Our New Year’s Prayer of hope

The following prayer was written by Carol Penner, a Mennonite pastor currently teaching theology at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. Copyright Carol Penner  www.leadinginworship.com.

Lord, we stand at the door of this New Year,
thankful for the year behind us,
a gift through which we’ve lived and moved.
At this timely threshold,
with our feet poised to walk into 2019,
we turn to you with our prayer of hope.
Hope springs eternal when we walk with you.
Help us walk this year with you.
We hope that this will be a year filled
with joy, with love, with laughter,
a year filled with plenty and abundance,
with purpose and fulfillment.
But if the year brings hard times and hurt,
pain and sorrow, tears and trials,
we know that your care and comfort
will console us month by month.
Grace us with forgiving spirits.
As a community help us walk
with the happy and the sorrowful,
holding their stories tenderly.
We hope for peace in our time,
for an end to wild war music.
We long to hear the sound of governments
listening to their people,
heeding their pleas for justice.
We long to hear the sound of the children of the world
cheering together because peace has been declared,
and they do not have to fear anymore.
We hope for healing for our beloved earth,
for harmony and balance where we have caused
disharmony and unbalance.
This year, Lord, help us to feel in our bones
the beauty of this life, this world;
its sounds and sights and smells and tastes,
the lavishness of being
which you give us in seconds and minutes
and hours and days and weeks and months.
Move in us, have your way with us,
so that on the last day of this year
we can say, wholeheartedly,
this year has been a gift
through which we’ve lived and moved
as followers of Jesus Christ, Amen.

MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

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Connecting Honduras and working for peace

By Jill Steinmetz, Digital Media Specialist with MCC’s SALT program in Honduras.

This post was originally published on MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog on November 13, 2018 and is also available in Spanish.

Sweet bread and hot coffee fueled discussions of peace and justice at a faith-based Partner Gathering in Valle de Ángeles, Honduras in September of this year. Each morning between enriching sessions, the meeting organizers created space for connection over coffee – a space where meaningful conversations could emerge  between attendees coming from more than 20 different Christian organizations all over the country. The event was initiated by MCC Honduras and co-organized with Tearfund, World Renew and Resonate Global Mission. Though MCC Honduras hosts an annual partners meeting, this was the first year to also include partners from other international faith-based organizations. The 2018 Partner Gathering aimed to foster environments for exchange and support among those working for peace and justice around the country. “We believe that we are stronger when we are together. These Christian organizations enrich our MCC partners, the Mennonite perspective and the work that we do,” said Matthieu Dobler Paganoni, Co-Representative of MCC Honduras. The gathering stretched over a 4 day period and at its close on September 7, representatives left with stretched minds, new and fostered relationships and a collaborative official declaration of commitments to guide further action.

MCC LACA photo from Honduras

A small group including Cesar Flores, MCC Area Director for Central America, brainstorms ideas before coming together as a large group. (MCC Photo: Jill Steinmetz)

The topic chosen by the partners for this year was “Analysis of the Honduran Context.” In part because the extremely relevant work these organizations are doing today must be understood in relation to the recent political history of this country. The coup d’état of President Jose Manuel Zelaya in 2009 sent the country into political crisis, highlighting the till-then latent partisanship of national politics. From this new political climate, Juan Orlando Hernandez emerged as a powerful congressional leader who then won the presidency in 2013 and again in 2017. His second presidency challenged the country’s constitution, which he had a hand in amending to allow for his reelection.  A panel of supreme court justices appointed by Hernandez upheld the new law, while distrust and polarization continued to escalate. When election results were made public and declared fraudulent by international observers, protests broke out across the country for months. While the immediate causes of the protests have normalized, the situation has aggravated partisan tensions and contributed to police militarization and violence against protesters which has risen with the government’s investment in tough-on-crime and anti-corruption policies.

MCC LACA photo from Honduras

Valezca Zacapa from MCC partner Christian Action for Education of the Mennonite Church (ACEM) shares during a session on education. (MCC photo: Jill Steinmetz)

Meeting in the hills outside the capital, participants discussed how the current situation in the country relates to the work they do, brainstormed how to overcome political division and polarization, and reflected on how they could foster reconciliation as Christian organizations. “The need of the country right now is to form alliances and talk about new strategies,” said Adolfo Espinal as he reflected on the week spent in fellowship with representatives from other Christian ministries and organizations. “It was an invaluable time to meet together to find common ground, discuss strategy and share with one another – especially because we have these same day-to-day struggles working for peace and justice.”

