Archive | local

In which we stand with Abbotsford’s homeless


I’m making an exception to my usual rule not to write about local issues on my blog today because, well, I’m angry.

I live in a beautiful little city, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m rather new to the area – just four years – but my entire family lives here, my children go to school here, I shop here, I work here, I write in the public library, we worship here, our friends are here – this is our home. And normally I’m very proud of our little community. But over the past few years, I have been so disappointed by our City Hall and their attitude towards our homeless* community and their inability to begin to move our community forward with a social conscience on this issue.

The history here is long and detailed, but there are two incidents that exemplify the city’s complete lack of compassion and common sense.

The first incident is The Chicken Manure Incident. Yes, you read that right. Our lovely city leaders decided to break up a homeless camp that had been established by spreading chicken shit on the ground right beside where people were sleeping, right beside where they had their few possessions. It was a clandestine effort by the city to make the homeless population “move along.”

Nice, right?

Kevin Miller, the local filmmaker behind Hellbound?, created a documentary about the incident. (You can rent the full doc for $3 here.)

Then BC Housing and Abbotsford Community Services offered to build a small (20-bed) low-barrier $15.3 million shelter for our homeless population. And our city hall VOTED AGAINST IT. It was a 4-3 vote when our Mayor stepped in to cast a “no” vote, killing the proposal. (My thanks to Councillors Patricia Ross, Dave Loewen, and Henry Braun for their support of the project.)

Nice, right?

I’m not a homeless activist in our city, I’m just a rather ordinary citizen, but let me tell you, I’m disgusted and disappointed and more than a little angry.

I believe we can do better as a community.

I believe our homeless neighbours deserve dignity and compassion.

And as a disciple of Jesus, you better believe I’m standing with our homeless on this one.

In a peaceful effort to communicate and make sure our elected officials know that we expect better and our neighbours deserve better than this, a peaceful protest has been planned.

If you’d like to participate in a peaceful protest along with other citizens of Abbotsford, please join us at City Hall on Monday 24 February at 12 noon.

There’s a Facebook group here with updates and details.

To support or volunteer with ministries working with our homeless, please check out Ward Draper’s The 5 and 2 or The Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope here in Abbotsford.

And please continue to pray.


(I know that the term “homeless” as an identifier can feel dehumanizing and that is not my intent in any way. People find themselves without a home for various reasons, and it is not an identity. In this case, I’m using the term because that is how the debate has been framed and discussed within our community.)

Continue Reading · local, social justice · 8

In which I offer a Christian response to #IdleNoMore


The first time I heard the phrase “Idle No More” on CBC radio, I thought it was yet another Vancouver campaign about car emissions.

I’m a white Canadian woman from the prairies, now living in the south coast of British Columbia. I have zero Aboriginal blood, zero personal connections to the struggle and realities of Aboriginal rights. The most time I’ve spent on the rez is driving through quickly. Growing up in Regina, I had a few “native” friends (as we called First Nations in those days), but as I grew up and moved further and further west, Aboriginals disappeared from my circles of work and schooling. Now, I find myself in the position of unintentional isolation from our First Nations community.

I heard about Idle No More two months ago, and as the days have gone by, and more and more of our First Nations are participating in this protest movement, I’ve been compelled to frankly recognize both my privilege and my ignorance. I needed to learn about this movement, not only as a Canadian, but particularly as a follower of Jesus. I believe Jesus meant all that stuff he said in the Bible, and so the whole “caring for my neighbour” thing needs to show up in my real life. I wanted to know how to best love and support First Nations in this current climate.

so what is idle no more?

Idle No More is a grassroots uprising among Canadian Aboriginals. It was started by four women in Saskatchewan, Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld, more than two months ago with no funding and no “official” covering or sponsorship (I am pretty sure that qualifies for an “eshet chayil! woman of valour!”). The movement has grown to  fairly large protests and wide-spread mobilization of the Aboriginal community.

