss Hans’ insights, encouragement and humour around our table, yet we are incredibly grateful for the ways God has been glorified through his many years of faithful service.

Looking ahead, we are delighted to share with you that as of August 1st, Ron Vanden Brink (photo above) will be joining DMC to fill the position of National Director.  He grew up in Edmonton where, after graduating from high school, he worked for nine years as an electrician.  He then attended The King’s University College in Edmonton, and later graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Ron gained ministry experience by serving Cornerstone church in Salmon Arm, BC (1994-2003) and New Hope church in Calgary, AB (2003-2006).

Ron and his wife Monica reside in Kelowna BC, have two grown children and are grandparents of three children. They are members of The Well church plant in Kelowna, where Ron has served as a pastor for the last nine years.

With an excitement for the future of deacons in the CRC, a heart for diaconal ministry and a desire to see communities transformed in Christ, Ron has sought to be faithful by responding to the Lord’s call to this new challenge of National Director.   We are eager to see how God uses his particular gifts in this role as he brings his unique perspective and joy-filled personality to the work of Diaconal Ministries Canada.

As an organization, we covet your prayers always, but even more so now during this time of leadership change. We ask that you specifically pray for our exceptional staff team who have been working closely together for many years.  We recognize that this time of transition is bittersweet as we bless and send Hans on to his next kingdom adventure. Yet we are confident that God has been leading this process and are thankful that He has been preparing Ron to continue the good work of DMC under our unchanged vision and mission of Transforming Communities in Christ by Engaging Communities, Equipping Deacons and Living Justly.  Ron can be reached by contacting the Diaconal Ministries Canada office at 1-800-730-3490 or by email at rvandenbrink@crcna.org.

With gratitude for your ongoing support and our partnership in Kingdom service,

Melissa Van Dyk

Board Chair

(photo: Ron Vanden Brink, DMC’s new National Director)

Advocacy: It’s Not as Hard as It Sounds

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Advocate. It’s a word we hear every once in a while. No, it is not a smooth green fruit that gets turned into guacamole. And no, it’s not a liqueur made with eggs, sugar and brandy. (Yep, I’m talking about the Dutch liqueur known as Advocaat. Yuck.)

Jokes aside, advocacy is an activity we talk about, but rarely take part in. So what does advocacy really mean, and what does an advocate do?

An advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

Or, more simply: a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf.

To quote the wise words of Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue: “Advocacy is a crucial part of our discipleship as believers.”

I agree with Mike.

Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, speaking to the team about advocacy.

Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, speaking to the team about advocacy.

Last week, I spent two and half days in Ottawa with 14 other young people from across Canada on a Justice Leadership Tour. The Tour was organized by World Renew and funded through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). The goal was to learn about advocacy, to meet with MPs from around the country, and to urge support for the Good Soil Campaign.

The Good Soil Campaign is a national advocacy initiative of CFGB, aimed at encouraging the Canadian Government to continue its long history of fighting global hunger by increasing its foreign aid funding to assist small-scale farmers in the Global South.

Monday was spent in a day-long workshop, with various speakers: Jared Klassen, a Public Policy Advisor for CFGB; Geoff Brouwer, an Advisor for International Affairs and Development with the Treasury Board of Canada; and Mike Hogeterp (mentioned above).

Tuesday was spent meeting with MPs from across Canada—we met with 11 of them, in all. These meetings were between MPs and groups of three to five people, and usually lasted around 15 minutes to half an hour. I was involved in meetings with Karina Gould, MP for Burlington and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development; with Dean Allison, MP for Niagara West—my home riding—and lastly, with Parvinder Singh, special assistant to the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

IMG_6692

World Renew staff with Karina Gould, MP for Burlington.

Each meeting was concluded with a main “ask,” in which we asked for a number of desirable outcomes. Often this was in the form of a letter to the Minister of International Development, recognition of the Good Soil Campaign/CFGB through social media, or the sponsoring of a petition in the House of Commons.

What this tour did—for me—was bring politics and parliament down to earth. MPs are humans too. They want to talk with their voters and constituents. They want to hear about what you’re passionate about. They have a duty as politicians: to listen and to convey the voice of the people they represent, and to have relationships with them.

