How does God's call on Christians to be ambassadors of reconciliation lead us to respond to news about the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School? Phil Wagler reflects.
In Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys Richard Twiss writes, “For us First Nations people, following Creator-Jesus within our Indigenous cultural ways without submitting to the hegemonic cultural assumptions of today’s evangelicals…is tough. I am reminded weekly of these neocolonial and ignorant assumptions as they show up on the radar of my life” (IVP, 2015).
Near the end of May, ground surveys at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children. The ground-penetrating radar used by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation to confirm the remains reverberates throughout Canada (and the entire world). This is another ping on the radar, as Twiss writes, of what has been so tough for so long for our First Nations neighbours and Christ-following sisters and brothers.
How are we to respond?
Our friends at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada have released a statement that deserves to be read, contemplated and acted upon.
Here at the Peace and Reconciliation Network, we are commissioned to inspire and equip churches across the World Evangelical Alliance to enable communities to live life in all its fullness. Our network celebrates the numerous churches and agencies in the evangelical family who are learning and working together to support that life of flourishing.
This includes here in Canada among First Nations and the myriad peoples who have come to the land Indigenous peoples were first asked to steward by the Creator.
The revelations from Kamloops rip the scab from wounds slowly beginning to heal. The news of May reminds us that transgressions ripple long and wide. We are reminded there is more work to do and further to go. We all have much more to learn and evangelical Christians of all backgrounds and ethnicities cannot and must not be indifferent or defensive if we truly profess: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
From the perspective of the global evangelical family’s commission on peace and reconciliation we join the lament of Canada’s First Nations and call on all churches in fellowship with us to rest in and act from the following:
- Reconciliation is part of God’s mission in a world ruined by sin. The ministry of reconciliation is integral to the gospel. A world in need of reconciliation demands from us compassion, forgiveness, courage and patience.
- Reconciliation is God’s initiative through Christ to restore all people with Himself, to bring inner peace to every person, restore right relationships between people(s), and to restore righteousness within creation.
- The Church is called by God to be the Body of Christ within societies suffering from conflicts and divisions. The ministry of reconciliation and the blessedness of peacemakers is central to following Jesus (Matthew 5:9). Where the Church has failed in this call and instead adopted the identities and strategies of the world, we must be quick to repent and turn back once again to the ways of Jesus. It should be our joy to be brought to repentance to walk more fully like Jesus, working out God’s righteousness and salvation.
- Reconciliation is an ongoing journey of friendship with God and others, and of actively embracing God’s holistic vision of social well-being and flourishing. The evidence from Kamloops reminds us that the journey toward reconciliation is complex and layered. We must keep praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We must keep learning that what our nations do to the “least of these” we do to Jesus (Matthew 25:40). We must not give up. We must take even the smallest steps and risks.
- Reconciliation is not found in institutional statements or programs but is the overflow of being filled and led by the Holy Spirit right where we are. In Reconciling All Things Emmanuel Katonogle and Chris Rice state, “The church does not pursue reconciliation as if it were a project. Reconciliation is what happens to the church as she finds herself faithfully and patiently living out a vision beyond her most ordinary, simple and mundane tasks.” Led by the Spirit, Christian fellowships must engage their local social and political realities from the perspective of what was and is present there – and always in the light of God’s new creation established in Jesus Christ. We must join the wounded, build friendships, listen to and tell stories (good stories and painful, angry stories). We must be attentive to the Spirit at work in and through others who are not like us. We must do sacrificial acts of love and service. We must with humility speak the truth about what was and is while naming clearly what is and is not God’s will. We must invite the truth of Scripture to confront and form us. We must build toward a new future with others that resembles the new creation where Jesus Christ is Lord and our ultimate hope.
May God in his loving kindness comfort the grieving, forgive our sin and heal this land. May God grant the Body of Christ in Canada wisdom, courage and mercy for the ongoing ministry of reconciliation we are commissioned for. May our life as Christians with many histories in Canada witness to the Lamb who was slain and before whom we are and will forever be gathered as one (Revelation 7:9-10). May we see many come home to our Creator and Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, the Great Reconciler.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Phil Wagler is North American network coordinator for the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace & Reconciliation Network and lead pastor of Kelowna Gospel Fellowship in British Columbia. Image at top of page shows “The Original Chief & Council” by Jeffery “Red” George, an Ojibway artist from Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation, Ont. This blog series is produced in collaboration with the WEA PRN. Read all the posts at faithtoday.ca/reconciling.