While the movement uses a lot of really big verbs and nouns and images about respect, rights, and revolution, Idle No More started because of Bill C-45. (We can talk about the democratic practice of an omnibus bill later, perhaps, because gracious, what a miscarriage of democracy…) So Bill C-45 is an omnibus bill, attached to our budget currently going through Parliament, with hundreds of provisions included, which (and these are the key ones related to Idle No More) seriously undermine our environmental sustainability as a nation and the sovereign rights of the First Nations still existing within our borders. It has already passed first readings. At its core, most of these changes are connected to the almighty economy and development related to pipelines. Already more than 16,000 lakes and rivers within Canada have had their protected status removed in order to facilitate oil exploration and resource mining on First Nations land. These omnibus bill provisions are likely just the next step towards this relentless economic development at the price of our environmental sustainability and the covenantal relationship we’ve had with First Nations stretching back centuries to the Crown’s agreements of the late 18th century. (A reminder: we’re not talking modern business contracts in this relationship: we’re talking ancient covenantal relationship, which carries a solemnity and respect and consistency come what may.)

Aaron Paquette said: This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware of the world in which you live.

First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word.

Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything.

Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing.

And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us).

Bill C-45 came to Ottawa on the heels of the crisis in Attiwapiskat. When the remote northern community of Attiwapiskat declared a state of emergency, their horrible conditions exposed the real conditions of many reserves throughout Canada as more akin to third-world standards. Attiwapiskat was an “in-your-face” example to those of us without connections to the reserves about the how life really is for our First Nations.

Inadequate housing. Little to no schooling. Addictions. Abuse. Loss or abandonment of children to the government systems. No jobs. Poverty. Little access to healthy food. High rates of suicide. Poor water. No heat in the winter. The list went on and on.

So Attiwapiskat declared emergency, and yet, due to the complexity of the Indian Act, treaties, government red tape, and the general consensus that there is “plenty of money being thrown at” the First Nations so there must be rampant corruption and mismanagement, very little was actually accomplished.  Like many Canadians, I was horrified by the sight of small Canadian children and families living in shacks in the north with no jobs, no money, no toilets, no heat, no hope. How is this even happening here, one of the richest nations in the world? Both of these instances are serving as a sort of “tipping point” in a long line of injustices and abuses within the community.

Idle No More was launched in an attempt to wake the sleeping giant, to shake First Nations and all of Canada out of apathy. As a result, the protest has become bigger than this one omnibus bill. It’s now turned into rhetoric and conversations about sovereignty, colonization, justice, treaty-honouring, respect, and sustainability. It’s not just about rivers and lakes, it’s what this decision represents for our treaty partners, and the bigger issues surrounding how the bill is being run through.

The mission statement of Idle No more calls “on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth”.

From Indigenous Nationhood: When asked what do we want, that question can be answered in two parts:

(1) In the short term, Canada must withdraw the suite of legislation impacting First Nations, amend those omnibus bills which threaten our lands and waters, and restore the funding that was cut to our First Nation advocacy organizations and communities;

(2) In the long term, Canada must set up a Nation to Nation process whereby First Nations and Canada can address many of the long outstanding issues related to the implementation of treaties and sharing the lands and resources.

There are several key players and extreme positions within the movement and the government: Prime Minister Harper, Chief Teresa Spence as an icon of the Idle No More young revolutionaries, drum circles, elders, statesmen, chiefs, passionate youth, and also the brilliant Shawn Atleo as head of the Assembly of First Nations.

From âpihtawikosisân: The Canadian government continues to mouth platitudes about its supposed dedication to this relationship, while it slashes funding, ignores our emergencies, pulls out of comprehensive land claim discussions, ‘consults’ with us and then ignores everything we told them, all while pursuing a hard-line agenda which accepts only termination as a result. We have been backed into a corner and we are literally fighting for our lives. We are literally dying, in so many preventable and unacceptable ways. I’m not being poetic or hyperbolic here and I don’t just mean culturally.


Idle No More :: Sarah Bessey

so what is the Christian response?

I don’t actually like the idea of “The” Christian Response. There is a lot of diversity within Christianity, many ways to respond. Some of us are called to this work in a front-lines sort of way but all of us are called to care, all of us are called to love.

So if we believe that Jesus meant what he said, then the question that truly needs to guide our varied responses is this one: what would Love want to do here? So here’s what I think that means within the context of Idle No More:

Stay and listen and learn

We must listen. Before anything else, we must listen. We must listen to the truth of the histories, the experiences, the personal stories, the larger historical context. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to listen to them, so start there. Show up at a rally, make a friend, email a blogger, listen and read something other than filtered media, with an open heart to learn and honour. Then make sure that your words, your posture, your attitude, and actions communicate the dignity of truth that you love, you support, you are seeking justice and friendship as a student and fellow traveller.  Also, remember to find the joy, find the fun, find the love that exists in each other and celebrate it. Remember, we’re talking about people here, not a cause. PEOPLE. Complex, diverse, wise, interesting people with unique stories and experiences beyond the obvious and one-note stereotypes. We can’t separate God’s justice from God’s presence.