And this is where our duty lies as well: to advocate on behalf of both local and global communities. We should try to foster relationships with our members of parliament. It may be frustrating, and we may have to be persistent, but change and development happen slowly—often we do not see the growth of the seeds we sow until years have passed.

Churches are called to petition their MPs, to write letters to ministers, and to advocate. It’s not a common activity of the deacon, but it easily slides into the job description. In Isaiah 1:17, when we are told to “plead the case of the widow,” we are quite literally being told to advocate.

The team signing postcards for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank's Good Soil Campaign!

The team signing postcards for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s Good Soil Campaign!

It took William Wilberforce over twenty years to finally see slavery abolished in England. Advocacy is effective and it can create positive change, but it often takes much longer than we expect.

And this is what advocacy really is: the art of timing. Successful advocacy requires the right people discussing the right topic at the right time. Throw in the movement of the Holy Spirit, and some wonderful things can happen.

Want to talk more about advocacy? Contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

Changing the Conversation about Climate Change

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Climate change, global warming, and the greenhouse effect—we’ve heard the same language over and over again. The earth is getting too hot, it’s happening too fast, and humanity is to blame.

And, while the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly positive that global warming is real and being caused by humans (97% of scientists), some Christians disagree. Perhaps it’s a general distrust of science, or perhaps we believe that we cannot really change the infrastructure of the world’s fossil fuel consumption, or perhaps—more ominously—we just don’t want to change our lifestyles.

The goal of this post is not to feed the flames, or to argue. The goal is to help us as Christians to think more critically about both our place in the world, and about God’s commands concerning stewardship of the earth.

And this is where deacons come in. One of the last sentences in the Christian Reformed Church’s charge to the deacons is: “Be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils.” We often equate injustice with humanity. We think of words like poverty, homelessness, disability, crime, and violence. But injustice is also about God’s good creation. It is about how we, as humans and image-bearers of God, relate to our surrounding natural environment.

In Genesis 1, God gave us the cultural mandate to rule and have dominion over the earth. We are to be stewards of creation—caring for the earth rather than abusing it.

In Psalm 24:1-2 (NIV), we read: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”

While we are to subdue the earth, we are also to remind ourselves that the earth is not ours. It is the Lord’s, and we have a great responsibility to care for it. And yet, there is a hostile climate—no pun intended—associated with the larger conversation surrounding global warming in the church.

Consider 2 Peter 3:10-12 (NIV):

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”

The earth is going to be laid bare, and a new heaven and new earth will be created at the second coming of Christ. So, why bother caring for the earth? It’s holiness and a strong faith that matters, right?

It’s more complicated than that. How we choose to live our lives and treat the environment has much broader implications than we tend to realize.

With a warmer climate, a farmer in Kenya may not be able to predict when the rainy season will be coming, and therefore be unable to produce food for their family. A massive storm—more destructive than storms have been in the past—could hit the coast of the Philippines, destroying the communities there. Some plants and animals might become endangered, or extinct. Our decisions affect more than just our local community and ourselves.

At the end of the day, the question we should be asking ourselves is: Is the way that we’re living sustainable for the earth and everything living on it? If we don’t have any answers, or our answer does not consider the global impact of our lifestyles, it is time we started digging deeper.

There are all sorts of steps we can take towards ecological justice: calculate our carbon footprints (and offset the carbon we produce), grow some of our own food, start community gardens with our churches, know where our food is coming from, connect with organizations such as A Rocha or Citizens for Public Justice, or watch the Climate Conversation video series produced by the Office of Social Justice. The list can go on.

Christians—and deacons, especially—must work towards a vision for ecological justice, even if we don’t believe climate change to be a reality. Our creator God commands it.

Questions or comments? We would love to take part in respectful dialogue. Please leave a comment below, or contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

Showing Your God-Colours

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This fall I helped start a Generous Space group in BC’s Fraser Valley. Simply put, Generous Space is a bible study for people and allies of the LBGTQ+ Community.

If you asked me five years ago if this is where I saw myself headed, I would have laughed. Six years ago, my husband of 15 years and father of my children publically came out and left me. I was a pastor in the CRC at the time.

It was my worst nightmare coming true. I knew my former husband wondered about his sexuality. He felt a strong pull to the gay community. My response was to pray unceasingly. I dared to believe God would fix my marriage and bring us restoration, renewal and regrowth. I recited verse after verse and declared to the heavens my marriage would triumph and my beloved children would not be a product of divorce.

