justice

Youth Justice Initiative Coming in 2019

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

|By Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator for Diaconal Ministries Canada

I recently watched the movie Black Panther with my two sons, aged 11 and 13. While I wasn’t exactly filled with enthusiasm to be watching yet another Avenger movie with my kids on a Friday night, some of the buzz I had heard surrounding this movie made me a bit more curious and hopeful. And let me say; all of the hoopla was certainly warranted!! I found myself surprisingly refreshed after watching this superhero action flick. One of the main themes that echoed throughout this movie was that each one of us has a responsibility to make our world a better place; no matter our age, gender, location or economic status. While some will say that that is the theme of EVERY superhero movie – “how can I make a difference and protect the world from the latest and greatest evildoer that comes our way” – I’d say this movie takes that idea/concept one step further – in the right direction.

The world of Wakanda, in which the Black Panther hails from, was a wealthy one in more ways than one and for centuries they had worked hard to protect its culture, its people, and one of its most powerful and rarest resources: vibranium. And so the new king, T’Challa, begins his reign and vows to stay the course. Others in the movie, like his ex-girlfriend, Nakia, think it’s high time Wakanda took a more active role in helping the hurting world around them. If you had something that could help someone else, why would you conceal it, and worst yet, hoard it all for yourself? As the movie goes on, we see why: to keep that something of great value and power out of the hands of those who would exploit it and misuse it for their own wicked desires.

As the movie concludes (Spoiler Alert!), we see the new king embrace Nakia’s vision of bringing hope and healing to a broken world, when and where possible. Near the end of the movie, T’Challa gives us one of the movie’s most profound lines: “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Phew! As followers of Jesus, this message should resonate with us. What T’Challa said is pretty close to the definition of how God calls us to love our neighbours. It’s also a reminder of what JUSTICE looks like: treating those around us as we would like to be treated, believing “We are in this together!” As Christians we, too, have the most powerful and useful ‘resource’ available to us – the Good News of Jesus Christ! We know and believe that living justly and loving our neighbours is not just about meeting people’s physical needs: it’s about relationships! And each one of us is called use the gifts that God has given us to serve others no matter who they are or where they live (or how they live), and to do so with integrity and humility.

“We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

So what’s my point in all of this?! For over 40 years, the Operation Manna (OM) Program of Diaconal Ministries Canada has helped churches across the country find a way to look after their communities “as if they were one single tribe.” The purpose of OM is to help Christian Reformed Churches start or grow community ministries that seek to bring about sustainable change in individuals and communities experiencing significant needs. It helps them DO JUSTICE! And now… the OM Program is excited to engage youth across Canada to get involved in doing justice too! In 2019, a brand new Youth Justice Initiative is being launched! Teens from across Canada will be encouraged to work with the Deacons in their church as they identify an injustice in their community and share what they are doing about it in a short video. The top finalists’ videos will be made public and will be voted on, with the winners receiving grant money and coaching to help them bring about positive change in their community and beyond.

Stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

If you have any questions OR if you would be willing to help fund this new venture, please contact Tammy Heidbuurt, our Regional Ministry Developer for Eastern Canada: theidbuurt@crcna.org.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)

 

[Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash]

Learning to Live Out Reconciliation – A DOE Story

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

(Pictured above: Mike Hogeterp (left) and Jonathan Maracle exchanging gifts and greetings in the indigenous tradition)

Anita Hogeveen was one of the participants of “The Dance of Reconciliation” workshop led by Mike Hogeterp (Director of the Centre for Public Dialogue) and Jonathan Maracle at the Day of Encouragement (DOE) held on April 7, 2018, in Brockville, ON. We are pleased to share Anita’s story…

I had the privilege of attending “The Dance of Reconciliation” workshop led by Mike Hogeterp (Director of the Centre for Public Dialogue) and Jonathan Maracle at the recent DOE in Brockville. For some, the Indigenous issue in Canada has become one of fatigue – some are tired of hearing about the suffering of Canada’s native peoples. This workshop interwove some despair, some hope, some reality and some explanation into the issue. In the first section, Jonathan spoke to his experience as an indigenous person, about hardships faced and pockets of hope. He spoke about taking his message of reconciliation around the world via his group ‘Broken Walls’. This section ended with Jonathan singing the song “Broken Walls” which he wrote – a passionate song aspiring to break down the walls between all people, particularly indigenous peoples and others.