Espinal directs the Social Development Committee (CODESO), an MCC partner of the Brethren in Christ Church in Honduras, where he also serves as pastor and denominational president. He traveled to the gathering with several co-workers from Choluteca, a department in southern Honduras. Though small, Orocuina often makes news for its active culture of political protest. Espinal described his hometown by saying that “while the rest of the population talks about the topic, Orocuina stays in the streets, protesting 2-3 times a week. The streets are packed with people.” Adolfo Espinal and many of the attendees came to the event asking what the church can do to address internal polarization and division. As the pastor of a church of about 200 families, his connections and visibility challenge him to navigate sensitive terrain that runs through family and congregation: “My cousin is running for the Liberal Party and the opposing candidate is also a member of my church congregation,” he said. “Another man in my church is running for mayor for the National Party.” Deep political and religious rifts affect daily life for Espinal and for many of MCC’s partners in Honduras. This shared reality of division brought them together in September.

The deep polarization impacting Honduras cuts across political, social and religious spheres. The merits of this meeting included the range of organizations and communities represented and the rich dialogue drawn from such diverse perspectives. Presenters shared thoughts, ideas, and research which provoked discussions among the larger group. Among the speakers were an economic expert, a social historian, and a Catholic priest. Dolores Martinez of MCC partner the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) felt intellectually engaged by the speakers as well as inspired to actively revitalize the local church. She hopes to continue working, moving, fighting actively for justice in her community. The overall integrity of the week was boosted by having both Evangelical and Catholic participants share and find common ground. Social activities, including an evening bonfire, provided opportunities to share stories from different backgrounds while morning worship sessions brought together those from many denominations to share songs in a time of praise.

MCC LACA photo from Honduras (group)

(MCC Photo: Jill Steinmetz)

One of these songs, based on Micah 6:8, highlighted the reason behind why these passionate and committed professionals work the way they do in these challenging issues. The song’s invocation, “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” articulated a shared mission for many of these organizations. While strategies and organizational structures differed, participants found common ground and mutual support with one another this week. Marcia Gutierrez, from the Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communication Foundation (ERIC), was grateful to MCC for holding the event. During a coffee break she reflected, “I found a diverse set of people here promoting healthy dialogue. This is an important step in the construction of peace and justice in a country that needs it desperately.” Participants hope to meet again next year and extend an even broader invitation to like-minded organizations. Perhaps by working together, they can offer a concrete alternative to the religious, social and political divisions so rife in the country.

Remembering the saints

All Saints Day is a Christian celebration in honour of the saints that have gone before, known or unknown. In many cultures and traditions across the world, families and friends gather to remember the “great cloud of witnesses who surround us”. Here in the Ottawa Office, we are sharing some of the saints and inspirations in our own lives, people who have encouraged us to continue in our work of advocacy and seeking justice.  As you read our examples, we invite you to also take a moment to reflect and honour those in your own life who have also inspired you.

The Saints that connect faith with justice

I grew up in the church, while also growing up in a family passionate about politics and advocacy. But I’d never connected these two spheres – faith and politics – until watching a movie (a Disney TV movie, of all things!) on the real-life story of Ruby Bridges.

The message in Ruby’s story was clear: Christ calls us to work for justice, and it’s a vocation inseparable from the call to love others.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges

In 1960 at age 6, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, Ruby became the first African American in New Orleans to participate in efforts to desegregate public schools. The reaction was swift and terrible. Every day for a year Ruby walked through a hate-filled mob of parents, children and community members, yelling degrading slurs, and even death threats.

Yet amidst the horror, Ruby’s reaction moved me beyond words. Instead of lashing out, she prayed for the mob, even as they degraded her dignity. Ruby and her family were committed to their fight for justice, as evidenced by their persistence and boldness, but this was combined with such humility and a choice to love when faced with hate.

Ruby’s example has left a permanent mark on my life in helping to frame my own vocation. The Christian vocation of justice is about confronting injustice clearly and without hesitation. Yet, in these confrontations, we must also reflect Christ’s humility and love, even in the face of hate.

Ruby’s brave actions led to the desegregation of all public schools in New Orleans, starting the following year.

-Rebekah Sear, Policy Analyst

“She didn’t die, she multiplied”

Berta Caceres was a Lenca Indigenous woman from Honduras who dedicated her life to stopping large scale invasive development in the Lenca territories of Honduras. She was the co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Berta won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, for “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam” at the Río Gualcarque in Honduras.

Berta Caceres

“In defense of life, we resist.”

