doing justice

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.

A Step Towards Reconciliation

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“When you hear about all the assimilation policies one after the other, you sit back and think ‘whoa,’” says Shannon Perez. Shannon has experienced and led the Blanket Exercise, an interactive workshop developed by KAIROS that walks participants through the history of Canada from the perspective of Indigenous peoples, dozens of times. As a Sayisi Dene woman, Shannon knows firsthand that even those who know and have lived parts of the history, like herself, can learn much from the experience of “stepping into the moccasins” of Indigenous peoples and hearing the whole sweep of history at once.

Shannon has spent much of her time in the last year training Blanket Exercise facilitators across both Canada and the United States, and she knows there is much more work yet to be done, despite all the progress that has been made. “There are still people who don’t know about residential schools,” she says.

Many who have gone through the Blanket Exercise are now looking for more opportunities to learn, so the Christian Reformed Church has responded with a 7-part small group series called Living the 8th Fire, based around the CBC’s 8th Fire documentary series, a hugely successful series that launched its narrator, Wab Kinew, into national fame. “When we sit in circle after a Blanket Exercise, one of the most common questions is: so now what?” says Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. “We usually respond with encouragement to learn more and build relationships. In a sense Wab Kinew’s invitation to ‘get to know the neighbours’ in this excellent video series is a way to begin some of that learning and living in relationship with Indigenous neighbours. We know that the journey of reconciliation is a challenge, a blessing and a deeply spiritual journey. The 8th Fire videos and this curriculum draw us into this journey in a friendly and moving way.”

The curriculum provides more time and space to explore topics that people heard about through the Blanket Exercise, says Shannon. If the Blanket Exercise is about getting your feet wet, the Living the 8th Fire series is about diving deeper.

Shannon led the series for a mixed group of Indigenous and settler people last year at her church, Good News Fellowship in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her pastor, Kasey Vander Veen, participated. One of the sessions uses the CBC 8th Fire episode “It’s Time” and includes a quick summary of 500 years of history, narrated by Wab Kinew. “It really makes you realize—there’s a lot to be done. Where do we even start?” Kasey, whose background before becoming a pastor was in counselling, says that he learned that settler people need to be much more sensitive to the trauma that Indigenous people carry as a result of colonization. “We say sometimes, ‘just get on with it’, but would you say that to someone who experienced the Holocaust? We don’t understand trauma, especially intergenerational trauma like Indigenous people are experiencing.”

Kasey also emphasized that having these conversations with both Indigenous and settler people in the room is invaluable. “When you have these discussions with Indigenous peoples rather than about them, you get a lot more sensitized to what’s going on. It totally changes the experience.”

Shannon, who played a key role in fine-tuning the curriculum, agrees. She highlights that the course is designed not only to teach about reconciliation, but to be an example of reconciliation in action. “Because we’re talking about Aboriginal culture, we wanted to include Aboriginal culture in the design.” The course uses Aboriginal prayers and sharing circles frequently. When the course was held at Good News Fellowship, an Aboriginal elder participated and often led the group in Aboriginal ceremonies. “We’re honouring Aboriginal culture and helping people to get more comfortable with it,” says Shannon. After watching each video, the group would have a sharing circle, which for Shannon was one of the most memorable parts of the experience. “Even people who had already seen the videos were affected by them again,” said Kasey.

The course is designed so that the facilitator doesn’t have to be an expert in the subject, with a consistent structure for each of the seven sessions. Each session, the group opens with prayer, follows a warm-up activity from the curriculum, watches an 8th Fire video, shares in circle, and closes with prayer.

Kasey says the 8th Fire and other opportunities he’s had to learn about the relationship between Indigenous and settler Canadians has helped corrected some of his own assumptions and helped him to understand where my Indigenous neighbours are coming from—like the First Nations people that he meets at the park down the road or the Metis woman who lives on the same apartment floor as he does.

“It’s time that we talk. The 8th Fire is about us all coming to the fire together. These things happened…now what? What does reconciliation mean? The Apology for residential schools happened…now what?” he says.

Kasey says we have to take these first steps of reconciliation, even if the challenges at hand seem overwhelming and we don’t know exactly where they will take us. “Then you see some little kid on the Internet whose heart is touched by something in the news and ends up raising a bunch of money. They just took a step and didn’t know where God would take it. We just have to take those first steps.”

