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Under the Gaze of a Deer Head

When people hear that I am a RCA Mission Partner Personnel (“missionary”) who is working to address human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, I sometimes believe  that they think I am working in some far-off country, perhaps in the Global South. In fact, I work in partnership with a charity in southern Ontario that is striving to provide transitional housing for survivors.

One of our organizational values is “Embracing Community Connection” which is core to our identity and highlighted by the fact that RCA churches across Canada and the United States support me and this work. I regularly find myself in awe when I think of the varied churches that are committed to addressing human trafficking issues. Human trafficking is a topic and concern that spans demographics including age, geographical location, and political ideology.  

Human trafficking is a topic and concern that spans demographics

A while ago, I had been talking with a friend and joked that most missionaries experience significant culture shock when they first leave for the mission field in a foreign country, but because my work is in my home country the most culture shock I experience is when I visit supporting churches.

 The most culture shock I experience is when I visit supporting churches

“Culture shock” can be defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” And while the comment I made to my friend was said tongue in cheek, it prompted me to think about how our churches celebrate unity around things like mission but navigate differences around other  justice issues.

Earlier this month, I visited a supporting church in the American Midwest. I traveled from my home in southern Ontario to a kind and generous host family’s house where my bedroom sported camouflage bedding, a compound crossbow sitting on a table, and a mounted deer head above my bed. I have to say that I have nothing against hunting, it’s just that I am not familiar with it at all; the extent of my own “hunting” experience is the occasional time fishing with my Opa as a child.  The practice of hunting for your own food, and the culture of how it is observed in family life and social circles is not part of my culture. The hunting aside, I was in a region of a country where – according to the 2016 presidential election results – political ideologies are vastly different from mine. (If those differences weren’t enough, there was a slight communication barrier too. After church, I asked for the “washroom” and the pastor responded with “don’t you mean the ‘bathroom’?”)

The extent of my own “hunting” experience is fishing with my Opa

Any time I travel to a supporting church, I get a glimpse of the ways their cultures (both in the church and at home) and daily life might differ from mine. Like the church in New York whose service is “high church” (heavy emphasis on liturgy) and where many of the older women sport hats. Or the small country church in Alberta where I became tremendously lost, even with GPS and my phone map, on long, dirt roads. Or the large church in the Midwest that had multiple services and turned off the lights during the music portion of their service.

At this particular home in the Midwest, I was journaling in my bed (with the deer peering down at me) and reflecting on when, where and how Reformed Christians are united despite cultural differences.

I have never slept under the gaze of a deer head. But, then again, I have never seen an oriole in person either – a bird that was pointed out to me as my host family and I bonded over our shared love of gardening and they introduced their love of birds to me.

I have never slept under the gaze of a deer head.

As I write this, the RCA General Synod is currently being held in Holland, MI and CRCNA General Synod is about to commence in Grand Rapids, MI. So often we find ourselves placing people in camps and sides based on issues and ideologies. I wish delegates would have the opportunity I have in missions: to experience hospitality. To sleep in a bed someone else has made for you. To be welcomed around the same dinner table that has hosted family, friends and loved ones. To share a common desire for shalom and discuss our shared calling to seek justice.


Photo by Philip Brown on Unsplash

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