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Did You Mean These Neighbours, Jesus?

By Trixie Ling

In the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer put Jesus to the test by asking a bold question – “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer already knew the answer written in the Law, which is love God and love your neighbour. Not fully satisfied with the answer, he followed up with an honest question, “And who is my neighbour?”  I have been thinking about this simple yet challenging question as I encounter others in my daily life, work, church and neighbourhood. I am confronted with the truth of Jesus’ teaching in the parable about how to be a good neighbour who shows love, compassion, and mercy to others.

“I didn’t always love my neighbour the drunken gardener, or my neighbour the rich gentrifier, or my unknown neighbour in the yellow house.”

In her book City of God, Sara Miles writes about her diverse neighbourhood in the Mission District of San Francisco and offers some deep reflections about the kind of neighbour she is: “Like the lawyer who challenges Jesus, I often wished to weasel out of responsibility, hoping to calibrate who, precisely, was my neighbour; how much, exactly, I was required to love which people. I didn’t always love my neighbour the drunken gardener, or my neighbour the rich gentrifier, or my unknown neighbour in the yellow house. And I really dreaded the parable’s implication that I could be saved by what they had to give.”

I admire Miles’ courage in confessing how we often struggle to respond to God’s call to love our neighbours as ourselves. We might not know our neighbours or even like our neighbours, but we need to hear God’s call and allow it to guide our faith and actions to love our neighbours on the streets, in schools, at work, in churches, and in our own neighbourhoodsEvery Wednesday night at my church, I work with volunteers to organize a community dinner where we cook, eat, and share food and stories with our neighbours, friends, families, and strangers. It is a vibrant scene of kids running around the room, someone playing the piano, volunteers chopping vegetables and preparing the meal, and people having coffee and conversations in multiple languages as they wait for dinner. There are singles, couples, and families from all walks of life connecting over food around a table. The faces of our neighbours include many refugees and asylum seekers, who live next door at the Welcome Centre, a transitional housing and support centre serving refugees and immigrants.

“Recently, I noticed a new person who started coming to our weekly community dinner.”

Recently, I noticed a new person who started coming to our weekly community dinner. At first she came by herself, then she brought a friend. I welcomed her to our dinner and she shared her story with me – she emigrated from Costa Rica and has lived in our neighbourhood for almost 10 years and didn’t really know her neighbours. She wanted to know who her neighbours are, so she came to our community dinner in hopes of meeting some of her neighbours, including people in our church. I was encouraged by her earnest desire and openness to reach out and build relationships with her neighbours. I am reminded of the gift of being rooted in this diverse multicultural neighbourhood where I live and work, and the continuous call to show hospitality to new and old neighbours.

We all want to know and be known, but sometimes our fears and vulnerability get in the way of reaching out to neighbours, welcoming the stranger, and building real relationships with people who love and care for us. In a society where many people experience isolation and loneliness, we yearn for a sense of belonging and acceptance. As an immigrant myself, I understand and empathize with newcomers to Canada who struggle to settle, integrate, and be part of their neighbourhoods.

What is your vision of neighbourliness? My vision is one of neighbours taking care of neighbours. The stakes are high because we have to be vulnerable, build trust, learn to give, and be humbled to ask for help and receive from others. My hope is to take up God’s command to love my neighbours as my vocation.  The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” I am called to be present with people, pay attention to needs in the community, celebrate joys and remember sorrows together, and show love instead of fear, apathy, or judgment toward my neighbours.

“My hope is to take up God’s command to love my neighbours as my vocation.”

On an individual level, we can make serious efforts to meet our neighbours and get to know them through shared meals, neighbourhood activities, community gardens, and events in public spaces. On a collective level, we can build welcoming, diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods, and advocate for just policies for marginalized neighbours who experience poverty, homelessness, and discrimination in our communities.

We can remind each other of the parable of the Good Samaritan and aspire to live into the call to love our neighbours. Let us hear and hold on to God’s faithful words: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).

*Originally featured on: Do Justice Blog*

Facing the Giant …

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“Looking at the bigger picture of poverty in our community can be overwhelming and often paralyzes people.  The fight feels like David standing in front of Goliath, but knowing that the bigger battle of poverty is in God’s hands.  The first thing we need to do is hand it over to our Lord … and recognize that benevolence has to be about partnership and relationship; not about handouts.” ~ Anja Attema ~

Anja Attema, the workshop trainer for DMDs and Deacons, focuses on this during the training, addressing benevolence.

Deacons have the opportunity to provide support and help point people in the right direction, but it all begins with establishing relationships.  As Anja states, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.  When she trains deacons, Anja encourages them to not only ask helpful questions that can reveal some of the root causes of financial burdens but to stress the importance of relationships through their benevolent work.

