The New Paths Canadian Baptist Indigenous Peoples Ministry Conference kicked off 2 weeks ago with a plenary address from Regional Chief Stan Beardy – one of Ontario’s most senior First Nations leaders.
With the talk title “Resetting the Relationship” and with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission just over, Chief Beardy could have focused on many things: Recompense, rights, resources, self-governance, treaties…
Instead he read Revelation 7:9
There before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
“That’s where we’re heading,” he said, “therefore, complete reconciliation must be our priority.”
Then he introduced a non-native lady who volunteers in one of his northern communities – Muskrat Dam (a fly-in community 600kms north of Thunder Bay). He’d met her there, thanked her for her work and challenged her to draw closer to his people by learning some of their language. She did. He called Janet up onto the platform and asked her to sing “How Great Thou Art” in Oji-Cree. She wasn’t a soloist, but it was powerful.
She didn’t know much Oji-Cree beyond those lyrics but she knew enough for Chief Beardy to make his point…
“My people have received many messengers. We have no problem with the message of salvation, only with the messengers. We need more messengers like Janet.”
Reconciliation is more than a word, more than a concept. It’s hard work. It requires listening, learning and change. In becoming all things to all people, the Apostle Paul said, “I beat my body.”
When we send field workers overseas (missionaries), we expect them to adapt to new cultures and languages. When we receive immigrants to Canada, we expect them to adapt to our cultures and languages. But when relatively few Europeans first arrived in North America, the millions of original residents were expected to do all the changing and that expectation continues to today.
Is it not time we non-indigenous followers of Christ reversed the trend and made reconciliation real in our lives? Should we not take the lead in changing. I’m writing this during Holy Week. The cross and empty tomb resulted in Pentecost – Babel reversed – people speaking in other people’s languages – people hearing the wonders of God in their own language and getting reconciled with God and with one another (3000 diverse people were united that day).
As you remember Christ’s death this week, remember it is the price paid for our reconciliation with God, but also with those different from us.
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have brought near through the blood of Christ…His purpose was to create in himself a new humanity by making peace and in his body reconciling both of them to God through the cross. (Eph 2:13,15,16)
Ever thought of learning a new language?