Things did not work out that way.

I can tell many stories about navigating this season. Even though it was awful, God overwhelmed me with good. Looking back, the biggest shift I experienced was my own.

My heart became more open to my own need for grace and mercy. I could not point any fingers at the LGBTQ+ community. God wanted good things for me; he also wanted good things for my former husband. I began to see that gay lives matter.

I saw churches saying “all are welcome” but I did not see them telling their gay congregants that they’re important and essential to the growth and relevance of the church. I looked for churches telling the LGBTQ+ community that we need them. I found few.

I began dreaming of a day when the church comes out of its own proverbial closet and we stop pretending we don’t have LGBTQ+ people in our congregation.

An example: in the last century, society has had frank conversations about race. Many of us—thinking we were doing the politically correct thing—may have unintentionally hurt our friends of colour by declaring we were “colour-blind” and that skin shade is a non-issue. I don’t think pretending to ignore the colour of someone’s skin was ever the point.

The point is that people are different from us and we can learn from them.

The point is that we are equals. We are created in the image of God. All of us. 

We are created to live in community with each other.

We are created to learn from each other.

We are created to display different parts of the character of God.

Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message) says: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it requires great courage. Yes, there may be a cost.

What do we say as we rub shoulders with the LGBTQ+ community? What do we say to LGBTQ+ families whose spousal/parental/sibling relationships have gone through change?

Let’s start with two postures that we, as the church, can take.

The first is: seek empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Christians are traditionally adept at displaying sympathy. Sympathy is, “I feel so bad that this has happened. I will pray for you.” There is nothing overly wrong about this reaction, but the thing is, it’s a reaction.

Empathy pursues understanding. Empathy means walking a mile in the LGBTQ+ community’s shoes.

The second is: be inclusive. This is different from tolerance. Inclusion is inviting families and members of the gay community into your home. Eat with them. Learn from them. Invite them to pray for you. Stop pretending they don’t exist; they do. They are members of your family, your church family and community. They love you.

Show them your own God-colours.

Beckie— Beckie Evans is an award-winning writer and teacher. She is currently collaborating with Rebecca Schroeder (M.A., R.C.C.) on a resource for the church entitled “ReVision: When Gender Issues Change Partner Relationships”. She lives with her husband Jarrett and five kids in Abbotsford, BC where they enthusiastically cheer for the Winnipeg Jets.

Living Justly: A Conversation with Christian Trans* Advocate Tori Phillips

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(In the above photo, Tori Phillips is on the top left.)

By Rachel Vroege, DMC Staff

Note: DMC has recently launched a new LGBTQ+ vulnerable people group webpage. To see the webpage, click hereTo see the previous blog post explaining this webpage, click here.

I first met Tori just over a year ago after a New Direction gathering at Vancouver First CRC. Tori is a Trans* woman and a Christian who attends Lighthouse of Hope Christian Fellowship in New Westminster, British Columbia. She is passionate about the Church, helping churches to understand the LGBTQ+ community, and breaking down the barriers that lead LGBTQ+ people to feel marginalized in the church.

Meeting Tori changed my life and opened my eyes to the barriers experienced by Trans* people both within and without the church. When I opened my heart to Tori to learn more about the experiences of Trans* people I came face to face with the reality of what it means to live justly.

Tori graciously agreed to chat with me about the barriers and challenges that exist and how the church and deacons can reach out to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Rachel: What does the term Trans* mean, and why the asterisk?

Tori: Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. Trans (without the asterisk) can be intentionally used to describe trans men and trans women, while the asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming identities.

Rachel: What is the most compelling justice concern facing LGBTQ+ people in society?

Tori: A 2013 National Report stated that at least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year and that youth account for 20% of the homeless. An estimated 25% to 40% of homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or transgender. A third of trans* youth are rejected from shelters.

This occurs because LGBTQ+ youth face ridicule and non-acceptance in their families and communities, in particular those who are gender neutral and fluid. Due to family conflict after coming out, many LGBTQ+ youth are kicked out of their homes.

Trans* people are often turned away from food banks when they don’t look the same as the gender listed on their ID.