In order to be successful, Deacons need tools to help address walking alongside their neighbors in benevolence.  DMC, along with conducting these workshops, has developed “Guidelines for Benevolence”.  These guidelines help deacons to create tools for helping, developing plans of action and identifying partners in their community that can provide assistance.

Head over to diaconalministries.com/resources to access these Guidelines and other various tools as well as to access more information/to request information on future Financial Benevolence workshops in your area.

Owned by the Deacons

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Ever wonder how an organization starts? Well sit back and take a walk down memory lane with me…

Diaconal Ministries Canada had its early beginnings around 1998 at a Classis renewal gathering in Chicago. Canadian ministry leaders, and folks representing Diaconal Ministries Eastern Canada, Northern Alberta Diaconal Conference, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (now known as World Renew) and British Columbia Diaconal Conference, happened to be having lunch at a local Chicago restaurant. Discussions and conversations began, and soon there was talk about “what If… we form an umbrella (diaconal) organization from coast to coast? An organization that would be responsible for overseeing the training of deacons in the CRC from Vancouver BC. to Halifax NS?” Quite exciting stuff!

Since we were out for lunch, the only paper available was the napkins on the table. Soon these napkins became full blown flow charts with various arrows from east to west and west to east. They included circles, squares, even triangles.  Leader’s names were put in the various provinces so committees could be formed; with hope that one day these small napkins might evolve into a national organization.

It was an exciting time and after a few more years of discussions (and maybe some more napkin drawings), in 2001 Diaconal Ministries Canada was formally organized. It has grown to an organization that is the envy of many other CRC agencies.

There are approximately 20 Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMD), representing the 12 Classis across Canada, who take it upon themselves, with the help of staff, to train and build relationships with deacons coast to coast.

Have you contacted your DMD? Click here  to find out how

    -written by Gary Veeneman, DMD for Classis BC SE and NW

 

 

 

Creating Safe Spaces for Dialogue

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I remember that summer day when I was travelling with some friends in the US.  I was the only Canadian in the car and, as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, my friend proceeded to give me a short list of conversation topics to avoid during the meal.

You see my friend and his wife had pre-decided that they were going to avoid any topics that were sure to spark debate and highlight the presence of entrenched ideological divisions within the group.

I assured my companions that I was quite naive about America’s hot button topics and so would not knowingly threaten the delicate balance that was trying to be maintained.  I then proceeded to rave about how Canadians did not find themselves so polarized about such issues.  “In general,” I boasted, “we Canadians are able to agree to  disagree over a warm cup of Timmies and with a maple syrup smile.”

Alright, so that’s not exactly what I said, but you get the gist.

When I reflect back on that experience, I am embarrassed about how naive I was.  There were, in fact, Canadian specific issues that were creating deep-seated divisions among Canada’s citizens/nations. I just was not aware of them.

I think it’s now safe to say that Canadians are not immune to the social and political issues that are polarizing groups in the United States.  There is a prevailing climate of division around justice issues surrounding refugee settlement in       Canada, Islamophobia, and oil pipeline expansion.

The question is, how do people who are called to love their neighbours [and enemies] (see Matthew 5:44) engage in matters of difference, as opposed to avoiding them?  How do we create safe spaces in our church communities for dialogue to flourish with the hope that the division gap will become smaller?

Jeanette Romkema, Partner and Senior Trainer at Global Learning Partners offers the following fantastic tips in her blog, “Tips for Entering and Staying with Tough Dialogue.”

  1. Be genuinely curious.
  2. Don’t enter to “win.”
  3. Talk less, listen more.
  4. Use good questions for understanding.
  5. Ask head and heart questions.
  6. Be gentle.
  7. Prepare yourself.
  8. Stay humble.

I encourage you to read the whole article, so you can obtain practical ways to enter one-to-one dialogue with those whom you may be in disagreement with.

One-on-one dialogues are helpful, but I think the health of our church communities is at risk if we don’t    consider how we will create space for polarizing issues to be discussed.

The Quakers have the time-worn tradition of engaging in a community dialoguing technique that they call scrupling. This was and still is a way for Quakers to engage with a difficult problem or issue as a community.  “Scrupling is not an argument, a debate or a panel discussion – but a serious conversation to seek a way forward,” (Read more here).  It was the method used in 2010 to discuss the erosion of democracy in Canada by the Harper government and the method used a century prior when discussing slaveholding.

As a facilitator who regularly convenes people in learning spaces to discuss topics and issues that make most people cringe and uncomfortable, I know it is crucial to the health of a community for people to feel that they have a safe way and space to process the difficult issues  No matter how divisive those issues have the potential to be.  Not speaking about them can lead to the adoption of entrenched positions that over time fray our bonds to each other and encourage the dehumanization of “the other.”