On March 2, 2016, hired assassins with connections to private security companies connected with protecting the dam project killed Berta Caceres. Those responsible have not yet faced justice.

Berta’s assassination is one of many, as Latin America is currently the most dangerous region in the world to be an environmental defender, yet because of her international recognition, Berta’s death has helped push this issue into the spotlight.  Many people refer to Berta as someone who did not die, but rather multiplied, like a seed being planted.

I remember Berta and I also remember all of the brave, ordinary people around the world who daily put their lives in harm’s way to protect the world we live in. I also remember that Berta’s work was not simply about protecting one river, but challenging the way society functions, through the lens of environmental protections.  As Berta said, “We should then build a society that is capable of co-existing in a just manner, in a dignified manner, and in a way that protects life.”

-Anna Vogt, Director

Quiet saints

There is a picture on the shelf behind my desk of two people whom I often think of on All Saints Day, though neither one would have wanted to be called a saint.

I met Margaret and Siegfried Janzen while doing an MCC service assignment in Petitcodiac, NB. Siegfried was pastor of the local Mennonite Church and Margaret was the pastor’s wife and so much more.

During the second world war Siegfried served as a conscientious objector, but afterwards both Margaret and Siegried served with MCC in Europe. Initially, they distributed food and clothing to refugees, but later directed the processing of over 10,000 refugees fleeing from repatriation to the Soviet Union. They even set up a hospital to help people pass the medical requirements to enter Canada.

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen, Petitcodiac NB

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen

After returning to Canada and raising a family, they retired to New Brunswick and Siegfried began pastoring and prison chaplaincy at the age of 65. For almost 20 years Siegfried visited inmates at Dorchester Penitentiary at least once a week to lead Bible studies and offer mediation and conflict resolution classes. Margaret baked cookies for ‘the boys’, visited inmates, provided a safe refuge for parolees and a permanent home for the wife of an inmate.

Siegfried was also instrumental in the development of a Peace Centre for the Greater Moncton Area.

I remember Margaret and Siegfried as quiet peacemakers and advocates, and while they have both passed away I try to keep their example before me each day.

-Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant

Spirited Reflection: From reconciliation to reckoning

This week’s Ottawa Notebook features a reflection originally published by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives on August 1, 2018 and has been re-posted with permission.

Reconciliation-to-Reckoning-300x225August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the day set aside by the United Nations to promote the protection of Indigenous rights and to mark the day, thirty-six years ago, that a working group focused on Indigenous peoples was set up within the world body’s human rights commission. On this day, what do Canadians have to reflect upon?

We are at the start of an era of reconciliation, a public acknowledgement and reckoning with the wrongs and harms of this country’s settler colonial past. While some may see this as a hopeful time of positive change and possibility leading to transcendence, most Indigenous people are frustrated with the limited vision of change that reconciliation has revealed itself to be. Many of us sense danger and see a colonial pushback against all of the gains towards the recognition of our rights and respect for our humanity we fought so hard to achieve in the past few decades.

What is reconciliation if it clings to the essence and profits of Canada’s colonial past? Canada is still denying us the ability to do the things we need to do to survive as cultures and as nations. It seems that in Canadians’ vision of a reconciled future, we will never see our stolen lands returned to us so that our future generations will be able to carry on the spirituality and culture that define us as the original people. Survival is our goal, both as people and as peoples. Will we be able to pass on our world view to our children in our own languages? Reconciliation, with its goal of healing the relationship between individual colonizers and individual colonized people, accepts the political and economic status quo when it comes to our collective rights and doesn’t concern itself with any essential aspect of Indigenous governance or nationhood.

The failure of reconciliation is the result of its foundation on a half-truth. It is conceived of as an effort to address the effects of colonialism on citizens of aboriginal heritage, as historic and having to do with political and economic and spatial displacement of and suppression of Indigenous people – individuals who suffered. This framing of the problem has fatally hindered reconciliation’s capacity to serve the achievement of justice. The true history of Canada involves settler colonialism, to be sure, but at its core, Canadian history is the sustained and conscious effort, from the beginning of this country continuing to today, to undermine and destroy the foundations of Indigenous peoples’ survival.

For justice to be achieved, there needs to be an intellectual and political shift away from reconciliation toward a perspective based on the full and true facts of this country’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Canadians need to acknowledge not only settler colonialism but the efforts past and present to eradicate the collective existence of Indigenous nations. The U.N. defined genocide in a 1948 convention, and it clearly applies to Canada’s laws and policies toward Indigenous peoples. The conversation about our past as original and newcomer peoples must be expanded to include this truth. We need to break the hold that reconciliation has on our minds and start the process of reckoning with the full scope of the crimes of this country.

