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Exchanging Hearts

“When it comes to cross-cultural ministry, I could give you techniques, but what has made the greatest impact is when we exchanged hearts.” (Ray Aldred, Hearts Exchanged Report, 2000)

Inspired by these words and the recommendations from that report that CRC churches should continue cross-cultural dialogue, we are working towards a Hearts Exchanged reboot that will equip Reformed Christians to engage with Indigenous peoples in a good way. This is certainly not a new conversation, not in the year 2000, and not now in 2021. The CRC in Canada has a long history of building relationships with Indigenous communities, including committing as a denomination to Indigenous rights the 1987 New Covenant, and the establishment of three Urban Indigenous Ministry centres in 1974 (Indigenous Family Centre, Winnipeg), 1978 (Indigenous Christian Fellowship, Regina) and 1991 (Edmonton Native Healing Centre). 

Our vision for Hearts Exchanged has had two aims - to repent, and to rebuild. 

While we celebrate these historic steps, we must also recognize that as a church where the dominant culture is still primarily white settler Canadians, we have much more ‘exchanging of hearts’ to do in order to come to a place where Indigenous people, and other people of colour, feel true belonging in our congregations. Because of this, our vision for Hearts Exchanged has had two aims - to repent, and to rebuild. 

We lament that the cross-cultural dialogue recommended 20 years ago did not formally continue, and the self-determination of Indigenous Christians within the CRC and in neighbouring communities has continued to be questioned. This absence of mutually respectful dialogue has increased the likelihood that we will perpetuate harmful stereotypes and continue to assume the superiority of our own culture and practices; while declaring the practices of others, which we haven’t tried to understand, to be illegitimate. Because of this, Hearts Exchanged begins with turning away from mindsets that can be idolatrous, paternalistic, racist, and colonized, and instead transforming and renewing our minds in order to authentically pursue reconciliation. 

It is our hope that this will result in a ripple effect

From there, Hearts Exchanged models ways to rebuild healthy, reciprocal, and fruitful relationships with Indigenous peoples as neighbours and fellow image bearers. Participants are invited into honest, first-hand dialogue about the harms of colonialism, and encounter ‘hearts broken’ stories and experiences. They are challenged to reimagine what it means to live as guests on this land, and to desire the peace and flourishing of everyone on it. It is our hope that this will result in a ripple effect, where participants become catalysts, engaging their local churches in further dialogue and action, resulting in Canadian CRC churches that are communities of reconciliation and belonging.

Such audacious goals made it clear that we could not simply rely on basic learning tools for this program, we had to be intentional about modeling what we were trying to accomplish. A value that we prioritized was to ensure we incorporated Indigenous perspectives. We uplift Indigenous theologians, learn about Indigenous practices such as sharing circles and territory acknowledgements, and highlight academic Indigenous teachings as well as Indigenous theology centred on scriptural principles of humility, peacemaking, repentance, and hospitality.

This has been a deep and humble experience of learning.

We are fortunate to be able to work within the Global Learning Partners model. Their core principles of safety, respect, inclusion, immediacy, relevance, and engagement are integral to the program. For example, safety, respect, and inclusion are demonstrated in our community covenant, ensuring we enter every learning experience with a commitment to honour one another.  Engagement, respect, and inclusion principles guide how we interact with each other in our learning, how we choose our resources, and how we develop activities that engage the heart, mind, and body. We value sharing stories, and from experience, we know that people will share stories if they feel safe and respected. 

Even from our first session, we were challenged to think about what cultural values we would place on the use of time in our sessions. Would we be task-oriented and enforce an efficient agenda, or would we be relationship-oriented and allow for flexibility of time, following the flow of conversation - or both? As a group of co-learners, we had to hear from one another and include each participant’s values in order to respect the various interpretations of time. Without this understanding of respect, we might have missed an opportunity to learn about how time management is viewed from different perspectives.

What has this meant to us?

This has been a deep and humble experience of learning. A meaningful time discerning together what shalom means, what hospitality means, sharing of knowledge and perspectives with each other and with the participants and uplifting Indigenous values together as Christians.  This has given us an opportunity to meet people who are also processing how to be agents of reconciliation, and to safely and respectfully participate in dialogue. We know we are not alone - we have learning allies! People are asking the same questions, have a desire to see change, and are convicted to work together towards reconciliation and belonging!

Hearts Exchanged is currently looking for participants from every Canadian Classis to start in the fall of 2021.  Read more about this program and express your interest in participating on our website.  

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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