Paul’s warning to the Galatians is timely for the North American church today: “but if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be consumed by each other” (5:15, ESV).  The remedy is love (see 5:14), and it is through speaking the truth in love, that the Body of Christ grows in maturity (see Ephesians 4:15).

To make a commitment to stay at the communication line and speak the truth in love, whether we find ourselves intimately connected to the issues or distant from them, is just one of the ways that we live as ministers of reconciliation and work towards authentic unity in our communities.  It is this authentic, gritty, non-conforming, diversity loving unity that Christ says will demonstrate to the world that He was sent from the Father (see John 17:21).

So in 2017, it is clear as day to me that Canadians do not agree to disagree with a maple syrup smile.  What is not yet clear is whether Canadians and more specifically the CRC church, will respond to this growing climate of polarization with the age-old “nothing’s wrong here, everything’s fine,” or with compassion and a commitment to lean into the tough spaces.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How might not creating space for tough dialogue harm your congregation’s health, impact the wider community?
  2. What healthy and robust communication practices does your local congregation have for dealing with the difficult issues of the day?
  3. What can you do to encourage spaces for healthy dialogue in your church community?
  4. What resources/tools/support would you need to accomplish the above

– Bernadette Arthur, CRC Race Relations Coordinator

Urban Ministry Lectures

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CRC Campus Ministries (U of T) is partnering with Trinity College Faculty of Divinity, Wycliffe College, Young Street Mission and St. James Cathedral Centre to sponsor a lecture series led by Dr. Mark Gornik in Toronto on March 13 and 14, 2017.

Gornik is the author of a number of books including “To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City”; he is also founder and director of City Seminary of New York.

Click here for the poster detailing the events or visit this website.

DMC and World Renew Collaborate on “Helping Without Hurting” Workshops

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Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew have collaborated a number of times to lead an interactive “Helping without Hurting” workshop, most recently in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

At that event, DMC’s Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) in that region, Jean deBeer felt that participants “left the workshop enriched and challenged to ask themselves if [the ministry] they were doing or supporting was ultimately something that provided more than just the immediate relief of a perceived need, but actually something that is relationship-building and inclusive to community.”

Jean feels “quite passionate about issues relating to poverty” and was determined to clear any barriers in order to bring the workshop to Saskatoon. She also felt the timing was right. A few years ago, Jean, along with her fellow DMDs, had been given the book When Helping Hurts to read and discuss at the annual DMD gathering.  “It definitely stuck with me,” says Jean. Because of her conversations and meetings as a DMD with the deacons of Bethel CRC and Sonlight CRC, she also perceived that it was the “right time” for them all to learn more about how to address poverty.

World Renew’s Co-director Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo and DMC’s National Director Ron Vanden Brink facilitated the workshop, which was attended by members of the CRC, and the local Mennonite, Catholic and Baptist churches.  Participants were challenged to engage their community, considering assets and not just needs. One church was hoping to take what they learned and do a Community Opportunity Scan. Overall, the workshop was informative and challenging. As Jean put it, “we are all more aware of the need to go beyond providing immediate relief!”

The next workshops are scheduled for March 2, 2017 at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, BC. and March 4, 2017 at East Hill Community Church in Vernon, B.C.

Churches invited to be part of the Restorative Justice Process

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Restorative justice, in its simplest form, is the attempt to make things as right as possible between victims, offenders, and the wider community when some harm or crime happens.  But what does that look like for those of us who work mostly with offenders, the folks who’ve hurt others or caused some sort of harm to others?

Most of my work is with men and women who’ve done federal prison time, and are transitioning into the Edmonton area.  They are trying to write new chapters for their lives, to walk new paths, to live in ways that are not defined by their pasts.  What does it for them to “make things as right as possible”?

Part of the answer, I think, is for faith communities and churches to create safe, welcoming spaces for folks leaving prison.

Every other Saturday, I facilitate a men’s group that usually consists of about a dozen men who’ve done time, and a dozen volunteers who want to support their reintegration. The group provides the space for our friends to explore a new identity, a new story for themselves – one that is not defined by crime, past abuse, or poor decisions.  Rather, through discussions, outings, and – most importantly – eating together, the men who attend can start to heal, seeing themselves as people with a new future.  They can start to ask what it might mean to make things right with the people they’ve hurt.  And when they mess up or take a few steps back, our group is there to pick them up again.

Churches and faith communities are just the sort of places capable of providing this sort of community.  It can be as simple as connecting with a local prison chaplain, reintegration chaplain, or community support program and asking where to begin.

