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Dear Ron,

As the son of two missionaries who  served in Rehoboth and Zuni and a member of the DoCD report team, I'd like to respond to your comment - as I have previously in correspondence with you.

First, you are right, a commitment to truth is a commitment to the whole truth. That is precisely why this report is the way it is. The arc of the whole truth of European conquest and our treatment of indigenous peoples and the creation is missing important pieces - difficult pieces for us descendants of Europeans to accept. And this report is about those pieces. 

The report is definitely not balanced - and it was not intended to be. It concentrates on the missing, difficult, uncomfortable (for me) pieces of the truth that have been habitually left out of the story. It is intended to bring us a little closer to "the whole truth."

As you may imagine, there was considerable discussion on this point in the committee. In the end, it became clear to us that we needed to present the less admirable elements of European cultural heritage and Christian missions rather clearly and without an attempt to balance each negative observation, historical reference, or - most importantly - personal story with a positive observation, historical reference, or personal story. To do so would be to take away from the truth of the dark, systemically sinful, and pain-causing side of our history - both as a people group and as a church. In other words, we decided not to include the "yes...but".

I had a bit of a journey to get that point. You may note several wince inducing quotes (illustrating the equating of most things Zuni and Navajo as "pagan" or "of Satan") from letters culled out of the archives by our historian - a professional historian, may I note, who is about to receive his PHD. Here is one example: 

. In 1949, Gerritt Vander Meulen used this analogy to critique the practice of allowing students to return to their home communities for special events, writing,

“The battle of the ages is Christ against Satan. Then may we, during the time that they are entrusted to us, permit them to go to Satan’s side and battle against Christ?”

This and several other quotes are from my father.

I know very well that those quotes by themselves do not define who my father was nor his complete attitude to Indian missions or native cultures. But these are true quotes and they do represent an important set of attitudes my father - and many others - brought to Indian missions. The point is not my father's rightness or wrongness. The point is that he learned these views from somewhere and was playing his role in a structure much older and larger than either the CRC or its Indian missions.

If you want to know my father's full attitude and relationship to the Native Americans he worked with, this report would not be much help. I grew up listening to my parent's stories. I know their motivation and their attitudes. But, if you wanted to know the reasons behind the painful experiences of many native Americans from the colonial period to the present, this is an important set of quotes to know about.

I agreed with the rest of the committee: To balance the report would have taken much of the power and truth away from the parts of our history that we would rather not confront.

The report does not say that nothing good has come from CRC mission work with the Navajo and Zuni. Growing up CRC means that I (and others) have heard the good stories and the positive accomplishments in the pages of The Banner, Missionary Monthly, and a number of good books for as long as I can remember.

The report is raising questions about the model we used for missions, i.e. how we as European-Americans ever got into the position of needing - or seeing a need for - residential schools in the first place.  Rehoboth is an example - our example to be sure - of the results of centuries of conquest - religiously justified conquest. DOD justified conquest.

There were many residential schools - as you know well. Some were well run and some were hell-holes. I like to think Rehoboth was among the best of residential schools. Perhaps it was the best that could have possibly been done.  But it certainly was not a model we would have chosen for our children. So the deeper question is: Whatever got us into the situation where the best thing to do, we felt, was to re-make an entire generation of indigenous children into our image?

But the real point is not to blame our parents and/or our early institutions. The creative purpose of this committee's work was to look to the past in order to learn and grow for future Kingdom work. If we learn from the past to examine more critically what are we doing now - how has the church and its Mission been co-opted and used by American and Canadian culture - well, that would be wonderful.

I personally hope this report is seen as a much larger critique of European-American cultural and religious values - not just a critique of Rehoboth and CRC Indian missions. I understand that it will seem to be the later to those who are deeply involved. 

I know many CRC folks have dedicated their lives to and deeply love our Navajo and Zuni brothers and sisters. My parents' service there shaped my own missions trajectory. I was weaned on the stories of Zuni and Rehoboth. I remember Sampson Yazzi coming to our house when I was small. I went to the yearly missionary picnics at Johnson Park. Mom and Pop Bosscher were practically household icons. This report does not intend to bring disrespect to either these missionaries or to the Navajo or Zuni peoples. 

The report is not perfect. But in the end, this will be worth it if we see a little more clearly how deeply we are embedded in culture and society - and that our European-American culture has some deep and historical flaws that need rather urgent attention. It will be worth it if it sparks a renewed telling and listening to the stories - and especially an honoring of the painful ones.

