By Jenna Hanger
Fifteen years ago, Rosalee Richardson went with a group of fellow students from Prairie Bible Institute (PBI) to Sunchild First Nation Reserve to take part in a locally-run ministry called Coyote Creek Chapel. Located an hour West of Rocky Mountain House, Sunchild reserve is the definition of rural: a close-knit community with many generations of families. The place and the people quickly captured Rosalee’s heart, who continued to grow her relationships there after her time with PBI ended.
She now lives four hours away, but visits her friends there a handful of times throughout the year, often accompanied by her husband and three young children. When people think of participating in a ministry involving a reserve, they often think of what they can do—what programs they can run, what items they can bring––but Rosalee says it’s more about building relationships than anything else: listening and learning, and responding when an invitation is extended or need is made known.
Over the years, Rosalee has made a point of learning from her friends about their culture and doing her own studying to better educate herself and understand the issue of reconciliation. Reconciliation has been brought to the forefront over the last few years, but many churches don’t know what to do with it, or what role they might personally play. Rosalee believes a first step for churches is more education and understanding, and the second is about building personal relationships. Here are some of her reflections:
A thought I have been mulling over a lot is what does reconciliation look like for our country on a macro and micro-level? On the macro-level, our government has a role to play in accountability to the past, that’s for them to figure out. So, then it comes back to the micro- level, person to person. And all I keep thinking is Reconciliation starts with ME. It starts with me treating all equally––taking God’s command seriously of loving my neighbour and remembering we are all one nation under God, brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, it’s about finding opportunities to get to know each other, hear each other’s stories and learn about the culture. The church in Canada needs to work on the education of our understanding of Indigenous People. To know there is a nation within our nation that is often living in poverty and generational cycles of abuse, yet many are unaware. We need to do better at seeing the need in our own country, and likely the need in our own hearts to shift our thinking towards our Indigenous Peoples.
Fifteen years ago, on my first day on Sunchild Reserve, we headed to the Coyote Creek Chapel, led by longtime missionaries who have given now 50 years of service. It was like the Holy Spirit was showing me how He had prepared me for this place, for these people. He gave me an immediate love for them. When I am there, my cup is filled as much as it is poured out. We always pray as we are hitting the long gravel road that takes us to the one-way blue bridge marking the entrance onto the reservation. My prayer is “God go before, beside us, behind us and all around us. May your presence be in each place we stop. Prepare for us the way and take us where we need to go. Keep us safe and may we be a blessing to others.” God has always honoured this prayer, we feel His protection, we see his divine appointments, and timing. God has shown me how he has protected us and prompted us.
I started out as a single college student going to help with Sunday school and it now has become my husband and three children packing up and driving the 4 hours to go continue to deepen our friendships. I LOVE watching my two older children now building their own bonds with kids and seeing the importance of loving on them. They are growing in their role in passing on the love of Christ and I couldn’t be more proud of them.
I wish I could put into words my love for my friends out there. I have walked through 15 years of life with many of them and formed deep bonds. We have had moments of fun and joy to moments of deep despair as we walked through terrible events like murder, suicide, addiction, depression and family hurts. Through my relationships on the reservation, I have learned that they are a resilient, strong, and brave nation. They know how to keep walking forward and have a laugh even in their hardest moments. Mark Maxwell said, “Joy in the journey does not imply the absence of opposition and difficulty, rather the Peace of God and certainty of His purpose in the middle of adversity.” They walk this out daily. I have learned a great deal from my friends and it has helped me in my own valleys. Keep walking and keep laughing.
Not everyone has the opportunity to visit and plug into a reserve without a personal connection or one in proximity. So how can your church practically get involved? One way to start is by initiating the education piece. Jodi Spargur runs a non-profit organization that is all about this, called Red Clover, Healing at the Wounded Place. She provides resources for churches, courses, council and will come visit your church to speak. Even if you don’t live near a reserve, there are many practical things you can do to be engaged.