Does the prospect of reconciliation overwhelm you? Invigorate you? Leave you with a desire to learn more? Whoever you are, Living the 8th Fire may be a good next step.

If you would like to learn more about running the 8th Fire series at your church, visit this page on the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee’s toolkit or contact Shannon Perez (Justice and Reconciliation Mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church) at camc@crcna.org.

written by Danielle Rowaan, Justice Communications Team Coordinator for several justice ministries of the Christian Reformed Church 

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.

CC Image courtesy Lars Lundqvist (@arkland_swe) on Flickr

LGBTQ+ Christians and Your Church: 5 Steps Towards Hospitality

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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.

The Freedom Climb: Getting Uncomfortable for God’s Precious Children

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In July 2014 I had the privilege of travelling to Colorado from my home province of Saskatchewan. There I joined about 70 other women, from 6 different countries, for “The Freedom Climb”!  We summited 7 mountains, each of them over 14,000 feet elevation, in 4 days. We were dizzy from the altitude, with aching muscles and blistered feet. However, we were also filled with joy, gratitude, and an overwhelming sense of God’s presence.

Why would I, a stay-at-home mom to 3 preschool children, choose to do this?  Because by participating in The Freedom Climb, I have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of women and children around the world who are suffering in ways that I cannot begin to imagine in my comfortable life. Our climb up the mountains is symbolic of the difficult, treacherous climb to freedom faced by victims of human trafficking around the world today.

The Freedom Climb is a project of Operation Mobilization, and the purpose is to create greater awareness and promote significant advocacy against modern day oppression, slavery and exploitation in the world. Participants commit to raising funds and awareness for various projects that specifically prevent, rescue, and restore victims of human trafficking.

During our time in Colorado, we had the opportunity to learn more about some of the Freedom Climb projects from individuals who are actually working in Zambia, Guatemala, and India. Their stories are heart breaking! The need is real! These projects are providing vulnerable women with occupational training so they can have sustainable income; they are providing vulnerable children with a hot meal and help with their homework; they are educating families about options other than ritualized prostitution for their young daughters.  Most importantly, they tell people about God’s love, and the saving grace of Jesus.

The first Freedom Climb took place in 2012 when a group climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and since then the Freedom Climb has taken place in several different countries. 2016 will see the Freedom Climb coming to Canada for the first time! In August 2016, women will be gathering in Fernie B.C. to climb in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.

It has been a joy and an honor for me to participate in the Freedom Climb. I am excited to be climbing again next summer in Fernie.  I believe that by raising funds and awareness through this great cause, I am obeying God’s call to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”   (Proverbs 31: 8-9 NLT)

If you are interested in joining us in Fernie next summer, I encourage you to pray about it, and step out in faith and obedience.  Women of various ages and fitness levels can survive and thrive on the mountains! This is an opportunity to stretch ourselves, get uncomfortable, and be a voice for God’s precious children whose voices are not heard in our world. The links below have more information, including details about registration. I am also available to discuss my experience and answer any questions!

-written by Karen Jacobi, deacon and member of Bethel CRC in Saskatoon, SK

The Freedom Climb: www.thefreedomclimb.net

www.om.org (Registration information about Fernie 2016 under “Events” tab)

Karen Jacobi- Karen_nauta@hotmail.com

Responding to God’s Call to “Do Justice”

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“I was listening to the Lord and to my heart.”

This is how the Safe Room along the Highway of Tears came about. A simple tugging on the heart and, as Bart Plugboer would testify, when you listen, God will use that to do good.

Bart Plugboer is the Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) for Classis British Columbia North-West. Last January, DMDs from across Canada met together in Abbotsford, BC, to share with and learn from each other. During that time, Bart asked for prayer around the “Highway of Tears,” a 724-kilometer stretch of road between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia. While this nickname at first may sound like hyperbole, it represents real pain and sorrow that many residents in northern BC have experienced.

