Many of us in this country are still reeling from shock and grief over the news that the remains of 215 children were found buried on the grounds of a former residential school at Kamloops. This has brought to the surface the trauma that generations of First Nations people suffered in Residential Schools across Canada. Children were forcibly taken from their parents, stripped of their culture, punished for speaking their language, and made to feel ashamed for the colour of their skin. Many were emotionally, physically and sexually abused and hundreds died. Most of these Residential Schools were run by Christian Churches and sponsored by our Canadian government.
How does a follower of Jesus, who is not First Nations, respond to this situation? We look at it through the lens of God’s heart and we begin by saying that what happened was wrong.
It was wrong to try to wipe out First Nations culture. In Revelation 7, we see that at the end of time there will be “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9) The Mission of God is not to eliminate cultures, but to work through culture to communicate the Good News message of Jesus and bring people into life with God.
It was wrong to harm children, and families and people groups. In Mark 12, Jesus tells us, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains what love for our neighbor looks like when he said, Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. (Mt. 7:12)
What happened to First Nations children was horrific, but it is not enough to simply say that what happened was wrong. God could have said that to humanity and then let us hurt and hate each other into oblivion, but he didn’t. In the person of Jesus Christ, God stepped into the middle of humanity’s mess, humbled himself and loved sacrificially in order to lift us up. For those of us who follow Jesus, this is an opportunity to do the same thing.
How do we do that? First, we learn about what has happened to First Nations people so that we can grow in compassion for them. The word “compassion” means “to suffer with”, and so we learn how First Nations people have suffered so that we can walk with them on a road that we hope leads toward healing.
Second, we admit. I think that it is important for those of us who are descendants of settlers to admit that it was the systemic racism of our ancestors, both in government and in churches, that generated the Residential School System and the abuses it caused. Our ancestors were blind to their own prejudice and the harm it caused. So we should examine our own hearts with the help of the Holy Spirit to identify our own areas of blindness and repent of them.
Third, we support First Nations people as they seek to correct these injustices. One of the defining characteristics of God is that he is a God of justice. He tells us in Isaiah 1:17, Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
Fourth, we build relationships with First Nations people and communities. This is something our church has already been doing through the relationship that has developed over the years with the people of Kingdom Inlet, as we partner with the BC Mission Boat Society, and through the personal connections we were able to make during our Inner City Mission Trips to the Downtown EastSide when we were able to go there. We will continue to do more of this.
Fifth, we pray. The healing that our country needs is completely beyond all of us. But it is not beyond God. So we pray, because something always happens when we pray. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God tells us, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14) Dear friends, our land needs to be healed.
So let’s pray, and let us begin with a time of silent prayer to lift up those who suffered and to grieve with those who are grieving.