Hearts Exchanged is an 8-month program that equips Christians to engage with Indigenous people as neighbours and fellow image bearers.
“When it comes to cross-cultural ministry, I could give you techniques, but what has made the greatest impact is when we exchanged hearts,” said Ray Aldred, in the year 2000 during a forum on cross-cultural dialogue hosted by the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The latest step in the CRCNA’s journey toward reconciliation has been the development of a program inspired by Aldred’s words.
Hearts Exchanged is a learning and action journey designed to equip Christians in the Reformed tradition to engage with Indigenous people as neighbours and fellow image bearers. Participants commit to an eight-month journey with regular meetings and readings. The groups are hosted on an online platform that integrates videos, resources and opportunities for discussion between meetings.
“The layout of Hearts Exchanged on the online learning platform is very user-friendly, and the combination of regular assignments that we do on our own alongside monthly two-hour gatherings for processing our studies and sharing our journeys works very well,” noted participant Syd H.
The program was developed within the Global Learning Partners model. Core principles of safety, respect, inclusion, immediacy, relevance and engagement are integral to the program. Such principles are demonstrated in a community covenant that is created by each cohort to ensure participants enter every learning experience with a commitment to honour one another. The approach values sharing stories, which is more likely to happen in places of safety and respect.
One participant said this about the approach. “As a group of co-learners, we had to hear from one another and include each participant’s values. Without this understanding of respect, we might have missed an opportunity to learn from different perspectives.”
And the materials have richly blessed those participating. Participant Helen Y. from Alberta put it this way: “Hearts Exchanged has been a beacon of hope for me. I’ve spent many evenings weeping as I moved through the self-guided activities, learning about the injustices Indigenous communities have experienced. But in those moments, God affirms that His kingdom is expansive. The beauty of culture, heritage, belonging and relation were important themes emphasized over and over.”
Hearts Exchanged is designed to support CRCNA participants as they work through these emotions and to foster spaces of trust so that small groups can support each other as they tackle difficult subjects.
The program builds on the long and faithful work done by the CRCNA’s Canadian Indigenous Ministry Committee. It includes stories and examples specifically from the CRCNA’s context, and was also designed in consultation with Indigenous people. “We uplift Indigenous theologians, learn about Indigenous practices such as sharing circles and territory acknowledgements, and highlight Indigenous teachings as well as Indigenous theology centred on scriptural principles of humility, peacemaking, repentance and hospitality,” according to Hearts Exchanged team members Shannon Perez and Cindy Stover.
Each participant is guided through a process to develop their own reconciliation action plan. These plans are designed to take into account the gifts of the participant and the challenges and assets in their local community. Participant Anita S. put it this way, “In Hearts Exchanged, I was reminded that I live downstream of what happened in Canadian history. Living downstream means that I cannot dismiss or ignore what has happened to Indigenous people. Reconciliation is something I need to take seriously. Coming up with my own plan to continue my reconciliation journey was an important part of Hearts Exchanged.”
Over the past three years more than 400 people from across Canada have participated. Learn more at crcna.org/hearts-exchanged.
Victoria Veenstra is justice communications team coordinator for the CRCNA. This blog series and related podcasts are produced in collaboration with the Peace & Reconciliation Network. Read all the blog posts at FaithToday.ca/AllThingsReconciled.