The second piece of the workshop featured a poignant gift exchange between Jonathan and Mike. Jonathan explained that the modeled gift exchange protocol was not based on the old expression “Indian Giver” (giving a gift and later wanting it back or expecting a gift of equal value). Both parties gave and received gifts that were significant to them. Tears were shed. Gift exchanges provide space for stories and shared truths. Gift exchanges under gird reconciliation and allow attitude shifts to begin. During the exchange, Mike and Jonathan reminded us to remember the sacred in every day events. Reconciliation was explained to us as being real, spiritual and political (political = polis = a body of people). Reconciliation is not a one-off apology but rather a daily occurrence practiced every day in our every action. Reconciliation requires us to offer ourselves freely to each other daily. Reconciliation is a journey of turning away from what is broken (relationships) and moving to new and healthier patterns, making way for relationship development.

Reconciliation is not a one-off apology but rather a daily occurrence practiced every day in our every action.

In the third part of the workshop, we watched excerpts from a movie, “Reserve 107”. This movie portrays a true story of indigenous and townspeople learning to trust each other and beginning a journey of reconciliation. During the film, Jonathan asked the film be stopped so that he could explain one of the actions displayed by an indigenous person. During a conversation, the silence of an indigenous person does not mean he/she is stupid or uneducated. Their pause is a sign of respect to whomever they are in conversation with. They honour the person they are speaking to by providing a well thought-out answer.

I do not have indigenous fatigue, hungry people fatigue, refugee fatigue or addicted people fatigue. My fatigue stems from my frustration with myself for being unable to make deeper inroads into the path of reconciliation. Mike and Jonathan reminded me reconciliation happens one gift exchange at a time. For me, gift exchange is mercy. Mercy lies within the word merchant. A merchant buys and sells; aka exchanges. I think about the beatitudes. Mercy. My gift exchange is one of mercy, choosing every day to develop healthier patterns with others. The worship music, keynote speaker, panel participants and workshop leaders at the DOE, all reminded me that mercy/exchange lies at the core of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the righting of wrongs. Reconciliation is hope for the future.

Mike and Jonathan reminded me reconciliation happens one gift exchange at a time.

-Anita Hogeveen

Do You Have a DOE Story to Share?

We’d love to hear it! Sharing our stories offers encouragement and inspiration to others in ministry and they can help us learn and understand and see another’s perspective! Email Erin today if you have something to share about a recent DOE.

OM Partner Highlight – West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre

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This story was adapted from Pastor Ken Douma’s presentation at the Day of Encouragement in Edmonton, AB on Saturday, November 4, 2017. Pastor Ken is the lead pastor at Edson Peers CRC*, in Edson, AB.

A couple of years ago, Pastor Ken got a phone call from Natalie Walker, Director of the West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre (WYPCC). Natalie shared that the Centre was in serious financial trouble as a grant that they counted on for a good portion of their budget had fallen through due to a change in eligibility requirements. On top of that, the local economy had crashed and their donations were way down. They had just had an emergency Board Meeting and let go one of their full-time staff and reduced their Hinton office to be open by appointment only. They had $100.00 in the bank. The future of the Centre was very much up in the air. Ken’s church, Edson-Peers CRC, had always financially supported the Centre, but they needed something more than the usual support. This is when they turned to Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC). Ken and Natalie spoke to Rachel Vroege, the Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada, and asked if DMC’s Operation Manna (OM) Program would be able to help them out. Rachel encouraged them to submit an application to the OM Program and WYPCC was approved as an OM Partner in 2017.