People in power have come to accept reconciliation because they understand that nothing that comes out of it threatens the reality of their control over the resources and future of this country. But, if we can begin to build a framework for achieving justice that not only confronts the individualized harms of settler colonialism but also gets to the dark heart of the problem, the nearly complete genocide of our nations, it would challenge the complacency that has set into Canadian political culture because of the comfortable fiction that reconciliation is a morally valid end goal.


Taiaiake Alfred is a Kahnáwa:ke Mohawk writer and a professor of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. He has worked to advance Indigenous nationhood in Canada and internationally since 1987. Taiaiake also made a special presentation on Reconciliation and fundamental change to the KAIROS Steering Committee in 2017.  His writing and speaking are available here: www.taiaiake.net

Bill C-262 and living into a new covenant

By Diane Meredith,  Co-Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours Program.

It’s Wednesday night in early May at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto.  I sit with reams of people in a nearby park, seeking solace from the busy streets and basking in the long-awaited warmth of spring. This day has been long in coming as ice storms are barely behind us. A talk on the Anishinaabek understanding of the sacredness of protecting the waters is about to begin inside the cathedral. I pull myself away and dash inside, surprised to find myself seated among a crowd of some 60 or so of us on this path of “reconciliation.”

Nancy Rowe, Giidaakunadaad, a traditional knowledge keeper and Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe woman) of the Credit River, begins to share her wisdom about the traditional territory around Lake Ontario/Niigaani-gichigami. Before she begins, Rev. Evan Smith of Toronto Urban Native Ministries (TUNM), extends her hand and offers her a red pouch of tobacco, as is the tradition when greeting an elder or someone offering wisdom. Nancy reaches out and accepts the pouch of tobacco—and a covenant is sealed.

I can’t begin to capture the fullness of Nancy Rowe’s teachings rooted in decades of oral history spoken by elders across Turtle Island. But when she shares this knowledge, I feel a loosening of the grip of a deep skepticism on my heart about the “reconciliation road” the churches profess to travel with Indigenous Peoples.

tobaccoHer explanation of this seemingly simple custom of offering tobacco breaks open a window into a winding long road of the history of the Anishinaabek worldview, including creation stories, forms of spirituality, and governance. Even in its enormity, we begin to grasp that her story is but a glimpse into an expansive worldview so many of us know nothing about. It is however apparent that the meaning of this act—of extending one’s hand to another to offer sacred tobacco—is “covenant.” It is a commitment made between the partners to honour ways of governance and the protocols of living in right relations between and within nations.

The act of sharing tobacco to seal a covenant, often through pipe ceremonies or through the exchange of pouches of tobacco, is a long held ancient Indigenous tradition. It was an act that was extended by Indigenous peoples to the settlers in their first meetings. It seems as if these agreements were made with sincerity. Yet tragically history tells us they were as readily broken with a ferocious greed that explains where we are today.

When this tobacco (in Ojibway called “Semah,” one of the four sacred medicines) is extended and accepted, a spiritual covenant rooted in reciprocity (mutually agreeing to give up something to create something else) is activated, says Nancy. “I am here,” she says, “away from my grandchildren, because I believe this teaching with you is also very important…We are the only ones…humans, who don’t follow the original instructions from Creator as to why we are here… Everything in creation before us agreed to help us being here to fill our purpose… But are you willing to give back? Is there reciprocity?” she challenges.

Bill C262 posterOn May 29th MP Romeo Saganash’s Private Member’s Bill C-262 will be read for the third time in the House of Commons.  Soon after, it will be voted on. The Liberal Government states it will support the bill. This bill calls for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This declaration was drafted by Indigenous Peoples worldwide over a 30-year span.  Consisting of 46 articles, covering all aspects of life, UNDRIP is a universal international human rights instrument that outlines the minimum standards governments should provide to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples. Bill C-262 will ensure that the Government of Canada, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, takes all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the rights as outlined in the UNDRIP.

Tabled in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation 94 Calls to Action called on the Government of Canada, civil society, and the churches to implement UNDRIP in at least twelve of its articles. In 2017 Anabaptist Leaders in response to the TRC Call to Action #48 said: “In our ongoing efforts to seek right relations with our Indigenous neighbours, MCC also commits itself to using the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a guide for right relations and reconciliation. We affirm the principles of self-determination, equality and respect embedded in this Declaration…”

Nancy Rowe’s teachings remind us of the sanctity of covenants based on reciprocity, and the importance of respecting the spirit that dwells within and between these agreements. The treaties, she explains, were a simple example of ancient systems of Indigenous governance and natural laws that were shared with newcomers. “What are you doing to support Indigenous-led healing initiatives of Creation and our society? Everything is about reciprocity and relationship. The enemy of life is greed,” says Nancy.