Although we have this information, there is still minimal support available to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth in Canada. The church can be a voice for the weakest in society.

Rachel: How can churches help Trans* people to feel like they are welcome and belong in their faith community?

Tori: It’s hard to walk through the doors of a church not knowing what kind of reception you will get. Will people stare? Will they whisper? It’s not very comfortable. Gender-neutral bathrooms are one way churches can communicate hospitality and welcome.

Rachel: What does biblical justice mean to you?

Tori: The golden rule—“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12), or in medical terminology: “do no harm.” Justice for LGBTQ+ looks like a place in society—to work, to pay taxes, to have dignity. Justice is to be heard, to have a place at the table.

Rachel: What would you like people to know about you (as a Trans* person)?

Tori:  That beyond being Trans*, I live a normal life—I’m a parent to two young men aged 25 and 27, I work in automotive parts, I have a wife, Elaine, and a cat. That God designed diversity and I’m just another person with a soul, a soul well worth reaching out to with compassion and care.


 

For many Christians, especially those of us within the Christian Reformed tradition, interviews like these may raise feelings of indignation, guilt, or even anger. The LGBTQ+ issue is one that frequently divides families and churches. However, if we are to be taking a posture of humility and compassion, we cannot immediately dismiss these words as blasphemous or irreverent. We must journey alongside our Christian siblings, regardless of their sexual or gender orientation.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14: 13)

If your diaconate or church is looking to get involved or start the conversation about LGBTQ+ persons, or if you have questions or comments about this piece, please feel free to email DMC’s Justice Mobilizer at dgalenkamp@crcna.org, or comment below.

Black History Month and Racism in Canada

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In Canada, February is Black History Month, an event that has existed since 1995 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Canadians with African or Caribbean heritage.

At DMC, we thought it would be good to interview someone with Caribbean heritage. So, we approached Bernadette Arthur, Race Relations Coordinator for the Office of Race Relations in Canada.

Racism, and how we respond to the diversity of races and cultures in our churches and society, is a piece of the ever-elusive notion of Biblical justice.

Where are your parents from?
Both of my parents are from Trinidad and immigrated here in their youth. I was born in Canada. Even though I was born here, I’m very much connected to my Trinidadian cultural heritage.

What’s unique about Trinidadian culture?
The things that distinguish Trinidadian culture are music—soca and calypso music—these genres are part of our cultural narrative and are used to tell stories. As with most cultures, food and community play a large role. We are a people who enjoy life and are known for having one of the biggest carnivals in the world.

What about your educational background?
My educational background is in human behaviour—child and youth studies as well as psychology—although a lot of my learning has been self-directed. I’ve always been aware of the skin colour that I live in, but I began a personal journey of awareness when, in my mid-twenties, I was on an evaluation team for a pilot program that addressed the challenges that Afro-Caribbean Canadian youth experienced in the criminal justice system. I started to read anthologies and books on the history of slavery, and through this, I became more aware of the discrimination and racism faced by black people in North America. As time progressed, I entered into the Christian Community Development realm, and this allowed me to really see the links between racism and poverty. Through my affiliation with Communities First Association, I was able to sit at racial reconciliation tables and attend professional development trainings and workshops on racial equity.  These invaluable experiences occurred on American soil and prompted me to find the answer to the question: “what does racism look like in Canada?”

In Canada, February is Black History Month—what are your thoughts on it? What are the strengths of celebrating a month this way? Are there weaknesses?
Black History Month is a two-sided coin. On one side, it raises awareness of the contributions and achievements that Canadians of African descent have made, while on the other side, its presence demonstrates that the Black Canadian narrative is still on the fringes of Canadian history. It is a reality that has not yet been woven into the predominant narrative. To tell the whole story is to share the Black, Asian, Aboriginal (among other) experiences equally with the White experience, and understand how these have all shaped Canada today.

People often talk about how racism no longer exists in Canada, and that we’ve moved past it. What are your thoughts? Does racism still exist?
When we speak of racism, we are speaking about more than just prejudices and stereotypes. We are speaking about oppression and inequality, of entire groups of people who are unable to access the same resources and opportunities as those in the dominant culture. Racism is systemic. In Canada, racism is subtle and covert but still very much alive.  

“As Christians, we are called to celebrate the diversity that God has given his image-bearers.” This is an agreeable sentiment—and statements like it are often heard in the church—but it lacks practicality. What are some practical ways that deacons can encourage their congregations to actively seek racial reconciliation?
If we actually lean into the idea of being image-bearers, then we have to learn how to celebrate His image, and that means how His image is fully expressed in ALL of us. How do we do this? We expose ourselves to the cultural narratives of others for the purpose of understanding and appreciating how these cultures further inform the richness and complexity of God.  This can be done through listening to stories, watching films, reading books, using new musical instruments, learning how others worship, eating new and different foods—and doing all of these things with an eye on our discomfort. This means asking ourselves, “Why do these new things make me inherently uncomfortable? Are there ways where my personal preferences and biases are prohibiting my understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image?”

What about the CRC’s Office of Race Relations—where do they come into play? What do they do?
The Office of Race Relations exists to facilitate and encourage conversations regarding inclusion, diversity, and racial reconciliation. I want to stress that facilitating these conversations is much less about checking something a training off of the list and much more about continuing in the daily, monthly, and yearly journey of reconciliation.

Many of the activities that Race Relations facilitates are contextualized and malleable depending on the situation. Some of the new resources we’re offering are Community Learning Conversations, which create safe spaces for open dialogue, and Racial Reconciliation Journeys, which are trips to historical and contemporary sites related to racial reconciliation.

For more information on how your church can be involved contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org, or Bernadette Arthur, Race Relations Coordinator in Canada, at barthur@crcna.org.

A Conversation with John Schuurman

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Shalom is the first thing that comes to mind,” he says, in between bites of potato leek soup. “When I think of justice, I think of the Lord’s shalom, especially as it relates to those who are oppressed—including creation.”

John Schuurman says these words with a quiet confidence, not realizing how profound they sound off the cuff. He proceeds to cite Matthew 25 and Isaiah 62 as inspiration for his words.

All I had to do was ask him what he thought justice was in a sentence or two.

John is a 22-year-old and a recent graduate from Redeemer University College. He also recently took part in a LEAP internship program. LEAP stands for Linked Engagement Action Programs, a three-year collaborative initiative between three agencies: World Renew, Christian Reformed World Missions, and the Office of Social Justice.

John and I met during the week for lunch and a conversation. I intended to hear about his experiences as a Congregational Justice and Missions Mobilizer with Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario; Instead, I left feeling refreshed and inspired—John really has a passion for his work!

LEAP—a pilot project that ends this year—is a program for young adults between the ages of 14-30, and its aim is to increase the commitment of young people in the church, specifically through engagement in missions as global citizens. In short, John was responsible for educating, raising awareness, and mobilizing his congregation for advocacy in their community—not to mention challenging them to delve deeper and discern their attitude towards global missions.

“I had to backtrack my theories about community development and missions,” he says. “I had to reconnect these ideas back to my faith. Coming from a university setting, it was difficult at the beginning [of the internship] to talk about justice in simple terms, until I began to remember the connections between justice and faith, and how foundational justice is to our faith.”

John worked full-time for two months (July and August), and part-time for the subsequent four months (September to December). He was responsible for educating the church on issues of poverty and urban ministry, especially through speaking engagements and workshops. These were intended for youth and young adult groups, as well as larger, intergenerational groups. Usually, these took place through Sunday evening conversations with the congregation or weeknight meetings with the youth group.

He also was to act as an intermediary to ministries already nearby Immanuel CRC by helping to build relationships and partnerships among the congregation and ministries.

John’s personal highlight was going on a weekend retreat with Immanuel’s youth group. This retreat was held in downtown Hamilton, with the youth sleeping overnight in Wentworth Baptist Church, taking part in a prayer walk, and learning about various urban ministries—and how they could be a part of them—through a street tour.

In John’s words: “The youth were much more insightful, engaged, and passionate than I thought they would be!”

However, there were challenges as well.

“Looking back, I wish I had tried to better connect with Immanuel’s deacons. There was a little bit of collaboration, but I probably only engaged with the tip of the iceberg.”

At the end of the hour, I ask John what his next steps are. Besides working at The Bridge—a transitional program for men who have been incarcerated and are reintegrating into the community—he is open to the work of the Spirit.

