Fifty years ago I first met my future brother-in-law Don, an energetic and endearing Indigenous five-year-old adopted by my future wife’s family at birth. He was part of the Sixties Scoop, but that term had not yet been coined back then. His maturation into adulthood was very rocky, and he spent a lot of time in prison. In 2001, aged 34, he died tragically of a heroin overdose in a rooming house in Toronto.
Fast forward 18 years: During the summer of 2019, a significant desire to engage in racial reconciliation erupted (literally!) in our congregation, Meadowlands Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, and almost 70 people participated in activities oriented to becoming more aware of the experiences of black and Indigenous Canadians.
In the spring of 2020, we became aware of the CRC’s Hearts Exchanged program, and 15 members of our church signed up, including my wife Evelyn and I. The two of us realized we had a lot of processing to do, including coming to grips with our relationship with Don.
We are now halfway through the eight sessions of Hearts Exchanged materials, and something remarkable has happened. Our group of 15 has become a tight-knit community, sharing insights, difficult questions, and other helpful resources that we have found on our own.
The layout of Hearts Exchanged on the Thinkific platform is very user-friendly, and the combination of regular assignments that we do on our own and monthly two-hour gatherings for processing our studies and sharing our journeys works very well.
Here are some of the blessings that I (and the group) are receiving through Hearts Exchanged:
1. It is providing intentionality and focus to our pre-Hearts Exchanged life experiences and learnings. Almost all of us in our group have had significant engagements with Indigenous matters prior to Hearts Exchanged, and these engagements have been somewhat random, not yet brought into a communal conversation. Hearts Exchanged is providing a gathering, synthesizing place for many individual journeys.
2. Hearts Exchanged is supplementing our previous learnings in a sequential, well-structured manner. Each of the lessons is well organized, inviting significant learnings without succumbing to a “too much information” syndrome. I find that we are able to process it well, and each month’s work builds appropriately on what we have learned earlier.
3. The program has built capacity for significant faith recalibration. Hearts Exchanged helps one to clearly see how a Christian faith syncretized with colonial greed and violence has profoundly harmed Indigenous communities and persons. We have recognized how this perversion of the gospel lives on in our own hearts and communities, and together we have experienced significant distress concerning this.
But our monthly time together has given us opportunities to share this distress in open, honest and vulnerable ways. For example, I have found that Robin Wall Kimmerer’s best-seller Braiding Sweetgrass has given me the best series of meditations on Genesis 2 that I have ever read, even though she is not a Christian.
At the same time, I have realized that Western Christianity has heavily prioritized Genesis 1 (and sidelined Genesis 2) to justify an exploitative, colonial spirit. How am I to respond when Christians practice heresy and a non-Christian Indigenous author captures biblical essences? I’m not sure yet; the faith recalibration is ongoing. I thank the Lord for such a rich faith journey.
I don’t know where this Hearts Exchanged journey will lead. We hope that the collective learnings of our group of fifteen will impact the entire congregation in some ways (after all, seventy folks have participated in various learning events). We are in conversation with an Christian Indigenous preacher at the nearby Six Nations Reserve, and hope that he will preach for us. We hope to develop organic ways to cultivate friendships with our Indigenous neighbours.
We will see what doors the Lord opens for us, and we will pray for the courage and grace to walk through them when they do open up.
Syd Hielema is a settler and serves as the director of the CRC's Connections II project. He worships at the Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ont.