Between the years 1989 and 2006, nine young women went missing or were found murdered along this stretch of Highway 16. By 2007, the RCMP had expanded their investigation of disappeared or murdered women to eighteen. Local residents maintain that there were, and still are, unofficial and unreported disappearances. The debate continues, but the vast majority of people in the northern part of the province believes the disappearances amount to over 30 women, many of which are of aboriginal descent. Some even say over 40.

Regardless of the evidence under investigation or an accurate figure, the reality of the injustice on this length of road remains. As followers of Jesus, we are called to do more than stand idly by. Bart believes that, too. The five Christian Reformed Churches that he serves as a DMD are all along this stretch of highway. So when, as Bart says, “the Lord put on my mind that I should do something about this,” he began to talk to the RCMP and local motels to work with him in establishing a Safe Room along this route. They agreed. Now, if RCMP officers see someone hitchhiking past 7:30 p.m., or need a safe place for a victim of domestic violence, they will put that person up in the room for the night.

Bart’s heart for justice and the way he lives it out is one example of how all Christians are called to “do justice” in their community. As Bart says, “all in God’s love I can do this.”

Will you, like Bart, listen to the Lord and to your heart, and allow God’s love to help you respond to injustice?
Diaconal Ministries Canada will get you and your church started. Contact our Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp (dgalenkamp@crcna.org) and check out our online resources.

Connecting with Our Muslim Neighbours

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Disability Concerns, the refugee office of World Renew, the Office of Social Justice and Race Relations are a number of CRC agencies which partner with Diaconal Ministries Canada in the work of justice.

Partnerships with other networks, programs and agencies continue to strengthen the possibilities and the ways that the church engages in a spirit of mercy and justice with its diverse neighbours.  Noted recently by a prominent and respected sociologist, Reginald Bibby, one of the primary means of growth in the Canadian church will likely be immigrants.

Along with new immigrants adding to our population’s ethnic diversity, our country also experiences increased diversity in religions.  Muslims are settling into many of the neighbourhoods of our Christian Reformed Churches.  Currently one quarter of all immigrants to Canada follow the Islamic faith.  In fact, Muslims in Canada are currently 3.5% of our total population.  Within 15 years, this is projected to double.

The Christian Reformed Church desires to equip its members to confidently and intentionally engage with their Muslim neighbours.  This is evident in the re-commitment to The Salaam Project,” a ministry of Christian Reformed World Missions and other partners.

Four areas of focus will better equip CRC congregations in Canada to engage with Muslims.

  • Dialogue– proactively seeking to develop relationships with Muslim brothers and sisters
  • Witness– living lives of joy as examples of Christ’s love
  • PeacemakingSalaam will provide a voice for peace between Muslim and Christian in Canada and around the world.
  • Hospitality Salaam will help to bring down barriers to hospitality.

According to the recent Salaam proposal, CRC congregations may begin, with assistance, to understand barriers that Muslims have to hearing the Gospel.  With God’s help, these barriers will be brought down and our engagement with Muslims will be enhanced and blessed.

The potential to re-engage Muslim ministry in Canada is promising!  Muslims in our community provide an opportunity not to be lamented or ignored. Engaging with our Muslim neighbours is an opportunity to share life with its joys and challenges!!  Most of all, it is our significant and urgent opportunity to share the Gospel in both word and deed!!

The current Muslim ministry leader is Greg Sinclair who may be reached through the CRC Burlington office at gsinclair@crcna.org.  He will welcome your learnings and your questions as he seeks to give leadership to this significant project.  To explore through a host of resources, follow this link.

The above photo is courtesy of Mission Montreal (a partnership of various CRC agencies)

DMC Job Opportunity: Justice Mobilizer

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Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) is looking for a part-time Justice Mobilizer to lead and coordinate our justice strategies.  This position involves collaboration with internal staff, CRCNA agency staff, as well as interaction with external organizations.  This is a contract position for 15 hours per week, reporting to the National Director in the Burlington Ontario office.  Interested applicants are invited to call the DMC office at 1-800-730-3490, click here for a copy of the job description or email mrobins@crcna.org to submit an application.  The closing date for applications is June 15, 2015.

Photo on front page slider is courtesy of Woodynook Christian Reformed Church (depicted: Red Deer Aboriginal Dance Troupe on the opening night of the RE-forming Art Tour hosted by the church)