For a short time, I was a youth pastor at Siksika First Nation in southern Alberta, under YMI-TREK. I asked some of the parents at a youth meeting why the kids had such broken lives, filled with crime, sexual abuse, and drugs. These gracious parents then let me know that every one of them at the meeting had been sexually abused at least once. They shared hurts that will take a lifetime to heal.
I began to ask myself, “What can we as a Mennonite Brethren church do to help?”
I’ve continued to ask this, and also to wonder why Mennonite Brethren seem so uninvolved with First Nations people. I called MBMSI and was told they don’t do mission in Canada or the U.S. This should fall under the national or provincial conference mandates, it seemed, but where exactly? My suspicion is that this area of ministry is falling through the cracks. I hope my suspicion is wrong!
What I do know is that Mennonite Brethren have been living in Canada for more than 100 years and I’m not aware of many First Nations people in our churches or First Nations churches in our conference. Except for individuals or a few congregations, perhaps, who work with Aboriginal mission organizations, we aren’t partnering with Aboriginal groups. Mennonite Church Canada has been quite involved, and so has Mennonite Central Committee. Why aren’t we?
Recently I sat in on a conference of First Nations evangelical leaders and mission organizations in Saskatoon. Led by Larry Wilson of Winnipeg, this group meets yearly, and would like to see denominations involved in this “talking circle” event. (The Christian and Missionary Alliance had representatives there.) I chatted with Aboriginal Christian leaders from across Canada. I asked them about the work of Mennonites among First Nations people. Mennonites seem to have a fairly good reputation, although I don’t think they were talking about Mennonite Brethren specifically.
First Nations communities are growing exponentially and need a holistic Jesus. In Saskatchewan specifically, where my family and I live, issues like poverty, broken families, a growing gang presence, and various negative addictions need to be addressed alongside any effort to preach the good news and invite people into a saving faith in Jesus.
Also, our local evangelical First Nations church is struggling. Many churches have a hard time supporting a pastor. They know all about morality issues and the need of Jesus as their personal Saviour, but where do they find healing from things like sexual abuse? How do these struggling churches deal with the many social issues unique to reserve life, or life in the city?
These are questions our denomination doesn’t have to tackle regularly. How can we support our First Nations brothers and sisters as they grapple with them daily?
In some ways, the answers seem simple. We need to invest our money, time, and prayer, and we need to partner with evangelical Christians already doing the work or perhaps, step up to the plate as a conference in a united response, perhaps in a team-style missionary approach.
I’m trying “to put my money where my mouth is.” My wife and I are attempting to restart a Mennonite Brethren church in northwest Saskatchewan, renamed Pierceland Community Church. This church has its roots in an agriculture-based Mennonite Brethren context. The areas of growth in this community now seem to be oil patch worker families and First Nations people.
We’re attempting to plant a church that reflects these two realities. Quite frankly, we need a miracle to see the church thrive in this context. But, we believe in the God of miracles. We long to see small groups throughout the area, whose leaders gather Sunday mornings to worship, be taught, give, fellowship, and pray together.
Will we finally see First Nations delegates at our provincial conference? Will we someday have a First Nations MB Church? Will Aboriginal evangelical churches grow substantially because of our investment and partnership? Will we get involved with MCC and other Mennonite groups until we no longer hear about “Third World” living conditions in Canada?
We’ve been here more than 100 years. Isn’t it time?