This summer I worked at Camp Assiniboia as Bible Instructor. This was my fourth summer at camp: I worked the summers of 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016. As the Bible Instructor, the core of my role was to prepare and present Bible sessions based on the curriculum, adapting them for the campers who were present each week. The theme this summer was Heroes of Faith: Called to be Courageous. The themes for the individual days were Courage to Love, Courage to Forgive, Courage to Have Faith, Courage to Hope, and Courage to Say Yes to God’s Kingdom.
We had a huge variety of things going on in Bible, but three things stand out as my favorite. First, on Tuesdays we had an “interview” session between me and the camp pastor, where the campers would hear us discuss the Bible: what it is, how to use it, (and how not to use it), and some surprising things about the Bible. It was interesting to hear a new perspective each week from a different camp pastor, and the differences in how they thought about the Bible and its use in Christian practice.
Another thing we did each week on “Courage to Love” day was hear stories of real-life heroes who showed love to those in need. Stories ranged from Jesus’ love for lepers and Samaritans to Dirk Willems’ compassion on his pursuer, to volunteer nurses during the AIDS crisis in 1980s San Francisco. Campers then had the opportunity to respond by “praying with color,” to bring to life their thoughts and feelings upon hearing these stories.
The third highlight of Bible sessions was a skit we do about Elijah on the mountain and witnessing the hurricane, the earthquake, the fire, and the still small voice of God. The hurricane, earthquake, and fire were each represented by a different person rampaging through the stage, impersonating the work of nature, and the still small voice was represented by a hidden person speaking into a microphone. This skit was a fun way of recreating one of my favorite Bible stories.
Outside of Bible times, I had a good time this summer getting to know campers and staff, and spending time in nature. We made lots of memories together playing games, singing songs, swimming, learning new skills, and learning about gardening on the Camp Assiniboia farm. I was glad to spend a few months away from the city to live and work together in the woods.
Members of Shoal Lake 40 with Churches for Freedom Road and City of Winnipeg Councillors
“Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem – it involves all of us.”—Senator Murray Sinclair, former Chief Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Last winter, we as a congregation spent 13 adult Sunday school sessions exploring the relationship of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in our country. Through an experiential activity called the Blanket Exercise, through several videos, and through guest speakers and storytellers, we learned something of the broken relationship between our peoples.
Vince Solomon, then Indigenous Neighbours coordinator for MCC Manitoba, shared his own story and the racism he has experienced as a Cree person. Adrian Jacobs, Keeper of the Circle at the Sandy Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, spoke about the church’s role as colonizer. Melody McKellar, an Indigenous elder at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, helped us to understand aspects of Indigenous spirituality. Steve and Abby Heinrichs, white Mennonite father and Indigenous daughter, told us about being family when one person represents the colonizer and the other the colonized.
Our SS series was prompted largely by the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its exploration of the history of residential schools and the incredible harm that the schools have caused – and continue to cause -- generations of Indigenous people.
The TRC final report issued 94 Calls to Action to address the harms of residential schools and other forms of colonization and help to make things right. A full 14 of these calls were issued to the churches, since it was churches that ran the residential schools.
Senator Murray Sinclair, chief commissioner of the TRC, said that it is not enough simply that the injustices of the residential schools be acknowledged. Rather, Canada and all Canadians – including Christians -- must commit themselves to making things right through a process of reconciliation. He says the journey will likely be long and hard, but it is absolutely essential.
It is important that Home Street Mennonite Church participate in this journey because 1) of our commitment to seek to be a neighbourhood church, 2) the significant population of Indigenous people who live in our neighbourhood, 3) the relationships we have developed through our Third Usher initiative, and 4) the words of Senator Sinclair who has insisted, “Reconciliation involves all of us.”
Our SS class last winter was a way of dipping our toes into the mighty river of reconciliation. It was a very small step toward understanding some of the harms that have been committed and some of the ways those harms can be undone. Leadership Council is encouraging us at Home Street Mennonite Church to step further into the river and get wetter. They have called for the formation of a “working group” that will guide us as a congregation further and deeper on the reconciliation journey.
There are many directions this new “working group” might direct its energies. The group might wish to build relationships with local Indigenous groups, “show up” at Indigenous events, participate in advocacy on Indigenous issues, or do further study. The particular focus will emerge from the group. Our hope is that the group will lead the congregation in listening, learning and action that supports reconciliation.
We are looking for people who are eager to participate in this working group. If you feel the Spirit calling you to get your feet wet, please contact me by September 18. An initial meeting will be held in late September.
Esther Epp-Tiessen, Mission Coordinator