Recognize our role and repent

Much of the problems that plague First Nations communities have their roots in their treatment and abuse at the hands of colonization. Residential schools, forced assimilation, racism, systemic murder, crippling economic inequalities, lack of adequate schooling, we have a disgusting history as a nation when it comes to our First Nations. We need to repent of the evil, yes, but we also need to repent of our continued disconnection of turning our neighbours into “The Other” through stereotypes and divisions. We must recognize our own failings and habits, our own poverty, our bad habits of treating our friends and neighbours as “a cause” instead of as a partner.  Refugee advocate, J.R. Goudeau pointedly reminds us:

Christians are often implicit in asymmetrical relationships that privilege First World over Third World, white over black, men over women, urban over rural, Western over Eastern, cosmopolitan over “primitive.”

So many of the imperial relationships that broke down in the twentieth century have been examined in-depth in academic and political settings, and yet we barely touch this subject in many churches.

We travel. We bring back sideshows and videos. We talk about “the poor,” “orphans,” “the least of these.”

We are guilty of not examining the acts of translation that turn an ordinary Bolivian into an object of sympathy for our mega-churches. We are guilty of using the degrees of removal that separate an upper-class white Midwestern Christian from a Haitian mother as guilt trips or morality moments. We are guilty of objectifying African villages by making their stories about our reactions, our acts of generosity, without really stopping to see what is happening their on the ground.

We are guilty of using “the poor” as objects or foils sent to teach us about ourselves rather than people in their own right.

Instead of pretending injustice doesn’t exist or opining that “they should just get over it already” or paying lip service to “things are so much better now,” there is something spiritual and powerful to repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness as individuals, religious communities, and a nation. We can no longer point to the occasional corruption or grandiose actions or ongoing mismanagement of a few as an excuse for our perpetual inaction or devaluation of an entire community’s very immediate and pressing needs.

There is also something spiritual in accepting that apology and forgiving, according to Kenny Blacksmith. We cannot underestimate the power of forgiveness and restitution, and the power of making things right, of turning from our old ways and moving forward into justice with renewed purpose and focus. Work and live on the side of reconciliation and justice.

Encourage and live the values of negotiation, conversation, friendship, and reconciliation

We come alongside one another as brothers and sisters, as treaty partners and covenant partners, committed to the relationship’s sustainability, with deep respect and honour. Christians should be the first ones to reject violence, to disavow the language of shame and paternalism, acts of oppression and dismissal. That has no place in the heart of one who practices the ways of Jesus’ upside down kingdom. Even in the places of disagreement for best way forward, there is a way to disagree beautifully in love and respect. Moving forward in hope is more important than brinkmanship, saving face, getting the final word. These are complex, tangled issues which will likely have complex and varied solutions and responses. Conversation, negotiation, good faith is key.

Commit to community development

As Christian social activist D.L. Mayfield wrote, “we should all be engaged in the brokenness of our communities. And we should all be working through how we use our gifts and creativity to shine light in dark situations, in ways that dignify and uplift and empower others.”

We are the people of justice seeking and peace making. I’m not talking about “helping the poor” in the lame and destructive colonial ways connected to assimilation and conversions, palatable stereotypes and hand-outs. No, I’m talking about participating in the redemptive movement of God, his heart to reconcile and redeem within First Nations together. I believe God cares about housing and economics, about overcoming addictions and families, about children and clean water, about schooling and sustainability. This may look like working within the community as a partner, it may look like supporting active work, it may look like participating in a big life-changing way, foster care advocacy, it may look like writing to our government, employment, opportunity, friendship, or perhaps protesting or participating, it may look like advocating for these changes and opportunities at the highest levels of government. We need policy makers and pragmatists, we also need prophets and poets. We can come alongside our brothers and sisters, lending our voices and power to theirs, and stand together for a unified people advocating for justice and peace and wholeness. We support, we believe, we are with them for the long haul.


