A church planter experiences the trials of being a newcomer
A year ago, my family and I moved to the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, home to several First Nations communities. As a newly approved church planting apprentice under the C2C Network, I was incredibly excited to start engaging with the communities and see what God had for us.Waking up on my first day, I got ready for “work” and headed out the door only to be hit by the realization I had no clue what I should be doing. I had spent more than a year and a half doing research, networking with leaders and organizations, and developing plans. But when the time finally came to “get busy,” none of that seemed helpful anymore. Despite all our preparation, as newcomers to both the culture and area, I wasn’t even sure how to go about starting a conversation.
The blueberry story
After an awkward month of trial-and-error learning, I found myself one morning sitting in the basement of an old, rundown building on one of the local reserves frying eggs for a community breakfast. At that point, I had developed a bit of a complex. Connecting with people seemed to be getting harder instead of easier. I just didn’t know what to say.During a lull in the meal, I ventured out with a coffee in hand to sit down at one of the tables. I was soon joined by a kind-looking elderly gentleman. I attempted some small talk, but soon resigned myself to the awkward silence that was starting to feel all too familiar.
A few minutes later, without any prompting or context, the gentleman shared a story:When I was very young, I was out picking blueberries with my family. I loved blueberries and stuffed myself full of them. Then, when I couldn’t eat any more, I started shoving them up my nose! I shoved so many up there that I started choking and having trouble breathing. My mother was very young and didn’t know what to do. But, thankfully, my grandmother was there and began to yell “Bzindan, Bzindan!” which means “Listen! Listen!” Then she grabbed me, put her mouth over my nose, and sucked all the blueberries out. You don’t hear people shout “Bzindan!” much anymore.
Then, he got up and walked away. So did I, anxiously looking for something to do. I had completely missed the point of the story. It wasn’t until some time later, in a moment of prayerful desperation – while still impatiently looking for a task to accomplish – that the story started to make sense. In my frantic attempts to “do” something, I had become like Martha (Luke 10:38–42) and had been missing what is “better” – to sit and listen at the feet of Jesus and of the community.
As an action-oriented person, listening had become something I did so I could become more productive. To listen without agenda isn’t something that came naturally to me. I began to realize how detrimental my lack of listening skills was to my engagement with the community, as well as my walk with Jesus.
Listening builds trust
I’ve now learned that listening isn’t just a means to an end, but that it has meaning in and of itself. To listen without agenda requires trust – the very thing we need in our relationship with God and in our relationships with Canada’s First Nations.
I’m thankful to say I’m a much better listener today than I used to be. I sometimes chuckle at the irony that it seems as though the more I listen, the busier I get!
The trust that comes from deep listening has proven to be fertile soil for meaningful ministry. It has led to requests from local communities for everything from Bible studies to restorative justice programs, from youth programs to worship times in traditional languages. I’m so grateful that following Jesus has led me to a place where I can learn from our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, and witness the workings of his great love among First Nations communities.