SKMB facilitates gathering on ministry with Indigenous people
What does it mean to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) on a journey toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan?
On July 20, 2017, twenty-five Mennonite Brethren church members sat in a large circle in the sanctuary of Hope Fellowship Church, Saskatoon, eager to seek answers. SKMB director of ministry Phil Gunther organized and facilitated the gathering to hear from Paul Winter, MBCM Indigenous ambassador, each other and God. This event follows a significant expression of interest voiced by Saskatchewan Assembly 2017 delegates that the Conference explore ministry to Indigenous peoples in the province.
The First Nations people of Saskatchewan “are our neighbours and we are to love them and share the Good News of Jesus,” said Gunther. The meeting was a response to “God stirring in us as the Saskatchewan Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (SKMB) a specific responsibility to go.” The mission Jesus gave to make disciples of all nations includes the First Nations people of Saskatchewan, Gunther said, citing Micah 6:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:14–6:2 as examples of how to go.
Paul Winter presented the central address of the event. “Indigenous people are looking for something to change their world…. Let’s show them Jesus,” Winter said. “I believe spiritual revival in Canada will start on reserves and spread across Turtle Island (North America).”
Unable to meet all the requests he receives, Winter supervises teams that respond to Indigenous leaders’ invitations for ministers of the gospel to visit reserves. He told inspiring stories from a team’s visit to Sandy Bay reserve in Saskatchewan.
“Long before we even thought of going there with the gospel, God has been walking before us,” Winter said. “Will we have the courage to become friends with our neighbours on reserves?”
Though not Indigenous himself, Winter has garnered respect from elders. At the opening of his talk, he presented a sacred object to Gunther which he had received from an elder in Manitoba. The round leather pendant adorned with turquoise and coloured beads depicts the verse John 3:16 in a circle of flowers.
“We must go where we are invited,” Winter said, “to listen, to serve where we are asked and to bring with us a message of reconciliation.”
The event continued with talking and prayer – central to indigenous culture and practice. Those in the circle shared about their experiences with Indigenous people, their hopes and heartaches for them, as well as their efforts at outreach.
Some called for courage to cross the fence between ourselves and our neighbours who are Indigenous.
Some shared their prejudices and need for transformed hearts.
Some offered counsel on this journey of reaching out to residents of reserves, urging one another not to repeat the mistakes of the past. “Go not as white knights but as friends, not to do good things but to be good neighbours.”
Some called for reliance upon the Holy Spirit – “figure it out as you go” – not jumping to a plan or strategy.
“Our mandate is clear,” Gunther said, after reading from the 2014 Statement of Anabaptist Church Leaders letter in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. “We will encourage our churches to reach out in practical and loving ways, including dialogue and expressions of hospitality,” it reads, signed by denominational leaders including Willy Reimer, then-executive director of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.
The event closed with prayer, calling upon God to continue revealing himself and his purposes. Winter challenged those whom God was calling to be leaders to be courageous and take first steps to bringing greater life to what God was stirring among Mennonite Brethren in the province.
[Saskatchewan Conference of Mennonite Brethren report