Be encouraged

Our last blog entry for 2016 is written by Clare Maier, advocacy research intern for the Ottawa Office. Clare completed her internship just before Christmas.

For kids, some things can be hard to get through. Sitting through Math class just before recess is difficult. Waiting quietly while old people ramble before you can open your presents on Christmas morning can seem impossible. As a university student, fourth year seems insurmountable, and as an adult, it may seem impossible that the mortgage will be paid off before the kids are fully grown.

In the world of advocacy, we too get frustrated with delays and endless talk. Sometimes the solutions seems so simple and the complications so unnecessary. Sometimes groups may work for years to champion an issue or raise a concern with Canadians and with the government, only to have the government suddenly take interest, act like it was their idea in the first place, and then move in a totally different direction.

This frustration can especially be the case for Christians, people who understand the Biblical call of God to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This passage, along with many others in the Bible, makes it clear that true obedience and worship of our Saviour and Lord includes not only heart following and church-centred praise, but action stemming from our gratitude and love for God and for His people.

There are many, many ways to act justly and lovingly toward our neighbours. But my point with this reflection is not to motivate anyone to any particular type of action or advocacy. Instead, I simply want to encourage all people as they do their best to follow Jesus.

Encouragement can be especially needed during the long months of a Canadian winter, a winter which often feels like it starts in November and lasts until April, regardless of the presence of snow. As humans, we often seek the short-term goals and easy-to-grasp rewards. We sit through the six-hour car ride because we are heading home, or we work hard on a paper or food drive campaign because the goals are clear and there is a definite end in sight. We aren’t as good at just plugging away at causes that require long term commitment and where solutions are murky at best.


A winter storm in Charlottetown.  Photo credit/Canadian Press

Luckily, God has something to say about this need too. In Isaiah 40:28-31, God reminds us that He is the Creator of the world and He cannot and will not grow weary. He knows everything and can see the “endgame” even when we can’t and we are tempted to give up. God goes further, promising that all who wait on the LORD will “renew their strength,” soaring effortlessly like eagles and not becoming tired, discouraged or weak. This promise is extraordinary, and a great encouragement to Christians, especially those who feel like they are involved in the “front-line” of advocacy.

So, as we trudge through yet another winter, remember that as Christians and as children of the Creator, Author, and Great Protector, we don’t need to be able to see the end goal. As the prayer “A Step Along the Way” encourages us, it is not our job to bring about the success of our efforts. Our job is to “plant the seeds that one day will grow,” remembering “we are prophets of a future not our own.”

Therefore, be encouraged and rest easy this Christmas season.

Light, peace and hope shining in the darkness

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. –Henri Nouwen

It’s almost time – Christmas time! Our period of Advent waiting is nearly finished for another year. It is a time when many churches and families are lighting candles in anticipation. It is a season where we celebrate light coming into the darkness. Our hope is arriving—in many ways it is already here!

When I was working for MCC in Bogota, Colombia I experienced the Advent season as  an explosion of light. I have never seen so many bright and flashing Christmas lights. I remember taking a cable car up Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city, to join with thousands of others, who waited for the Christmas lights to be turned on for another season.


Night of the Candles.Noche de las Velitas in Bogota.  Photo credit/Anna Vogt

In the midst of the often extravagant celebrations, one of the most beautiful celebrations of light in Colombia is December 7, la Noche de las Velitas —the Night of the Candles. This is an annual celebration popular across Colombia on the eve of December 8th, when the church celebrates the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary by the Holy Spirit, and the lights guiding Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem.

Every year on December 7 Colombians meet together in parks, on balconies and in the streets, to light candles, watch them burn all the way to the end, while visiting with each other. For the next few weeks and even months the parks and sidewalks are plastered with the remnants of candles.

Then we think about this year. 2016 has been a politically intense year in Colombia, to say the least. It began with the announcement in June that a peace deal between the FARC and the government was forthcoming with the signing of a unilateral ceasefire. Across Bogota people flooded the streets in celebration. After more than 50 years of armed conflict, there was a light of peace at the end of the tunnel.


Angélica Rincón lights a candle for peace. Photo credit/Anna Vogt

By the end of August, officials signed a peace deal in Havana Cuba, where talks had been hosted for the past four years. At the end of September, leaders, dignitaries and delegates from Colombia and around the world gathered to watch the formal signing of the peace accords. President Santos was then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, on October 2 in a national plebiscite to officially endorse the peace accords—to everyone’s complete shock—the support of the peace deal failed by less than 0.25%, or about 60,000 votes. It was a completely devastating moment for many Colombians, to say the least. The future seemed uncertain, the peace process potentially in tatters.

Enter, once again, the candles and cries for peace. In the weeks that followed, Colombians from across the country poured out into the streets, marching, lighting candles and urging continued efforts to reach a peace agreement. Students and social activists joined together with churches and faith leaders, meeting together in Plaza Bolivar in Bogota, singing, comforting each other and calling for peace.