The purpose of the OM Application was not just to get the Centre back on its feet financially. There was a desire to expand the ministry of the Centre to include not just ministering to those who found themselves with an unplanned pregnancy, but to go deeper. Unplanned pregnancies are typically a symptom of a much deeper problem that has often been ignored or put aside. Unfortunately, almost all of the clients at the Centre have a history of sexual abuse of some kind. So part of the OM Application was to receive help and funding to start up a “Steps to Sexual Healing” (SSH) program, a program created by Dr. Doug Weiss. Natalie believed that by being able to offer this program to their past, current, and future clients, the Centre would be able to not only assist in a client’s crisis pregnancy, but also help them find healing and wholeness. The SSH program is in its early stages but is already being used by some clients. The WYPCC hopes it will be something that can be used in the greater community, including the church communities, as well.

The Centre was also seeking guidance to strengthen their relationship with the Edson-Peers Church in order to increase ownership of this ministry. The church had always been very supportive, but primarily in a “hand’s off” way. More than just doling out grant money, the OM Program offers coaching and consultation to our partners. Through this partnership with OM, one tangible way their relationship has been reinforced is that one of the church’s Deacons has now joined the Board at WYPCC.

In order to help the Centre reach the broader community, the church hosted an evening for area churches called “The Talk” to help parents know how to talk to their kids about sexuality and the various issues surrounding it. During this evening, Natalie gave a shortened version of what she presents to local High Schools and area pastors had a panel discussion in which questions by those in attendance were answered. The feedback was good and there is hopes that they can do this again soon and go more into depth on some of the issues of sexual healing. Another area the church is exploring is offering pre-natal classes. Most clients do not take the classes offered in the community because of a lack of support and for fear of being judged. The church is hoping that a couple of their own members who are nurses will be able to connect with Natalie and offer some assistance in this area as well.

While there is much to celebrate, the reality is that there are many challenges facing the Centre and the Edson-Peers Church as they seek to bring healing and wholeness in the area of sexuality and unplanned pregnancy. There is often shame surrounding issues of sexuality and it can be incredibly difficult to break the silence and empower people to be vulnerable. This can be especially true within church communities: statistics tell us that the problems facing our culture are just as real inside the church, so having the SSH Program within the church setting as well would benefit many.

Pastor Ken was also able to share something wonderful that had recently developed. Typically, faith-based organizations like WYPCC get a lukewarm reception from government agencies and social workers at best. However, God has used Natalie to break down many of those barriers and some local social workers have actually started sending clients to her at the Centre. These social workers are even requiring some of their clients to meet with Natalie and her volunteers and go through the programs the Centre offers in order for them to be allowed to keep their children(!!). While this has increased Natalie and her team’s workload, it has been such a blessing to those clients. Praise God!

Here are 2 more stories that Natalie sent to Pastor Ken about people she has been able to help. These stories clearly communicate how the OM Program has impacted this ministry:

One of my clients had a late term abortion. She was approaching her third trimester of pregnancy and decided that she couldn’t do it – she simply could not bring a child into such a horrible world. She decided to terminate the pregnancy at the end of the sixth month of gestation as a gift to her child. When I asked why she saw this as a gift she said that the world was cruel. She had a mother who was a heroin addict (always had been) and who would prostitute my client to men since she was four years old in order to pay for the drugs. She said she wasn’t angry at her mom, that she understood, being an addict herself, what heroin can make you do. My client didn’t want to choose the same thing for her baby and couldn’t be certain that she wouldn’t when she was using. By the time this client came to see us she was pregnant for the second time. Now my client had been clean from drug-use for several months and was ready to carry this baby to term. I strongly suggested she get professional help as this was deep-rooted trauma. I told her all that we could do was listen and that our prenatal program didn’t address all of the hurt that she had experienced. I had really wished then that we had at least something to offer her since she refused to see a professional. She loved our office, there was always a hot drink and warm environment waiting for her. We didn’t judge her; we just talked about pregnancy and she loved it. I’m hoping to get this client back into our office for the Steps to Sexual Health program. It’s exactly what we needed at the time and I’m so thankful we have it now – not just for extreme cases but for everyone who comes to us. Not all of our clients have been sex-trafficked but nearly all of them have been abused. It’s devastating, and if Jesus came to heal the sick and wounded, we the church need to be leading the charge in delivering His hope and light into this unspeakable darkness.

