justice

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.

 

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 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 

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.

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

The Refugee Crisis and the CRC Response

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, News & Events | No Comments

The following was sent out by the CRCNA Communications:

With the refugee crisis on many people’s minds, questions have come in to various agency and ministry staff about what the CRC is doing to help.

A number of communication items have recently gone out from our office to address the refugee crisis and how churches can respond to the issue and to the needs of refugees.

To keep you all informed, here is a link to the letter that went to churches throughout Canada: Announcement: Refugee Issues and Resources

In addition, bulletin announcements went to all Canadian churches:

REFUGEE RESOURCES – The local church needs to consider its approach to the refugee crisis. Especially considering Iraq and Syria, we have the opportunity to get engaged. Understand how your church can serve the stranger in your midst by visiting the ‘Refugee Issues web portal’ on the CRC Canada page at www.crcna.org/Canada/social-justice-canada/refugee-issues. There your church will find everything from worship resources to small group studies, an online video for worship settings, and even a doorway to sponsor a refugee.

SYRIA CONFLICT RESPONSE – World Renew is responding to the horrific violence that has torn apart the Middle East and forced millions of people to become refugees. For more than three years, World Renew has been providing food and other assistance to displaced families in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Please help us continue this ministry. Gifts received from Canadians by December 31 will qualify for a 1:1 match from the Canadian government. Call 1-800-730-3490, visit www.worldrenew.net/donate or mail your gift marked, “World Renew Syria Conflict,” to World Renew, 3475 Mainway, STN LCD 1, Burlington, ON L7R 3Y8. Those interested in helping refugee families as they begin a new life in Canada, should contact Rebecca Walker (rwalker@worldrenew.net).

Various news stories have also gone out about the refugee crisis:

Tragic Images Spur Mobilization on Syrian Refugees

CRC Helps to Resettle Syrian Refugees (also posted on CRCNA Facebook page)

Canadian Government to Match Donations for Syrian Refugee Crisis

As well, we have been working with partners of the CRC; the Canadian Council of Churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the World Council of Reformed Churches have all promoted our content.

(photo from a workshop and toolkit that seeks to help Christian citizens work with their refugee neighbours for justice. Find out more from the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue)