Peace, Justice & Nonresistance

A Restorative Justice reflection on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Articles 20 – 23)

Wildwood Mennonite Church recently invited me to contribute a sermon to their series on the Confession of Faith Articles. The following blog posts are adapted from this sermon.

Introduction

What is the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective? See the first blog in this series for a brief introduction.

The following is part a sermon that reflected on the following 4 articles within the Confession of Faith

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Article 22 – Peace, Justice and Nonresistance

“We believe that peace is the will of God,” and that “Jesus taught love of enemies, forgave wrongdoers, and called for right relationships” states Article 22.

We talk about “right relationships” a lot. Right relationships has been how the previous articles have been framed in this blog series:

  • Right relationships in truth telling: Speaking the truth in love within the Christian community shows our commitment to right relationships as well as to accurate speech
  • Right relationships in stewardship: Using time stewardship to maintain right relationships that assist people in difficult transitions
  • Right relationships with how we advocate for each other: Many parties coming together in mutual respect/right relationship to learn and promote positive change in our communities.

Here in Article 22 right relationships are pivotal in practicing peace, justice and nonresistance.

Right relationships are also mentioned in MCC’s Mission Statement:

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation.

But what do we exactly mean by “right relationship?”

Throughout my time working for MCC I’ve often utilized an exercise developed by John Paul Lederach in which people personalize the concepts of Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace when approaching a conflict. Psalm 85:10 is the premise of this activity – Truth and Mercy have met together. Justice and Peace have kissed. It is a powerful exercise, which can be read about here. The outcome of the activity is to bring these four values into a space where reconciliation of the conflict can be found. Lederach notes that in this way reconciliation is seen as a “social phenomenon” representing a place or location of encounter where people meet with the goal of working on relationships and creating new shared experiences.

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In reading through Articles 20 – 23 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective I was reminded of this exercise and struck by the similar values that are presented: truth, stewardship, care, mercy, peace, justice. Seeking reconciliation at the intersection of these values is essential for conflict transformation but what about during our everyday interactions? What about the relationships and areas of life that the Confession of Faith articles are addressing? I believe that if we are seeking truth, mercy, peace, and justice in our daily lives then we are living within right relationships.

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These 4 articles of faith do not give us easy answers in navigating relationships or issues that we find in our churches, daily life, or society. In fact, they encourage us to wrestle with complexities. However, if we observe right relationships and reconciliation as a “social phenomenon” this may assist us in navigating some of these complexities. This is a place or location of encounter that welcomes paradoxes. The paradox of articulating a painful past while also speaking to an interdependent future, the seeming contradictions between truth and mercy, and the belief that justice and peace can be realized for everyone. It is a space where these values come together, yet each hold their own space.

picture3As John Paul Lederach reflects in his book, Building Peace,

This is a space that promotes an encounter between the open expression of a painful past and the search for a long-term interdependent future. It is an opening that provides a place for truth telling and mercy to meet while validating and embracing relationships. It is a space that recognizes the need to give time and place for both peace and justice, where redressing a past wrong is held together with the envisioning of a common, connected future.

Restorative justice work attempts to break cycles of violence through invitations of honest interactions, holding people accountable, addressing root causes, and offering hope for the future. Restorative justice seeks to bring about justice and peace in a space of non-resistance. This is an area riddled with paradoxes and complexities. It is a space where the guidance of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective can be a helpful reminder that we cannot do this work alone but only within community and right relationships.

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Church’s relation to Government & Society

A Restorative Justice reflection on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Articles 20 – 23)

Wildwood Mennonite Church recently invited me to contribute a sermon to their series on the Confession of Faith Articles. The following blog posts are adapted from this sermon.

Introduction

What is the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective? See the first blog in this series for a brief introduction.

The following is part a sermon that reflected on the following 4 articles within the Confession of Faith

Before addressing Article 22 we are going to reflect on the Church’s relation to government and society. 

 

 

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Article 23 – Church’s Relation to Government and Society

 

Article 23 in our Confession of Faith reminds us that “the church is God’s holy nation”. As with our truth telling, in Article 21, we are to put our allegiance and trust in Christ before any institutions, including the government. However, the Article also calls us to “witness to the nations by being that ‘city on the hill’ which demonstrates the way of Christ… by being ambassadors for Christ, calling the nations (people and institutions) to move toward justice, peace and compassion for all people.”

As the restorative justice coordinator I facilitate education and advocacy opportunities for our constituency. I have realized that to do good advocacy one needs to work at researching and understanding relevant issues – this is what enables us to speak truth to each other and to the government. MCC Saskatchewan is part of a justice research coalition in Saskatoon that is made up of a group of community based organizations. Over the past two years we have been researching telephone access for people in our provincial correctional centres.

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A recent editorial in the Star Phoenix notes our work and its significance:

The provincial government has a contract with a private Texas-based prison phone company to provide secure calling at correctional centres. The costs of this system are defrayed by charging people who are incarcerated for phone calls. Local calls cost around $1.50, and long-distance calls are much more expensive, at $7 or more for a 20-minute call. 

These fees create a significant barrier for people in prison who are trying to maintain contact with families…

The real cost of calling is best understood when compared to the scarce resources of people in prison, who already tend to be economically marginalized. A person who is incarcerated can earn $1 to $5 a day. Given the cost of calling, someone who makes $1 a day has to wait a week before she can have a 20-minute long-distance phone conversation with her children.

Our research has highlighted similar findings as other studies: that visitation opportunities, including telephone access are crucial to maintaining the parent-child bonds, mitigating the harmful effects on children of parents who are in jail, and assisting positive re-entry into the community upon release.

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Throughout the coming year MCCS will be inviting people of faith to take the learnings of this research to consider how they can better understand, seek, and witness to justice, peace and compassion for all people in order to make our communities and neighbourhoods safer (stay tuned on how you can be involved!). In this way, we can signal our allegiance by being that “city on the hill” and demonstrating the way of Christ.

 

heather peters//mccs restorative justice coordinator

Treaty People (God Heard Every Word)

There was an important gathering that took place on August 23.  It didn’t trend on social media and didn’t create that many headlines.  But it mattered nonetheless.  It happened in an important place, though that place is off the beaten trail and out of the public eye.  I was fortunate to be part of this gathering and I learned some unexpected lessons along the way.

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Stoney Knoll is a small hill in themiddle of a piece of land extending from near Laird, SK and bounded on the north and west by the bend of the North Saskatchewan River.  Under the terms of Treaty Six (1876) this is Young Chippewayan territory but around twenty years after the signing of the treaty this land was taken away by the federal government and opened up to Mennonite and Lutheran settlers.  The story of this place is one of broken promises, another tragic chapter in the story Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

But Stoney Knoll has also become a place of hope.  Beginning in the 1970s, a number of informal conversations between Mennonites, Lutherans and Young Chippewayan started to take place.  While these conversations did not have a definite agenda beyond mutual understanding, they eventually laid the groundwork for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in 2006.  This agreement named the historical injustice around the land claim and pledged to work toward a fair settlement that would help create conditions of peace, justice and sufficiency going forward.

Reserve 107But more significantly, this coming together represents a tangible story of reconciliation (this story is beautifully told in the film Reserve 107).  It’s a story that needs to be told because it’s a story that could have easily followed a different (and predictable) plotline.  It’s a story that didn’t need to bend toward hope.  The document that was signed in 2006 didn’t solve every problem but it did accomplish something meaningful – it declared that the road ahead needs to be walked together. As one participant later reflected, “It felt like we did something right.  It was a spiritual moment.”

On August 23 we gathered to mark the 140th anniversary of the signing of Treaty Six.  In many ways, the burden of the historical injustice remains.  The land question still hovers awkwardly over tentative introductions and conversations.  The lack of understanding of our respective cultures and what to do with that difference is still there, even though the desire to learn and grow is obvious.  It was an eclectic group of people who came from a variety of places and for a variety of reasons.  But somehow, we all came because we acknowledged that the word “treaty” was important for figuring out how to move forward together.

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Treaty matters because treaty points toward a kind of trust that binds the past to the present.  One speaker, reflecting on the chiefs who signed Treaty Six back in 1867, put it with beautiful simplicity:  “We always honour that old man’s promise.”

As a settler whose understanding of treaty is quite minimal, August 23 was an important day.  The reason for this is pretty simple: it forced me to consider how this term applies to me.  I was confronted with a simple but important truth: We are all treaty people.

Treaty is not just an historical relic that applies narrowly to First Nations peoples and their land.  It’s a living reality that forms the foundation for trust and mutual relationship.  And it was interesting to note how alive the experience of treaty was to Indigenous speakers.  They spoke of their ancestors and historic chiefs with a casual familiarity that made it evident that they saw themselves as somehow “present” in 1876 – that the chiefs who had entered into this relationship with settlers had done so on their behalf.

In reflecting on my experience on August 23, it occurred to me that treaty should not be a strange category for followers of Jesus.  We, after all, understand ourselves in relation to a covenant – a covenant that we participate in even though it extends far into the past, long before our entry into the story.  We believe that God has bound himself to us and promised to be faithful to that promise and this is the foundation of our confidence and hope extending into the future.  We are all covenant people.

“God was there in 1876,” one speaker reminded us as he described the sacred importance of Treaty Six.  “God heard every word.”

The truth of this statement rings true for me in a different way after August 23.  Along with many others, I have only begun the task of untangling the history and locating myself in it more truthfully.  But I do understand that Treaty Six applies to me; that I am a treaty person.  And I believe that God heard every word.

~Gil Dueck
MCC Saskatchewan Program Director

Christian Stewardship

A Restorative Justice reflection on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective – Part 2: Christian Stewardship

Wildwood Mennonite Church recently invited me to contribute a sermon to their series on the Confession of Faith Articles. The following blog posts are adapted from this sermon.

Introduction

What is the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective?  See the first blog in this series for a brief introduction.

This blog series reflects on the following 4 articles within the Confession of Faith

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Article 21 – Christian Stewardship

Article 21 begins, “We believe that everything belongs to God, who calls us as the church to live as faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted us.” This stewardship, or care, refers to our spiritual gifts, our resources, our time, and the earth. Stewardship and mercy are intertwined in their vision for care and sustainability. Article 21 is powerful, full of great tidbits on how to live a balanced life but also about the results that stewardship can generate. For example, in speaking about stewardship of time the articles states, “Through Jesus, all time is holy, set apart for God and intended to be used for salvation, healing and justice.” If we care for our time, we will be able to work for salvation, healing, and justice, thereby creating a more peaceful world.

This call for a stewardship of time makes me think of the many volunteers that connect with restorative justice organizations throughout Saskatchewan. These organizations, such as Micah Mission, CoSA South Saskatchewan, and Parkland Restorative Justice, rely on the participation of volunteers to make their programs successful. An example of this is Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) which connects a group of 3 or 4 volunteers with a person how has been recently released from a correctional centre and is considered a high-risk to reoffend. The group of volunteers supports this person as they attempt to rebuild their lives. A volunteer recently reported,circles-of-support-and-accountability-interim-report-pdf-quakers

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first joined a CoSA wondering what good this would actually do in the life of someone who has just been released from prison. Especially since it appeared that we were merely to meet and chat. I found myself asking, “How will a weekly coffee and group chat help an individual get back on their feet and prevent further offenses?”

This is a valid and common concern. But studies have found that this type of program is actually the one of the best uses of time and resources in terms of preventing people from reoffending. The research has shown that connecting people in relationships characterized by truth, mercy, and love can motivate them to make decisions that do not lead them back to prison.

The volunteer concluded his report with reflections on his own transformation:

I am still learning and growing. I entered the CoSA with the idea of making a difference in another’s life, but I am finding that it has challenged and stretched me to grow. In all, I would recommend the CoSA experience. It may not be for everyone, but I do believe that it has been a great benefit in my life. It is a worthwhile investment of your time and energy. You may think you are investing in another, but you will find that the investment brings returns to your life as well.

imagesChristian stewardship calls us to make to wise investments. This restorative justice program is an example of how we can wisely invest our time to work for salvation, healing, and justice.

 

Heather Peters // MCCS Restorative Justice Coordinator

Truth

A Restorative Justice reflection on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective – Part 1: Truth

Wildwood Mennonite Church recently invited me to contribute a sermon to their series on the Confession of Faith Articles. The following blog posts are adapted from this sermon.

Introduction

The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective was created by two Mennonite groups in North America – the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church (these two groups have since joined to form Mennonite Church Canada / Mennonite Church USA). The confession of faith was adopted in 1995 to be used as a tool for guidance, discernment, unity, and instruction. The introduction encourages readers to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the One who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23)”.

The following blog posts will reflect on:

Questioning the truth

Article 20 – Truth

The Truth Article in the Confession of Faith states “We commit ourselves to tell the truth, to give a simple yes or no, and to avoid swearing of oaths.” Here truth refers to where we put our allegiance and trust – which is with Christ. The commentary section of the of the article notes, “In the biblical languages truth is related to faithfulness – faithfulness to the facts and faithfulness in relationships. Speaking the truth in love in the Christian community shows our commitment to right relationships.”

My work in restorative justice allows me to walk alongside people who have been through difficult experiences, such as crime or conflict, as they search for healing and restoration. Often the healing process involves wrestling with the meaning of truth. People want to be able to name their experience and be heard. To be believed. And, at times, they want to hear truth and acknowledgment from other people involved.

However, telling the truth is rarely as straightforward as we might wish it to be. People often connect truth with honesty, revelation, clarity, and open accountability. Yet truth can look different depending on where we are standing, making it seem slippery and even unreliable. When truth stands alone it can feel hard and unyielding, and make us feel naked, vulnerable, and unworthy. Truth needs to be accompanied with mercy, compassion, love.

Picture1I work closely with The Micah Mission, an organization in Saskatoon which coordinates prison visitations and support groups for people coming out of correctional centres. In a recent newsletter a staff member shared about his mother’s experience with a restorative justice process. Some years ago, Peter’s mother had been assaulted during a home invasion leaving her feeling traumatized. After a process of individual meetings with facilitators Peter, his mother, and the man who had assaulted her met together. This is how Peter described the experience:

“The emphasis here was on how we felt and on communicating the harm that had been done. This is essential to healing and transformation. The man who committed the crime can never turn the clock back and remove the offence but encountering him in his humanity helped us to see that the attack was not the work of a cruel, indifferent person. There is some peace in knowing that he cares about the harm he has done.”DSC_0329

In this encounter of people sharing their truth we can see its power. By committing ourselves to tell the truth and doing this with trust in God and with love for others we enter the space of right relationship.

 

Read more about Peter’s story here.

Heather Peters // MCCS Restorative Justice Coordinator

 

Face-to-Face Encounters

February 12th – 20th

“Love is our True Destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone, we find it with one another” – Thomas Merton. We find the meaning of life with one another in face-to-face interactions, encountering one another where we are at; not where we hope to be in a few years, but where we are today.

These Face-to- Face encounters were the theme of SOAR Saskatchewan, a partnership with MB Mission and MCC Saskatchewan. The goal was to provide meaningful, spirit-filled, learning opportunities for 62 young people from churches from all over Saskatchewan. They slept in a church for 10 days, eating all meals together, reading bible stories, praying, worshiping and then serving in the community.

The very first day MCC Saskatchewan was tasked with organizing a day-long Learning Tour around Saskatoon. The weather outside was frighteningly cold, with a wind chill of around –29 degrees. The groups layered up and braved the cold as they went from organization to organization learning about various social and environmental justice issues facing our community. The students were challenged to practice active listening, to put aside ones assumptions and to see where God is working in unexpected ways.

Throughout the day students were exposed to topics like the
Canadian Residential School legacy and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by participanting in the Blanket Exercise. They encountered some of the various struggles many new Canadians face when they move to Saskatoon by learning about the programs of International Women of Saskatoon.

The students also met people who are working toward a more just and sustainable environment in Saskatoon through Agriculture in the Classroom and CHEP Good Food.

One of the highlights of the day was a tour of a tiny house built by a young couple, Jared and Rachel Regier. The couple are dedicated to creating spaces in urban centers where one’s passion for caring for God’s creation can be lived out.

The 150 sq ft tiny house is situated in the backyard of Jared and Rachel’s small home located in central Saskatoon. As teachers of a local environmental stewardship program called Earthkeepers at Aden Bowman Highschool, both Jared and Rachel felt it important to begin to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

They chose to structure their life around their use of space and asked themselves questions like: “how much space does a person really need to live a happy, healthy lifestyle, and how much of this space can be private or public?” The 14 sq metres they call home cost them a mere $16,000 total, a complete contrast to the average house price currently in Saskatoon which is around $361,000 (cbc.ca, December 10th, 2015). This style of living allows them the financial freedom to pursue other interests like growing local sustainably sourced vegetables through their newest venture: Chain Reaction Urban Farm.

Their way of life may seem risky to some people, however many are turning to this lifestyle as a way to respond to God’s call to be good stewards of creation and to live with minimal impact on the earth. This is becoming ever more important as resources continue to dwindle while populations around the world grow.

The tiny house produces enough energy through solar panels attached to the roof, for the couple to live comfortably in our cold and unpredictable climate.

The students enjoyed their visit with Jared and during debrief many spoke about the humility he showed and reported feeling inspired by their efforts. When asked about the tiny house one young student remarked that “they made it all seem so possible”, referring to being able to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle in the city.

These Face to Face encounters are just the beginning for students. During debrief the students were called to recognise their role in the story of God as it unfolds in Saskatoon. Because of the people they met that day and the stories they heard, they are now involved in something bigger than themselves and must take what they learned and share it with others.

We were so grateful for the hospitality shown to our group this day and want to send a huge thank you to:

The International Women of Saskatoon
The Indian and Metis Friendship Centre of Saskatoon
Agriculture in the Classroom
Chep Good Food Inc
Station 20 West
St. Thomas Wesley United Church
Kairos Canada
To learn more about SOAR Saskatchewan check out the promotional video here:

https://vimeo.com/156090655

or their website:

http://www.mbmission.org/soar/saskatchewan/overview

written by Kaytee Edwards Buhler
MCC Saskatchewan
Community Engagement and Provincial IVEP Program Coordinator

Art, Heart, and Hope

Freedom Girl on the Rock - MGuenther 2014-04-11

The world, it seemed, was turned upside down by a single photograph last September. We know the picture, and the impact it had to turn the world’s gaze on the Syrian refugee crisis. That tragic picture called more loudly to the world community than a thousand headlines, or a hundred thousand human voices. There’s a power in image, in art, to reach deeply into our imaginations, to break through into the deep places of our heart, that place where lasting change happens.

A few years ago, a theatre company from Ontario was invited by MCC to use their art to talk about restorative justice. Theatre of the Beat put together a one-hour drama called “Forgiven/Forgotten.” The play invited people into the uncomfortable story of whether, or how, we might make room for a former offender in our lives. The show toured across Canada, visiting churches, schools, and prisons from the Maritimes to Alberta.
In Saskatchewan, as elsewhere, the drama reached deep into people’s hearts. In one community in particular, a number of women felt called to do something concrete in response. Discussion and planning eventually led to this group of women starting up a visitation and Bible study program at the Pine Grove women’s prison in Prince Albert. And just as art brought them to this place of service, so now they wanted art to be part of their work with women there.

For several seasons now, this group has driven up to PA once a week for six weeks, for a full day of visitation. During the sessions, there is a strong artistic presence. Sometimes, a team member has brought a guitar to sing for the group. Another of the team members, gifted in drawing and painting, works on one or two posters, to help express what is being shared in that day’s session. These are kept, and at the end of the series, each woman can choose one or two as a keepsake.

For the final meeting, another work of art is also created to connect with the spirit of the group as it has emerged over the series. This painting is then transformed into a jig-saw puzzle that the women have to put together collaboratively (which doesn’t always come easily to those who live in a culture of suspicion and rejection). At the end, each woman gets to keep one piece of the puzzle as a reminder that she is part of a larger whole, along with a card that shows the entire image. It speaks visibly, tangibly, that all our lives are transformed in community with others. And there’s always one piece left over: it represents the next group to come, the new women who will come after this group is done; and they will pray over that piece. In this way, art teaches them that their life journey is bigger than themselves: it draws the women together and also creates a sense of connection with the whole people of God. It means so much to these women to realize that they were prayed for before they even signed up for the program, and shows them that God has gone ahead of them and invited them into this transformational journey.

Prisons are too often a bleak and hopeless place. One of the things that can give hope to the people there is a taste of beauty. And when art mixes with good news in the name of Christ, it is truly a light shining in the darkness, which the darkness can never put out.

Randy Klassen (with contributions from the group members)
Restorative Justice Coordinator
MCC Saskatchewan

Note: The group requests, for the integrity of this program, that the members or their location not be disclosed directly or indirectly by any comments or social media sharing. The artist who produced the art shown above cannot be identified here due to the same request.

on learning tours, colonialism and a posture of learning

When you have a conversation with someone who came to Canada as a refugee, it changes the way you see the refugee crisis. Recently, with a group from Lakeview church, a young man who had recently arrived in Canada under refugee status shared his story of leaving Syria. Through listening to his story, you can clearly see his resiliency, intelligence and strength. During his years in refugee camps and detention centres, he taught himself English through listening to rap music and reading books. Now that he has access to education once again, he hopes to study law and become a human rights lawyer. What an intelligent man we have gained here in Canada! Through meeting him, the negative perceptions of refugees that are at times portrayed by the media are torn apart.

With MCC, we call these events that expose groups of people to social justice issues ‘local learning tours’. A learning tour is designed to expose people to new realities, different issues and new settings. We had the opportunity to partner with Lakeview church to offer a learning tour about the topics of refugees and resettlement, restorative justice, urban poverty, and indigenous history and rights. The hope was that people would leave with challenging questions about how these experiences affect our faith and the way we interact with those around us. On this day at Lakeview church, almost 30 people set aside time to intentionally learn and grow. Learning tours are important because they cause people to shift perspectives. They allow barriers to be broken down and bridges to be built between people.

Others at Lakeview church had the opportunity to hear the history of colonialism in Canada from a new perspective. Lyndon Linklater, from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, shared about the residential school system. He invited participants into the history by retelling the story as if a church community was being broken down through policies and principles similar to those which led to the residential school system. What if 7 generations of children had been removed from the church? How would your community be impacted? As a settler, I cannot fully understand the impact our colonial history had on indigenous communities. However, this powerful illustration was a starting point to comprehend how destructive these colonial policies were to indigenous communities.

During learning tours, I constantly find myself shifting perspectives and growing as I learn about these topics. It creates many tensions with my faith, how I treat others and how I currently live. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the deep rooted issues in our city, country and world. However, I believe these learning tours make connections across cultural, social and economic barriers. A posture of learning and a willingness to have your perspectives transformed goes a long way. Having people participate in tours is a small step, but I do think it bears much fruit.

Carlie Heagy
Interim Community Engagement Coordinator
MCC Saskatchewan

Uprooted Learning Tour 2015

Enjoying some of the sites in Mexico City. This is the Monumento a la Revolucion. 2015 Uprooted Team (left to right): Tonja Friesen Ehpaw Eh, Katrina Doran, Thomas Caldwell, Josie Willms, Erin Willems

Enjoying some of the sites in Mexico City. This is the Monumento a la Revolucion. 2015 Uprooted Team (left to right): Tonja Friesen, Ehpaw Eh, Katrina Doran, Thomas Coldwell, Josie Willms, Erin Willems

I just returned from a learning tour with five other young adults. We spent three weeks observing and learning about migration in Mexico. We also spent a week in Guatemala and Southern Mexico looking at the border, visiting an MCC flower cooperative, and learning how cooperatives serve as an alternative to migration. We flew to Mexico City and spent a week experiencing some Mexican history and culture and visiting migrant shelters. The last week was in Northern Mexico where we spent time visiting with migrants and walking in the desert, and along the border wall. It was an incredible opportunity and we learned and experienced a lot in a short time

In orientation we talked about how to have a well-balanced trip. We discussed how we would feel if a learning tour came to Canada and all they learned about was homelessness and First Nations relations and other vulnerable areas in our country. This idea framed our historical and cultural visits for me and helped me to see the value in planning a well-balanced trip. We spent a week in Mexico City experiencing some of the history and culture of Mexico. We went to the Ballet Folklorico at the Palacio Bellas Artes and saw some traditional Mexican dancing and visited the pyramids at Teotihuacan. These visits were enjoyable, but I now realize the importance of them as well.

We hiked 12km in the Sonoran desert and brought food and water for migrants who frequently take this route.

We hiked 12km in the Sonoran desert and brought food and water for migrants who frequently take this route.

At the beginning of our week in Mexico City, we had a presentation about migration and root causes of migration. Arturo (an MCC partner) explained that migration is not an easy subject with an obvious solution. It involves so many countries, governments, and people that there is no simple way to deal with such an expansive issue. Talking about some of the realities of migration discouraged me and caused me to feel the need to make drastic changes in my life to help migrants. In Mexico City, we went to a migrant shelter called CAFEMIN. It used to be a school, but was donated to Catholic nuns who developed it as a migrant shelter. They provide a safe place for families to stay while they are getting settled and waiting for their papers. They have doctors to treat illness, and workshops for women to learn how to cook, sew, fix computers, etc… There is also space for the kids to run around and have fun. We visited another shelter in Nogales (San Juan Bosco) and heard the inspiring story of a former businessman who started a shelter that can house 300 migrants because he saw a need and rose to meet it. We also visited a coffee roaster called Café Justo.

