The Gospel Under the Northern Lights

Today I have a brief update on my second book.  This book is about my experiences as a missionary in Fort Babine, British Columbia.  The second draft is finished.  A publisher is considering the manuscript.  I’m hoping to find a publisher that will ensure this book sees a wide distribution.  If you can, please pray with me that I’ll get a favourable answer.

In the meantime, here is another excerpt.  This is an unedited part of an appendix that I hope to include.  It’s a lecture that I prepared in 2003 for high school students in Manitoba on the history of native residential schools in Canada.  This is the introduction:

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Today I’d like to speak with you about an issue that affects many native people across Canada.  If you pay attention to the news, you’ve probably heard of residential schools.  Numerous lawyers are finding work these days with native people who are suing churches and the federal government for the treatment they allegedly received while they were in these residential schools.

Maybe you don’t know many native people personally.  I do and not just because I’m a missionary with native people.  In fact, I spent some of the formative years of my life growing up with native people in the Arctic.  I lived in the small community of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.   My experiences with native people in Inuvik were not good.  Among other things, I was regularly bullied by the native kids in my class, some of whom were 4 or 5 years older than me.  I was robbed at gun point on one occasion, though I’m pretty sure now that it was a pellet gun.  There was one boy in particular who was viciously mean.  Sammy’s family didn’t live in Inuvik.  They either lived on one of the Arctic islands or out in the bush somewhere.  Sammy lived in a residence near the school.  The name of the residence was Grollier Hall and it was operated by the Roman Catholic Church.  In recent years, some of the former employees of Grollier Hall have been accused of sexually abusing the students who stayed there.  This abuse was taking place during the time that we were living in Inuvik.  Therefore, it’s not entirely unlikely that Sammy and all the other bullies were victims of that abuse.

As I became involved with the mission work of the church at Smithers, I came into contact with other native people who had been through the residential school system.  As you may remember, I spent a summer as an intern with the mission in 1999.  During that one summer, I met a number of people who bear the scars, physical and otherwise, of residential schools.  This made a huge impression on me – I was deeply saddened by what I learned.  Prior to this, I had always been under the impression that native people had been exaggerating about what happened at residential schools.

In the year 2000, I became the missionary of the Smithers church and I was called to serve the Lord in the small community of Fort Babine.  Over the last three years, we’ve discovered that the pain of residential schools is also felt in this village.  Though it will not be discussed openly, the shame of being homosexually abused by priests and other men employed by the Roman Catholic Church is acutely painful.  I have had men weeping in my home over the humiliation they experienced at the Roman Catholic School in Lejac, which was located between Fort Fraser and Fraser Lake.

Lejac Residential School

The pain is real.  And so are the people.  At the beginning, I want all of us to be clear about that.  We are not talking about “Indians.”  We are talking about people.  We are talking about people who hurt and feel pain.  We are talking about people who are angry and sad.  These are real people.  Sometimes history seems abstract and distant, but I want to make it clear to you that the history of residential schools is not something that you can study seriously without becoming emotionally involved.  Even the standard academic history of the schools (Shingwauk’s Vision) does not avoid emotional involvement, even though academic history is generally supposed to be unemotional and objective.  There is nothing wrong with this.  God created us with feelings and when it comes to something like this, we are right to be strongly emotional.

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

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