Pray for peace and justice, the restoration of hope and leadership. We must pray for the root of injustice to be removed, for wisdom in our leadership, for forgiveness and justice. We must pray with our spirits, with our words, with our hands and with our feet.

and read more…

Official Idle No More

Idle No More on Facebook


9 Questions About Idle No More at CBC News

The natives are restless. Wondering why? by âpihtawikosisân

The revolution will not be televised (but it will be tweeted) by Aaron Paquette

Idle No More: A Christian Issue by ChristianWeek

What is the Idle No More movement…really? by Indigenous Nationhood

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any by Shaneisms

Stephen Harper, First Nations, and an opportunity lost by Chris Hill for CBC

Idle No More: Canada’s Indigenous “Occupy” by Bilbo Poynter for the Christian Science Monitor

Wiconi International

Gathering Nations with Kenny and Louise Blacksmith

 (If you have other resources or articles, feel free to share them in the comments.)


Continue Reading · canada, faith, local, politics, social justice · 28

In which my heart just sits down

Six people are dead in Wisconsin, dead because they were at the Sikh temple early that day, and motives are still unclear, but oh, my heart, may we, as the people of Jesus, be mourning alongside.

I read this article after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin. The reporter quoted a victim’s family member at the scene of the horror, he said that when he heard the news, “it was like the heart just sat down.” This shooting, coming so soon on the heels of another American shooting in Colorado, and the one before that and the one before that, and what is there to say but I’m so so so sorry. God. God.

I first became acquainted with the Sikh faith when I was 16. I covered my long red hair with a wide headscarf, went to a temple. It was a field trip for World Religions, and we arrived, teenage-obnoxious, a list of likely-ignorant questions scribbled. I left my Docs at the door for the women, rejoined the boys. After the tour, we quietly observed a service, then we went to a separate room to gather in a circle, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the soft carpeting around our welcoming host. We asked questions about his faith, about how it “felt” to be Sikh in Canada (he laughed), about their history, about family dynamics, the differences between Sikhism and Christianity, what they believed and practiced and what was with the little knives. Nearly twenty years later, I remember our tall host, he was so gentle and wise, so kind to this group of evangelical kids from Calgary, he blessed us in our ignorance. My friend snapped a picture of me standing there in the parking lot on our way out, we wanted to remember how we looked in the head coverings, I was grinning wide at the novelty. I scribbled a few notes down: The Five K’s, the Five Thieves, something something something, truth, justice, karma, equality, peace, a few doodles on the margins.

Now, we live in a community that is home to the first Sikh temple in Canada more than 100 years ago, the Gur Sikh Temple on South Fraser Way, and more than a third of my town is South Asian. My husband’s hard-working and generous clients invite him over for tandoori, our tinies dance to Bhangra music at the insurance agency customer appreciation days. The democracy of public school and soccer practice and work blends us all in together, and here, you’re as likely to see a Nishan Sahib decal as a Christian fish, on the back of the minivans at the mall. There is ignorance here, too, racism and exclusivity, no doubt, but we live together somehow.

When my eldest daughter was two, she thought the Indian ladies shopping beside us at the Superstore were real-live-princesses, she followed their bright sunset orange saris and gauzy scarves covering long ropes of black hair, and they chuckled kindly at her obvious wonder over their beauty. We nod hello to each other, the picnic tables of men in turbans at the park, they’re solving the world’s problems apparently. On Saturday nights, our chain restaurants on the west side play Hockey Night in Canada on one TV, the Punjabi feed for the same hockey game is on the other, men in turbans and dark beards calling the plays on the ice. On Canada Day, we danced to Dehli 2 Dublin at the exhibition grounds, the fireworks banging into the night sky, to the strains of Celtic-Punjabi-fusion. I admit it: I guard the location of my favourite hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant like a treasure, lest it become popular with the hipsters.

Hard conversations are coming, perhaps legislation, around gun control, about hatred, racism, religion, about our culture’s glorification of violence, our nationalism, and the divisions between us, yes, those conversations need to happen, but not just now: now is the time for grieving, now is the time for loving, for burying, for mourning with those who mourn, for gathering humanity together, and for compassion.

I believe that it is precisely because of my Christian faith that I am sitting my heart down, mourning with those that mourn, grieving and honouring, loving and praying. Love casts out fear, and may the mouths of the faithful be filled with words of Love and hope and peace, never fear.

So yes, my heart is sitting down, my friends, my neighbours, we are all with you, too, we’ll bear witness and stand with you.

