“Isn’t distributing Bibles to First Nations colonial?”
The question stunned me! Standing in the foyer of a downtown Winnipeg Church, having worshipped with a Mennonite Congregation recently while in Manitoba, the comment caught me off guard. I responded in a moment with a response I have thought about since. I said, “The Word of God is never colonial, it is always transformative.”
In the days after this encounter, I have thought often about the question, and the answer I gave.
The assumption that Euro-Christians (that is believers of European ethnic ancestry) are distributing Bibles needs to be addressed. At Canadian LifeLight Ministries the call to develop a Scripture focused on Aboriginal readers resulted in an extensive process of consultation with Aboriginal Believers. Believers within the Aboriginal community often find themselves misunderstood by Christians from outside the Aboriginal community, and suspected of being agents of a dominating society from within.
My own experience has been that Aboriginal believers and leaders are pioneers in seeking solutions in Aboriginal communities. At CLLM we have sought to provide Scriptures to those leaders who need them in the furtherance of the cause of Christ in their own community. CLLM does not distribute Scriptures as a rule, we provide them to brothers and sisters in Christ who labor under difficult circumstances, and seek to be obedient even as they are sometimes reviled by their own and misunderstood by some of us on the outside looking in. Their courage is inspiring.
Colonial? The word means to dominate and extract value. The term neo-colonial was first coined in western circles by John Paul Sartre, a French philosopher who sought to build off of Marxist philosophy as a professor in France. I personally find John Paul Sartre a flawed intellectual and philosopher.
When the unspeakable crimes of Soviet communism became known to the outside world through the work of Robert Conquest and others, Sartre continued to rationalize and justify these cruelties as historical necessities in the glorious cause of building a socialist utopia. When the facts became irrefutable, Sartre continued to challenge them as ‘propaganda’ of the West.
This is the world within which CLLM serves. We seek not to dominate or extract value from Aboriginal communities or leaders. It is the opposite, we seek to give strength to those who are called into service. I often begin a conversation with, “hi my name is _______, I am racist.” The response is often a chuckle… and then I go on to explain that I am not a racist in the sense that call persons of aboriginal ancestry names, but I am racist in the sense that I don’t know what is needed or how to work in an aboriginal community: so help me be less uninformed tomorrow than I was yesterday by speaking with me today. Overwhelmingly, the response from Aboriginal believers has been a warm embrace and a commitment to walk together forward.
Is distributing God’s word to those who are lost within the aboriginal community colonial, No, not at all. It is the mission of many Aboriginal believers who see the results of human folly and seek to pierce that lostness with the light of Christ.
What we hold in common, is the conviction that the Word of God transforms. At CLLM and the aboriginal communities we seek to serve, the belief that the Word of God transforms the one who is convicted of sin and convinced of God’s grace. And that is the confession we uphold to all.
To supporters of CLLM, please don’t be dissuaded by news reports that rarely represent Christians in aboriginal communities accurately. Our brothers and sisters in communities across Canada are honorable, integral servants of Christ. Uphold them as you would any other brother and sister. For our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, are just that brothers and sisters to us all.
To partners of CLLM, we seek to walk with you. Learning, serving, seeking solutions. Where solutions are not readily discerned, we want to muddle through with you. We see the deep wounds the residential school system and the Indian Act have visited upon many. We seek to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and we seek to not allow apathy to govern our actions today.
Brothers and sisters in Aboriginal communities are the brave among us, serving amidst the debris of sin and fallen-ness. Sin of past injustices, and fallen-ness common to all humankind. We may not know how to solve all these problems, but it is my conviction that we begin by seeking communion with God through Jesus Christ, and that communion, that being present with God, that being allowed to be in the presence of God changes everyone who enters the Heavenly realm, the seat of grace. That is the beginning for all other transformations necessary. That human fallen-ness, common to us all, is the first chain that must be broken for us all to walk as men and women before God.
And we lead people to that place of transformation by offering the Word of Life; Scripture. Through the hands of brave believers in many and diverse places the Word of God is being seeded, and the preparation for a bountiful, exuberant healthful renaissance within the Aboriginal community is being seeded.
So the answer I gave cryptically a few weeks ago stands. The Word of God is never colonial, it is always transformative. Join with me in celebrating the coming, the Advent of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.