“I don’t know what’s next,” he says. “But I’m open to living a life led by God.”

Perhaps our youth and young adults have much more to offer us than we think they do, and perhaps, as deacons, we could incorporate them further in our diaconates.

What do you think? Feel free to post comments below. If you’d like to continue the conversation, contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

CC Image courtesy Lars Lundqvist (@arkland_swe) on Flickr

LGBTQ+ Christians and Your Church: 5 Steps Towards Hospitality

Posted by | Doing Justice | 4 Comments

The above photo, “Reykjavik Pride”, is copyright (c) 2009 Lars Lundqvist and made available under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.

“Responses to the question ‘Do you ever hear comments from church members that you believe would be offensive to people in your congregation who are attracted to the same sex?’ were . . . alarming: 61 percent of responding ministers said they had heard offensive comments from congregants, and 75 percent of non-heterosexual (self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or same-sex attracted) respondents in the whole survey reported hearing offensive comments from church members.”

—The Report to Synod 2016 (CRC) from the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-sex Marriage

Before I begin, I would like to emphasize that the goal of this post is to start the conversation and provide a basis for further dialogue, not provide a posture to take towards LGBTQ+ persons. I am basing this goal on the church’s mandate of respect and dignity for all people through Christ.

Gay, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer—the list could be longer if we included more derogatory terms—these are terms that are often muttered under people’s breath. In our church communities, LGBTQ+ people often do not find the sense of “safety” that churches are meant to host. For them, there is not always freedom from the fear of slander, put-downs, or hurtfully ignorant comments.

For those of you scratching your heads, LGBTQ+ stands for:

  • Lesbian
  • Gay
  • Bi-sexual
  • Transexual or transgender
  • Queer (or questioning)
  • And others who label themselves differently (the plus sign)

(For a more in-depth description of the acronym, click here.)

It’s not that the church doesn’t care about LGBTQ+ persons. We—as the church—pride ourselves in our ability to be hospitable. However, while we are excellent at offering hospitality to those already among us, we aren’t always the best at offering it to those who are different.

And this is the rub: there are likely LGBTQ+ Christians sitting with us on Sundays. So why aren’t we talking about it?

It’s because it’s uncomfortable, and as a denomination we have been known to oppose what most people simply call “homosexuality.” But, as this post hopefully demonstrates—there is far more to homosexuality than just a term.

At Diaconal Ministries Canada, we have been talking about this justice issue for nearly a year. Part of that year-long process was research towards building a new webpage for responding to LGBTQ+ people, regardless of whether they’re in the church or not.

So, without further ado, here are five steps that you and your church can take to be more welcoming to LGBTQ+ persons:

  1. Dig a little deeper. If you are straight, think beyond your own experiences and try to put yourself in the shoes of an LGBTQ+ person. Would you enjoy attending church? Would you feel welcome? Think about creating a Generous Space Group at your church (or with a group of churches).
  1. Listen to people’s stories. It’s easy to talk theology, but a lot harder to apply it in real life. It’s pointless to either affirm or not affirm positions relating to LGBTQ+ minority groups without hearing their stories first.
  1. Question your assumptions. It’s simple to assume that your theological views should apply to other people. Challenge your conclusions, and leave room for the Holy Spirit to work. It’s impossible for us, as humans, to absolutely know how God will work in a person’s life, especially a life on the margins. It’s also likely that an LGBTQ+ person is just as passionate about scripture and theology as yourself—not to mention they’ve probably had to endure a more intense struggle with certain aspects of that theology.
  1. Take LGBTQ+ people off of the podium. Homosexuality is not a sin to be put on a pedestal. If we are to be confronting homosexuality, how about we confront adultery, pornography, lust, and rape? We are all broken and sinful—accepting our own human condition is an important step towards accepting others, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+.
  1. Develop committed relationships, and learn how to journey together! This is the most crucial step anyone can take towards welcoming LGBTQ+ persons. By developing a relationship, the initial welcoming begins to include a degree of sustainability. Hospitality and justice are similar in this sense: they both require relationships, and relationships require transformation to be sustainable and fruitful.

Want to know more about justice and how to help your congregation live justly? Contact Dan Galenkamp, DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

For more information on LGBTQ+ people and how you can respond as a deacon, visit DMC’s LGBTQ+ webpage.