Another one of my clients came from the Philippines for work. She would clean hotel rooms every day at one of the busiest hotels in town. One night she was sexually assaulted at the hotel; apparently a regular occurrence among the Filipino workers. She came to our Centre completely devastated from the rape and also pregnant. Through many meetings at our office she decided that she would carry her baby to term and to parent. I had the privilege of being called to meet her at the hospital shortly after the baby was born and spend the morning with her. She named her daughter Irish, which in Filipino means “Gift from God.” I still see my client and her daughter around town. Every time she stops me and tells her daughter the same thing: “This is Miss Natalie; she is a very special friend of ours” and her daughter always wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tightly. God is so good! The West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre is a faith-based ministry: a faith-based ministry where the unchurched love to come. What an opportunity to shine a little bit of God’s light into the darkest places of the earth.

According to Pastor Ken, “the Centre is in a much better place than it was the day that Natalie called me, in part because of the support received through Operation Manna. They have recently been able to hire a new staff person ½ time to once again open up the Hinton office for drop-in clients which is a huge part of their ministry. We are excited about how God will use the Centre and how He will use us as a church to be involved.” Pastor Ken shared how grateful he was for the OM Program as it is enabling his church to come alongside this very worthwhile ministry. The OM Program has helped the Edson Peers Church community and the WYPCC form a partnership that will be a blessing to all as they continue to work together!

Praise God that the OM Program has been blessed by so many supporting churches across Canada so that it can be a blessing to those who need it most. Ministries like the WYPCC would simply not exist without the support of many who want to know Christ and make Him known; in their own communities and beyond!

*Edson-Peers CRC is a growing church made up of people of all ages. We value the community of believers God has called us to be part of and also the broader community He as placed us in and we are seeking to find ways to reach out and be a blessing to it in the name of Christ.

2017 Ministry Networking Day

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MY House is one of our Operation Manna (OM) partners. In partnership with Mission Hills Community CRC, MY House is a centre for vulnerable youth that provides essential services like a place to eat, shower, do laundry and access medical care.

Calvin Williams was one of the participants of the MND 2017 and offered some encouraging feedback after the day’s workshops:

“I was very impressed with the quality of teaching and interaction that was presented at the Networking Day. I was impressed at the high regard that the CRC and ministries represented had for justice work and how it is integral in God’s mission. I felt encouraged that there is a large representation of believers from a mainline church that are as passionate about God’s justice for the “least of these” as I am.

“The presenters offered clear scriptural support for justice work and brought our attention to passages of the Bible that traditionally have not been associated with justice work. We were led through really appropriating Scripture to our calling and daily work. This was affirming.

“I learned a lot about Appreciative Inquiry and how it can be used to connect with our participants and address problematic issues. I used it in the week I returned back to work with great results.

“During the Networking Day, I also made some connections with other ministries who are involved in areas that I want our ministry to expand into. We look forward to connecting with the other ministries further as we continue to develop.

I learned a lot about Appreciative Inquiry and how it can be used to connect with our participants and address problematic issues. I used it in the week I returned back to work with great results.

“Thank you for the opportunity to attend the Networking Day!”

Ministry Networking Day 2017 was held on May 26, 2017.  For more information about Ministry Networking Day learning opportunities, click HERE or email dmc@crcna.org. 

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

Posted by | Doing Justice | 2 Comments

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.

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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

Posted by | Doing Justice | 5 Comments

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.