My heart will sit down with your own heart, I’ll light my candle and say my common prayers for your grieving and your wounded, for us all. And then we will rise up again.

Image source


Continue Reading · A Deeper Story, faith, Guest Post, local · 0

In which I’m no angry feminist


I’m no angry feminist.

Oh, no, I’m a Jesus-following, joy-filled feminist. My eyes are full of God’s daughters, worldwide, making space for goodness, mercy, justice, wholeness. I’m no man-hating-blaming shrew, I’m surrounded by good men, men that are not afraid of women, men that celebrate and affirm and welcome and strengthen and protect. I don’t have a sob story about my dad or my mum or my family, there’s no bitterness in my words.

I’m not angry. I’m hopeful.


I stood in a room this weekend. It was filled with women.  We called each other sister, and we meant it, it wasn’t ironic. We called what we were experiencing a sisterhood, a movement, we wanted to be part of the change that we saw all around us.

We held a red thread in our hands, it wound throughout the room, we were all hanging onto it, this red connection of hope and relationship, the one at the back was connected to the one at the front, we understood that it meant that we all mattered. If one of us fell, we all felt it. If one of us was hurting, we were all hurting. (And we mean you, too, sister. We held you in our heart all weekend, you in Ontario, you in Burundi, you in Iowa, you in the Netherlands.)

So we laughed and we cried. We told each other the stories of how we’re making space for God’s love in our world. We talked about scary steps, about terrifying risks of community and trust and generosity. It was a reunion, a family gathering, a tribe of women that all get it, all understand, we don’t have time to be bickering and boundary-drawing, we’re too busy loving, we’re too busy getting on with the work of the Kingdom and the honour of our King.

My heart broke all over again, my heart was mended all over again.

While Jessica and Christina courageously sat on the white couch, telling their story of transformation, of restoration, of hope, of their months at Mercy, the room was deadly silent, not even the glow of iPhone screens to be seen. We were a force of women that wanted to gather around them, hold them in our hands while they spoke of pain and brokenness.

When one of our graduates fell silent, her voice cracking and breaking with the pain of remembering, the room was silent.

From just behind me, a woman’s voice cried out in the stillness, “It’s all right, hon. We love you. We all love you.” And that brave woman up there, that strong woman, our hero, she smiled through her tears at our voices from the darkness growing louder, we love you we love you we love you – and she began to speak again, to tell her story brave in her own voice, she owned it.

These women are a big reason why those graduates are sitting on that couch. These women have prayed for each of our Mercy girls, given hundreds of thousands of dollars for their home and counselling and well-being, walked the property in prayer, dropped off bundles of clothes, preached the Gospel with their lives to all of us. And as two of our graduates stood on the stage, standing for all of the Mercy girls, the women in the room welcomed them like daughters, like sisters, like they were the long-awaited child, for this girl we had prayed.

We collected and giggled over panties so that girls in Africa could go to school. We sent Idelette and Tina to Kelley in Burundi. We adopted inner city schools.We showed up at the pre-trial centre to teach parenting classes, to hug life-ers in the women’s prison without qualification. We packed Christmas hampers. We prayed. We worshipped. We laughed until we cried. We prophesied. We ate and we drank too much coffee. We had a few misunderstandings. Then we went back out to do it again.

This was Church, this was the people, the women of God gathered together for communion and community and Holy Spirit breathing, just to scatter back out and do it all over again. We’ll be back next year with a few more stories.

These are the women I know, in my real life, and in the stories I hear from all around the world. These are the women in my world. These are my people. It’s like a banquet, a feast of justice and goodness and guts and faith and differences.

No, I’m no angry feminist.

These are the feminists of my world, these are the women that love women, that love men, that love the Church, that love the world, and this holy love, oh, it is pushing back the darkness.

We’re just a small group, one little gathering, representative of a multitude all over the world, we’re the women that have decided that we will be the women who love

All images are by Judith Laurel Photography, available at LifeWomen’s Facebook page.

A huge thank you and God-bless-you to Pastor Helen Burns and the team at Relate Church who always put together a conference of women that feels more like a movement. It’s an honour to be a small part of life with you.

Continue Reading · abundant life, church, community, faith, fearless, Jesus Feminist, journey, local, Mercy Ministries, missional, missional living, sisters, social justice, women · 31