Peter Vander Meulen

Grand Rapids

Thanks for this Scott: A comment on revival: If we want to see revival in the CRC, make our church communities places where we can work out a living faith in the world; Places where it is safe to name, discuss, agree, and disagree on critical issues that God and we deeply care about. There are few practical issues of applying a living faith to our lives that do not involve our moral and political choices. If we cannot deal with that within a supportive community of faith, where can we?

Thanks for your thoughtful comments to Joe's post and to Doug's comments Roger. I lived and worked in Bangladesh for 7 years (for World Renew) in the 70s and 80s and have been back several times in the past few years - specifically to look at environmental degredation - including that caused or exacerbated by a changing climate.

- Bangladesh is the "poster child" for climate change realists (I can't speak for alarmists) because, as Doug's points and the articles he links to indicate, changing climates and weather patterns brought about by global warming interact with other human activity that degrades the environment: Deforestation, inappropriate land use, attempts to contain rivers, removal of costal mangrove barriers, and so on. In military terms, climate change in a place like Bangladesh is a "threat multiplier", i.e it makes everything much worse.

- Although sea level rise is a serious long-term threat to Bangladesh, the immediate threats are much more related to food production. Bangladesh has one of the most intensive and complicated farming systems anywhere. The abrupt changes in weather patterns have wrecked havoc with age old and sophisticated ways that farmers make decisions to achieve their food needs and minimize risks. This is serious.

- Likewise, millions of farmers that relied on perennial rivers for dry season irrigation are facing problems with water availability because these rivers have become seasonal, i.e. they dry up when they are most needed. They have become seasonal due to a number of factors that include deforestation, the loss of holding areas for glacial lakes, and human activity in the foothills of the Himalayas. But the thing that activates the negative effects of all these human changes to the environment is the increase in the quantity of rain in shorter and shorter time spans. Essentially these downpours trigger flash floods that have the effect of carving much wider channels for the rivers. A few years ago I stood on the banks of a dry river bed in Northern Bangladesh that I could barely see across. In the early 80s that river was less than 50 yards wide with a perennial flow of water. Some farmers had dug shallow wells from which to irrigate. Others had been helped (by climate adaptation funds) to purchase motorized tube wells to irrigate their vegetable plots. This is just one among many examples of what is happening to rural life and food production due to a warming world interacting with all the other changes we make to the land.

- But population growth, I think, is not a major cause of the problems Bangladesh faces. First, when I was there the rate of population growth was around 3.5%. Due to a vigorous family planning program supported by aid agencies such as CIDA and USAID (your tax dollars well spent!) - as well as real economic progress in the country, the growth rate is now around 1.5% - a really wonderful success story! In addition, people are usually assets in solving problems of this magnitude and NOT debits. Bangladesh has millions of well educated scientists, agronomists, climate experts, and the like. They are doing remarkable things to adapt to the reality of climate change. Their Center for Advanced Studies, for example, is a world class think tank when it comes to adapting to climate change and developing sustainable ways to thrive.

I have gone on long enough - but I hope three points come through - and might be helpful to you as you think this through: First, climate change is real and it is already seriously affecting countries like Bangladesh. Two, climate change interacts with all sorts of other things that humans are doing to the environment - sometimes in very unexpected, complex, and hard to predict ways. Three, the fact that the effects of a warming world are complex and deeply intertwined with other issues of human development and survival does NOT make global warming less serious. In fact it makes it more urgent that we acknowledge its reality and deal with it as only humans can - with all the intelligence and creativity and discipline that God has given us!


Congratulations to CRC staff who have put this campaign together. In order to have a good conversation it is important to be grounded in evidence. Immigrants are blessings and not burdens happens to be a true and significant statement in multiple spheres - economic, social, and faith among others. It is this reality - this insight - that ought to ground and inform the important policy discussions needed in the public square. Love it!

No more hyperbolic than saying "kids are a blessing and not a burden". We all know that sometimes kids are and feel like a burden - a pain in th but even. That does not negate the truth of the assertion and it does not fit the definition of hyperbole. But if you insist Doug, I'll buy you a T-shirt that says "Immigrants are a Blessing - (but sometimes and in some places some of them can be a bit of a burden)" If you will post a picture of yourself wearing it?

Rod, thanks for the reminder of how the spiral down works... and that prayer is sometimes the only response that allows us to go on in hope - and maybe more...


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