Another important way to empower offenders to “make things right” with the wider community is to give opportunities for them to give back.  Are there jobs that we can offer to former inmates as they make a new start, so that they can provide for loved ones, support themselves, be part of a healthy workplace, and contribute to the wider community?  Are there volunteer opportunities that churches or their partners can offer, so that they can be givers and not just service-recipients?

Finally, churches and faith communities can make space for former inmates in their pews (or folding chairs or coffee shop benches).  Many former inmates long for a sense of belonging.  Churches can offer just that by the simple act of inviting them to church on Sundays, for coffee afterwards, or for lunch at the nearby diner when church is over.  Those simple invitations can be an echo of Jesus’ invitation to “all those who are weary and heavy-burdened,” and can be an opportunity to journey with someone who – like all of us – needs a fellow pilgrim to join them on their way to making things right with those they’ve hurt.

-written by Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning (Rev), Reintegration Chaplain, Open Door Program (The Mustard Seed, Edmonton, AB)

The Open Door Program (participants and staff pictured above) is an Operation Manna partner.

 

Christmas Reflection from DMC’s National Director

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I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women! They’re His people, He’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”  (Revelation 21:3-5 The Message)

poemPastor Phil Reinders once wrote that Advent is a season of expectant waiting, tapping into the sense we have that all is not well, the longing for the world to be made right again.  It’s a season for restless hearts and people weary of a broken world who want, with all our being, to know there’s more than this.  (Seeking God’s Face.  p.23)  As deacons that’s where our hearts are at – longing to see the world made right – and doing all we can to join God where He’s already working in our neighborhoods – and around the world.

As we move to within a few days of Christmas – of incarnation day – of the day The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood (John 1:14 The Message), it’s my prayer that you will experience the Incarnation in a fresh and energizing way.  That no matter how busy you are – and no matter how many good works you’re involved with (Ephesians 2:10), and no matter how quickly the time flies by – you’ll sense God with you.  I pray that this Christmas you’ll pause long enough to experience the Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love that His presence in our world is supposed to bring.  And I pray that experiencing Jesus in this way will give you renewed energy – and hope – to carry on in 2017 knowing that there’s more than this!

-ron vanden brink

Willoughby CRC Hosts Play for Restorative Justice Week

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About 60 people gathered at Willoughby CRC (Langley, B.C.) on Nov 19 to see a dramatic presentation of “Forgiven/Forgotten” that set the tone for Restorative Justice Week.  The event was facilitated by Willoughby’s Just-Faith Forum, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee and Trinity Western University’s school of the Arts, Media and Culture.

After the CRC in Canada (with its various partners) completed a 2-year study on the intersection of justice and faith in the Canadian CRC context, a one act play toured the country and brought the results of the study to life. Churches across Canada, like Willoughby CRC, responded in various ways to the tour.  Willoughby formed a JustFaith committee and, this Fall, helped to facilitate the production of the Forgiven/Forgotten play.

In this play, the talented cast of four with the traveling theatre company, Theatre of the Beat, engaged the crowd with a dramatization of what ordinary people experience when someone incarcerated returns “home” from prison.   The complete human drama of returning to society is usually unspoken and disregarded in our society, but it gripped us intimately that evening as it became real on the stage.

Through the actors’ dramatization, it became clear that sending someone to prison doesn’t do justice to the needs of the human beings involved; rather, it harms. The script is outlined: “Torn between compassion and their fear of the unknown, a church is thrown into turmoil upon hearing that an offender will be serving his parole in their community.”  It is precisely the human dimension of justice that is neglected by the formal criminal justice system.  Crime in our society is regarded as a legal offence against the state by having broken its laws; how people, even victims, are harmed, and who should meet their needs is not central to our present justice system. Restorative justice provides a different way.

The ripple effect of an incarceration and the impending parole disturbs the well-being of a human community.  The actors poignantly represented a variety of human reactions and unspoken fears. The wife of the prisoner struggles to keep her needs and situation secret as she desires church fellowship. Her desire to hide the fact that her husband is coming home from prison is made complex by her desire for normalcy in her young son’s life.  Church members, upon learning that the unknown prisoner husband will be coming to their community, anxiously confront their fears. The pastor wrestles with his theology as the gospel becomes personal.  Restorative justice calls for meaningful human response, the affirmation of each person’s worth, and for inclusion.

This play gets beyond the rhetoric of headlines and explicates the community drama behind the scenes of the prison and release experience.  It clearly shows the importance of restorative justice.  Although it is not necessarily without some pain as personal feelings and biases are faced, it is a ministry that brings reconciliation and needed community support for the prisoner and his/her family.

-written by Henry Smidstra, organizer of the Forgiven/Forgotten play (italicized paragraph added for context)

For more on restorative justice, click here.