Caring for God’s Creation – Part 1

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Image by YLawrence from Pixabay

Over the past six months, Diaconal Ministries’ staff have read and studied the book “Earthwise; A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care”. Initially when we started this book, I thought to myself; I’m not really sure why we are taking time reading about a topic that we likely know enough about and probably all agree upon anyway. How will this book help us and, in turn, help deacons learn and grow in their ministry? Aren’t we all doing what we can? Don’t we all agree that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) and that just as Adam was given ‘charge’ or dominion over the earth to take care of it, we are also obeying that commandment the best we can? As followers of Christ, aren’t we all striving to be excellent earthkeepers? As we worked through the book and had some wonderful discussions, many of these musings were (shamefully) silenced and I prayed more than one prayer of gratitude for never voicing these aloud. (Oops, well, I guess I just did!) Much to my surprise, in reading this book (as well as other articles in The Banner, on The Network and the DoJustice blog, and just following the news of today), I was shocked at how polarizing this topic has become! So when we wrapped up our book study last week and went around the table sharing our ‘top learning’ from this book and what we will change in our life as a result of reading this book, my initial responses were, “SO MUCH!” and “EVERYTHING!” respectively.

As followers of Christ, aren’t we all striving to be excellent earthkeepers?

What is Creation Care?

But seriously, it did cause me to pause and think about my life and how I have ‘treated’ and cared for God’s creation. I also thought about my childhood and ways my parents and church modeled creation care to me and my siblings, if at all. So let me share a bit of my story with you:

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a modest two-storey home. (I may have called it a shoebox more than once) with my parents and my three sisters (yes, 5 women and 1 guy!). We each had to share a bedroom and one bathroom – we even shared bathwater! When something broke, we fixed it. When we couldn’t fix it, we bought second-hand. If something could be used twice (or thrice!) it certainly was. For example:

  • yogurt containers became an economical addition to our Tupperware cupboard;
  • milk bags (the clear pouches) were our ‘Ziploc baggies’;
  • clothes were hung up on the clothesline outside to dry and handed down from daughter-to-daughter (and repaired and patched as needed);
  • a schoteldoek (Dutch for ‘dishcloth’) was our napkin at dinnertime. (We even travelled with a pre-moistened schoteldoek – in a sealed milk bag of course – as Wet Wipes certainly weren’t even an option!);
  • we had a lovely vegetable garden in our good-sized backyard with the composting bin appropriately placed in the corner, surrounded by killer bees and greedy flies;
  • canning and freezing were just a regular part of our seasonal routine and our fruit cellar was stocked with food – imagine that!

At the time, I figured my parents made these choices out of economic necessity. They had a mortgage and bills to pay, four daughters to put through Christian school, and old cars to maintain. While this was likely part of why they did what they did, I also knew that my mother vehemently opposed wasting a crumb of food – or anything for that matter. She truly knew how to stretch a dollar. Her upbringing has a lot to do with it, she says. But it was also so much more that that. Whether they knew it or not, I had two parents who lived out the 4 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repeat.

This, in big and small ways, impacted me. Growing up, I began to appreciate all God had given to me, to us. My ears and eyes began to open. While I may have cursed a few of those awful hand-me-downs and the lukewarm, cloudy bathwater I had to slip into (ew, right?!), I also remember understanding how to be careful with the resources I had and to be less wasteful. One year I even took my own money to protect an acre of the rainforest through the World Wildlife Fund. I wanted to do my part in helping creation and everything in it to survive and thrive!

As I’ve grown, my parent’s example has stayed with me, but, alas, convenience (and laziness??!!) has also slowly crept in. I diligently read and follow our region’s recycling, composting, and garbage regulations. I still try to pick up litter when I see it. I even have a few yogurt containers in my cupboard for leftovers. BUT! I use paper towels AND a schoteldoek. When the boys were young they shared bathwater, but we all take our own showers now. I re-use some milk bags… but also buy Ziploc baggies. I’ve purchased Tupperware AND Gladware. I don’t have a garden in my tiny backyard because my aboveground pool and hot tub take up most of the room. I’ve always meant to install a clothesline outside, but just haven’t gotten around to it and I wouldn’t want pool water splashing onto my clean clothes… Oh, and my fruit cellar? It’s pretty much a storage room – for STUFF – not food. And the list goes on.

While we may be abiding by the 4 R’s and becoming more aware and appreciative of our beautifully and wonderfully made world, is there more to being a good earthkeeper than that?

So How Are We Doing?

Now while I may be abiding by the 4 R’s and becoming more aware and appreciative of our beautifully and wonderfully made world, is there more to being a good earthkeeper than that?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Gen. 2:15

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” -Rev. 4:11

Are we “worshipping” and serving created things instead of giving glory and honor to the Creator?

This month the Christian church will celebrate the “Super Bowl” of holidays: Easter! Around the same time, more than 193 countries around the world will celebrate another important holiday: Earth Day. While all Christian churches will celebrate the one, what about the other? Is Earth Day just another gimmicky, “Hallmark” holiday? Are we “worshipping” and serving created things instead of giving glory and honor to the Creator? Are we putting the Earth and its needs before humans and theirs? Are we more concerned with being “politically correct” than we are in proclaiming truth and grace? Are we falling prey to extremism or becoming an alarmist instead of trusting God and His sovereignty over all creation?