This river marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Many migrants cross the rover at these unofficial border crossings. It was interesting to see the drastic difference between the Northern and Southern borders of Mexico.

This river marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Many migrants cross the river at these unofficial border crossings. It was interesting to see the drastic difference between the Northern and Southern borders of Mexico.

It was so interesting to learn about their work and how they started. They have four different cooperatives in Mexico that each employ 25-50 families. They offer a fair price for the coffee, which allows the kids of those families to return home because they can afford to go to school. It also allows for local workers to be hired to pick the coffee because the kids are in school, not working. These workers are paid a fair price, because the farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee. There are also seven full-time employees at Café Justo to roast the coffee and help with the business end of things. Café Justo is making a huge difference.

It was really encouraging to see people making a difference in the lives of others in their country. It made me realize that maybe I don’t need to move to Mexico, but rather need to pay attention to those who are in need in my sphere of influence. I think one of my biggest take-aways from this trip is that I need to use my resources, gifts, and passions to serve in places that make sense for me.

Learn more at mccsk.ca/uprooted

Erin Willems
MCCS Youth and Young Adult Engagement Programs Coordinator

If you didn’t know

If you didn’t know…

If you didn’t know where to find Victoria Park in Saskatoon, all you needed to do was drive along the river west of the Farmers’ market and soon enough you would see a row of teepees and carnival tents set into the crook of the South Saskatchewan River bank. These were true indicators of a celebration of cultural proportions.

If you didn’t know how delicious bannock tastes, all you needed do was join the 1,500 or so celebrants at the day’s “big feed”. Organizers of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) commemorative event planned a day of celebration to coincide with the presentation of the TRC’s report to the government of Canada in Ottawa. They recognized that “big feed” was a better description of the local party because so many people could not sit in one large circle as at a “feast”. But the menu and the atmosphere were the same.

If you didn’t know that this week’s activities in Ottawa and across the country of Canada bore witness to the six years of study into the church-run, government-funded Indian Residential Schools (IRS), listening to the speakers would give a clear sense of residual harm and disruption created by the IRS system. These powerful stories of survivors of the IRS legacy will not only be archived at the University of Manitoba but will become part of the educational curricula so that we have no reasons to forget this dark period of Canadian history.

The truth telling has happened. Wounds have been re-opened. If it were not for the resilience of the first peoples, languages and cultures would have disappeared. After hearing the stories, we cannot remain the same. These are the stories of our brothers and sisters. Our lives are profoundly impacted by theirs.

In Saskatoon, the TRC focused on a commemoration and celebration of where we have been and where we want to go together. Howard Walker, one of the day’s emcees, spoke powerfully, “To forget the past is to heal the scar, but to forgive the past is to heal the wound.”

One way to forgive and to move on is to acknowledge the past. Hundreds of orange balloons with the word TRUTH boldly printed on one side, were released into the air. We watched the winds of the day carry the balloons out of sight. The steady heartbeat of the drums invited us to stand as one and in silence.

Again it was Walker who reminded us that we were releasing the truth and claiming the hope that we would never again live in a society where discrimination and abuse hold sway. The release of the orange balloons marked a time in Canadian history when we claim the past and commit ourselves to create a different future – one without discrimination and abuse – one without racial prejudice.

Today’s events are about reconciliation. What do we need to do to keep from sliding into ignorance of events happening in our country? What do we need to do in order to create an environment where the needs of all sectors of our population have equal access to the benefits of living in Canada? What is the role of church people as we participate with what God’s is doing in our communities and country?

“We have worked together long enough” observed Shirley Isbister, a members of the TRC working group, “that we no longer interact as cultures. We have grown in our relationships so that today we are interacting as individuals.”

What a profound and gratifying experience it has been to work with others who are committed to making Canada a better place – free of inappropriate discrimination. Marie Linklater, an elder in the community led us in a tight circle of women at the opening pipe ceremony. A grade eight student volunteered to hand out water while another picked up garbage. The drumming circle, Young Thunder Drum, beat the rhythm of our heart beat and invited us to unity in an honour song.

Claire Ewert Fisher, Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan Executive Director

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