Eventually, by December 1, after many consultations across various parties, the Colombian Congress passed revised peace accords. The process was back on track, but not without significant opposition. And not without hardship and ongoing doubts.. But then December 7 came again—La Noche de las Velitas.


Candles in Bolivar Plaza. Photo credit/Anna Vogt

As I write this, I’m thinking about our advocacy work with government in Canada and around the world. I think of the ongoing challenge of working for peace and justice within imperfect systems, where people so often seem to be looking for loopholes which will benefit themselves and their own interests. Sometimes I think about the futility of this work. Even when governments are committed to peace and justice, they will never be the fulfillment of true light in the darkness.

That fulfillment comes through the Incarnate One.

During Advent and at Christmas we celebrate this one authentic hope—Jesus, the light that shines in the darkness.  And this is the reason we continue our advocacy work, despite what comes our way, praying that our efforts point to this true light.

I close with an Advent prayer from one of my favourite theologians, Henri Nouwen. I offer this prayer for Colombia, for Canada and for places where the darkness threatens to overwhelm—may peace, light and hope shine brightly.

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

By Bekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

Doing my small part for climate justice

This week’s guest writer is Amy Martens, Administrative Assistant and Research Associate for MCC Canada’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response Department.

In November, over 20,000 government officials and representatives of organizations and UN agencies met in Marrakech, Morocco for the 2016 UN Climate Change Conference. Over 190 countries affirmed their commitment to implement the Paris Agreement, which entered into force this November, and called for increased cooperation to meet the long-term goal to limit global temperature increase to well below 2°C.

marakeshSeveral initiatives for advancing climate action were launched during the conference including the NDC Partnership, a coalition of 33 countries (including Canada) who will work to help countries achieve their national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. In addition, Canada, Germany, Mexico and the United States announced national long-term strategies for reducing their GHG emissions.

While the upswing in momentum towards global action on climate change and the progress made in Marrakech is encouraging, current pledges to reduce GHG emissions are inadequate to limit global warming to under 2°C. Whether Canada can even manage to meet its own ambitious emissions reduction strategy to cut emissions by 30% before the end of 2030 is still in question—especially considering recent pipeline approvals. Watching Canada’s climate policy take shape sometimes looks a lot like two steps back for every step forward.

Ice floe in the canadian arctic

Rapidly melting sea ice is a sign of climate change. Photo/Depositphotos

It’s tempting to dismiss climate change as a problem only governments and large corporations can address. Yet, as a resident of a country with the highest emissions per person in the world–almost double the global average—I am part of Canada’s carbon problem too. Considering this, what’s my responsibility when it comes to climate change? What role do I play in helping Canada achieve its GHG emission reduction goals?

According to a 2015 study, consumers—like me—are to blame for more than 60% of global GHG emissions. Emissions from our lifestyle choices, such as transportation habits or electricity use, often get the most attention. In fact, the majority of consumer emissions are an indirect result of our consumption; the emissions caused by producing the food and goods we buy.

This December, many Canadians will make the annual pilgrimage to purchase gifts for the people they love. In 2015, we collectively spent $13.5 billion on food, clothing, housewares, electronics, and more, during the month of December. While it’s fun to celebrate Christmas by decking the halls, hosting parties, and giving gifts, it’s easy to forget the significant impact of this consumption on our environment.


MCC operates thrift shops across Canada and the U.S.  MCC photo.

I’ve slowly been confronting the truth of my consumption habits and the wider impact of my purchases on the environment. I’ve been trying to ask difficult questions before I fork over my money, like: How was this made? What is it made of? Who made it? I’m learning to re-evaluate how much stuff I actually need to live a meaningful life, and to cultivate mindfulness in my consumption. I’ve started to make planned and carefully thought out purchases. I’ve re-discovered the thrill of finding that perfect item used, and I’ve committed to wearing a limited wardrobe to work. I’m reorganizing my priorities to place greater value on experiences over belongings.

Since each one of us is contributing to climate change, we all have the responsibility to reduce our impact. With Christmas just around the corner, now is a great time to take a small step towards limiting household consumption. By making changes to reduce our personal GHG emissions, we send the message that we expect Canada to fully meet its national goal to reduce GHG emissions by 30% by 2030—and we’re willing to accept what’s necessary to make that happen.

It’s overwhelming to think about addressing the global issue of climate change. But large-scale change is the result of many small changes adding up. And I have a responsibility to do my small part for climate justice—one fewer purchase at a time.

Constructing a reconciliation response: Understanding the UNDRIP

If you’ve ever tried to build a Lego set without the instructions, you know it can be frustrating and that often little parts can be left out. Sometimes pictures are helpful, but it is still difficult to replicate the exact model the set is designed to make. Some sets are easier than others, and some seem like a really good idea at first, but quickly become way more complicated than originally thought. It doesn’t help that well-meaning siblings come along and ask why you haven’t put on the stickers yet.