Earth Day aside, perhaps the better question to ask ourselves is how are Deacons living into their mandate to “be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils… and in all your ministries help us participate in the renewing of all things even as we anticipate its completion when God’s kingdom comes”? Do deacons see Creation Care as part of their stewardship mandate (Time, Talents, Treasures, AND TREES) and leading and equipping their churches? If, as followers of Jesus, we truly believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), what does that look like lived out in your diaconate, your church, your individual homes, and beyond?

This month let’s talk about some of these hard questions and challenges we face. If you have a story or experience you’d like to share, please contact Erin, our Communications Coordinator – she’d love to hear from you! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at Creation Care in your home and church, in your community, and in our world.

The Top 5 Things Gateway Church Discovered Running an Extreme Weather Shelter

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Above Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash: (I met Michael in a Boston subway station. I told him I liked his sign. “What matters is what it means to you,” he told me. I asked what it meant to him. “Doing a deed or expressing kindness to another person without expecting anything in return,” Michael said. I love approaching strangers wherever I go. Listening and talking to them teaches you about people and how similar we all are to one another. Just like Michael, we’re all seeking human kindness.)

This is the second article in a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. You can read the first article here.

When Gateway CRC decided to host an Extreme Weather Shelter in their building three years ago, the staff and volunteers knew there would be a lot to learn. Some were expected – that there would likely be drug issues, and that members of the congregation would have mixed emotions and reactions, and that the needs could be greater than anyone had imagined – but there were other unexpected surprises along the journey, too. Gateway Church wanted to share these learnings with other churches and groups who might be considering a similar venture in their community.

So here they are – the Top 5 things that Gateway Church discovered about running an Extreme Weather Shelter:

  1. The Need for Dry Socks… and more – In addition to space, bedding, meals, and volunteers, it was quickly noticed that the shelter guests had other practical needs, like the importance of a dry pair of socks. Volunteer Coordinator, Teresa Spyksma, was surprised at how many pairs they have handed out so far. Gateway is also in the process of installing a washer and dryer in the church as providing clean and dry clothes for the guests meets another practical, yet important, need.
  2. The Amount of Work and Time – Head Coordinator of the Shelter, Jenny Vanderheide, shared that it took way more hours than she expected to organize all the volunteers, saying it takes about 8 volunteers per night to run the shelter: 5 to provide food and 3 to cover both shifts. Gateway staff have also learned that the shelter work isn’t necessarily over when morning comes. They found that many shelter guests, attracted to the hospitality, did not want to leave in the morning or would find reasons to spend more time in the area. This presented new challenges, but also unique opportunities and lasting relationships, and certainly involved a steep learning curve regarding how to respond in a way that was suitable for the church and for the clients.
  3. The Presence of Drugs – One of the biggest challenges with running the Extreme Weather Shelter is the reality of drugs. While it is somewhat possible to prevent the use of drugs on the property, avoiding the evidence of drug use that comes with it (paraphernalia, needles, etc.) is a bit more difficult. Staff and congregation members have had to learn how to manage this as well as respond to the fears that inevitably go with it. Something else that surprised Spyksma was why homelessness and drug-use seem to go hand-in-hand. “I used to believe that people got addicted to drugs and [then] ended up on the street – homeless,” she remarked. “Now I have learned that it is much more common to have other situations cause the homelessness and once on the street, people turn to drugs.”
  4. The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues – Many of the people who come into the shelter have a variety of mental health issues, apart from addictions to drugs or alcohol. In fact, in many cases, this may be the underlying cause for homelessness or addiction. Supporting these people might be the greatest challenge at the Shelter, according to the coordinators. Dealing with the drugs and mental health has helped the church realize the importance of partnering with organizations who are already equipped to deal with these situations.
  5. The Joy of Building Relationships – Coordinators, staff and volunteers consistently share the same experience – as Vanderheide says, “You become attached to these people when you see them night after night and wonder where they are when they do not show up one night, and hope and pray that they are okay.” Spyksma explains how hearing the heart-wrenching stories when she talks one-on-one with the clients helps her to feel more empathy and love. She says she knows that the clients feel the impact of this as well, as some come in just to sit and chat or to pray with the volunteers after something has happened to them. The relationships being built go both ways, as some of the guests have become protective of the church and have taken sacrificial steps to safeguard the building and volunteers from any perceived danger. Other guests have found housing and job offers from connections with church members, and one gentleman regularly attends Gateway Church on Sunday mornings because of the relationships that are being formed.

The biggest surprise expressed by those involved with the shelter is that they feel so blessed to be part of it.

Although there has been a lot more learning and work than unexpected, the biggest surprise expressed by those involved with the shelter is that they feel so blessed to be part of it. Spyksma sums it up beautifully: “I had NO idea that I would love this work. I love being able to actively serve this marginalized community and try to show through my speech and actions that they are valuable, worthy of respect, and ultimately loved.”

Monica Kronemeyer deRegt is a freelance writer and Academic Counselor at Abbotsford Christian School. She lives in Chilliwack, BC, with her husband and three children.

Youth Justice Initiative Coming in 2019

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|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

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(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

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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.


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.