Like the warmth of summer after long winter storms, justice for Indigenous Peoples is too long in coming. As Ovide Mercredi, Cree leader and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has stated, “The days of the status quo or business, as usual, will not lead to reconciliation.”[1]

Indigenous hands are being extended once again to settlers – here and now. The passing of Bill C-262 into law will ensure the rights of Indigenous People are respected. Bill C-262 is an opportunity to live into a new covenant that will break the inertia and the broken promises of the past. When enacted into law, it will become a dwelling place for the spirit of right relations to thrive between the Creator, God’s creation, and one another.

Rebekah and Jane Sears during march

TRC event in Ottawa 2015 MCC photo by Alison Ralph.

With the passing of Bill C-262 many changes will come; and society, government and church will most surely have to accommodate them. The road to reconciliation demands such change. But I am fully confident that, in this act of reciprocity, all partners in this covenant relationship will benefit for generations to come.

 

 

[1] Kathleen Martens, APTN News “Ovide Mercredi report rips Ontario Law Society on handling of Keshen file,” March 24, 2018.

 

We are still here

Miriam Sainnawap, author of this reflection, is Co-coordinator of MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours program.  She is Oji-Cree from Kingfisher Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

Miriam’s reflection is prompted by the story of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who was murdered in Winnipeg in 2014. The white man charged with her death was acquitted in February 2018 because of insufficient evidence. Prior to her death, Tina was in the care of Children and Family Services. Tina’s death galvanized attention on the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls in Canada and led to the establishment in 2016 of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

When I heard the trial verdict “not guilty” in the death of Tina Fontaine, I burst out in tears of grief and anger. That anger inspired me to write.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I could imagine Tina and her aspirations, dreams and hopes.

Miriam's blog 4

From a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, February 23, 2018, Winnipeg. Photo by Miriam Sainnawap

Not to undermine Tina’s tragic death, I also saw myself in her. Like Tina, I grew up in a  remote community (in northwestern Ontario). Like Tina, I was 15 years old when forced to leave home and live in an unwelcoming urban centre, so that I could fulfill my education opportunities. I quickly had to learn to adjust to white-dominated society and speak in English.

I could be Tina.

As a young Indigenous woman in Canadian society, I quickly learned my worth is devalued and my voice is suppressed.

Tina’s case raises major issues related to the treatment of Indigenous youth in this society.  The systems in place that are meant to serve and protect do not have my best interests and do not reflect my tradition and values.

No justice exists unless truth is told. Reconciliation does not exist now.

Miriam's blog 1

From a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, February 23, 2018, Winnipeg. Photo by Miriam Sainnawap

Let’s get to the point. The current mess we find ourselves in is our reflection of our society. Canadian society has yet to begin and name the systematic injustice, racism and privilege. Let alone acknowledge whose land they reside and stand on.

Good intentions are not enough. Apologies cannot fix the long-standing broken promises. Paternalist attitudes cannot help save Indigenous youth. Imposed livelihood solutions cannot empower our communities. Colonial systems cannot serve us.

Indigenous people have known, for far too long, that injustice has been a way of life: violence, forced assimilation and abuse.  Those grievances felt over the many generations of the past, exist today and go on into the future.

The goal of colonization has been to get rid of my ancestors and wipe out my nation. Over the years, the attempted assimilative policies have threatened our very existence and survival as the people of the land. They have denied our humanity.

Colonization is costing the lives of Indigenous peoples, my community and my people. What price must we pay?  What price must young Indigenous women pay?

Tina’s life was cut short. She didn’t get the chance to live her dreams. She will continue to remind us we need to do better as a society. We need to stand up for justice and the time is Now.

Miriam's blog 2

From a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, February 23, 2018, Winnipeg. Photo by Miriam Sainnawap

Indigenous people matter. Indigenous young women matter. We deserve equitable and fair access to justice.

We have dreams and hopes for ourselves and our communities.  We love our families and friends.  We attend universities, drink our cappuccinos like you and go to ceremonies.   We work constantly to make our daily lives better.

We are resilient. We are the people our ancestors prayed for and hoped for the future. We are still here.