Even though the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is much more important, its complexity might be somewhat compared to Lego. The Declaration is complex and its impact and exact application is difficult to understand at first. With dedication and patience, it can be understood and applied in a constructive manner to create a beautiful structure.

For Christians, the Bible informs our values and guides our behaviour, especially in how we are to treat each other. Since the UNDRIP focuses on how we see each other and how we treat each other, we can turn to the Bible for guidance. The Bible explains that when God created the world, He created all people equal and of value because they were created in His Image. Jesus includes loving our neighbours as ourselves in the Golden Rule, along with loving God (Matthew 22:36-40). Thus, anytime our neighbours (here and around the world) are being treated unfairly and denied rights to dignity and respect, we must seek ways to restore our world to justice and peace. One tool we have been given to articulate those injustices and envision a more equal world is the UNDRIP.


More than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation in Ottawa on May 31, 2015 at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  MCC photo/Alison Ralph

The document is comprised of forty-six articles which both lay out explicit rights and include implementation mandates directed to states. It was created over a twenty-year span by Indigenous peoples and other parties worldwide. The document mainly focuses on three types of rights: rights to protect and live out ones culture, rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), and rights to self-determination.

Many of the UNDRIP rights have to do with cultural rights– those rights to language, religion, education, traditions, and practices that we pride ourselves on in Canada. These rights appear to be the easiest to address and perhaps the least controversial. Although they do impact government funding arrangements, they largely require that Indigenous communities are given the space to make their own choices about cultural practises. They are significant because they represent a much needed departure from previous policies of assimilation and forced Christianization. In advocating for these rights, non-Indigenous people can work alongside Indigenous communities and remind the government of the openness to other cultures that we cultivate in Canada. For Christians, at a minimum, this means taking the time to learn about and develop respect for Indigenous spiritual traditions, even as we hold onto deeply held faith convictions.

Rights to FPIC mean that Indigenous communities must be consulted, provided accessible information, and their decisions respected, especially in reference to natural resource extraction on their lands. This is similar to the way that non-Indigenous Canadians expect to be treated, but it applies to communities as well as individuals. These rights are harder to define concretely and difficult to imagine fully implemented, simply because the potential influence is huge. Many of Canada’s natural resources are on Indigenous land, making the possible refusal of communities to allow projects on their land problematic, from the perspective of those seeking economic growth through the extractive industry.

Rather than view FPIC as problematic, it is helpful to recall that these are the same rights every person is entitled to, and that as settlers, we are the newcomers to Canada. It is important that all people advocate for Indigenous FPIC rights, especially as communities who have traditionally not been consulted and have seen their lands contaminated and destroyed by mining and other activities. These rights are also one of the sticking points for the government, so it is important for us all to work with communities and discover how their FPIC rights can be respected and upheld in light of the current government hesitation.

The final group of rights are those that have implications for self-determination of communities and nations. Rather than focus on concerns about Canadian sovereignty, it is important that when treaties were signed with the European powers, they were signed at a national level and that rather than giving rights to Indigenous peoples, the UNDRIP is reminding and demanding that those rights and original relationships be respected and upheld. There is some uncertainty about practical application of these rights which have been so long ignored, but with kindness, sincere effort, and a genuine partnership between Indigenous nations and the Canadian government, they can be resolved.

As Christians living in Canada, it is important that we recognize that the existing relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the state is harmful and not as it was originally drawn up in our founding treaties. In addition to supporting a more equal and beneficial society nationally, we can work together at a local level, assisting Indigenous Peoples when it is helpful to them, and working harder to implement the equality and acceptance set out for us in the Bible.


There was a real sense of  togetherness as people participated in the walk for reconciliation, Ottawa, May 31, 2015. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

Additionally, as Canadians, we have a history of taking land and resources that are not ours and robbing Indigenous communities of their ability to practice the same cultural, religious, economic, and governance autonomy that we prize so highly. Non-Indigenous people have done this through past programs such as the Indian Act, unfair land treaties and residential schools, and continue through the systems and institutions in place at a national and local level. Here we too have a duty to step forward in reconciliation and ask how we can begin making positive changes. One way that communities have identified is by fighting to hold the government accountable to UNDRIP. This method is set out by the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, as it calls on the government to implement UNDRIP and especially for Christians and their churches to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous neighbours.

The rights set out by the UNDRIP are not unreasonable. They can be difficult to understand, but through honest collaborative efforts, all levels of government—working together with Indigenous communities–may create the beautiful structure that will allow for the flourishing of Indigenous nations. Non-Indigenous people can help by being informed, reaching out in support to local communities as churches, and in reminding our leaders that even slow-moving progress is progress, and that all people should enjoy these rights to dignity and respect.

by Clare Maier, advocacy research intern for the Ottawa Office