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Oct6TueReflections from Salvationists on God’s one human race. October 6, 2020 By Leigha Vegh
You only need to look at the daily headlines to see the unrest and injustice that still plagues society when it comes to racism. But change is happening, and The Salvation Army is positioned to respond through its ministries and in the life of the church to stand against racism.
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Our International Positional Statement states that racism is incompatible with the Christian conviction that all people are made in the image of God and are equal in value. The Salvation Army believes the world is enriched by a diversity of cultures and ethnicities. We are committed to fight against racism wherever it is encountered.
For this issue of Salvationist, we reached out to racialized people across the territory to hear their insights and lived experiences with the goal of helping us become more sensitive and inclusive. We want to celebrate the human race in all of its expressions, acknowledging we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of God (see Psalm 139:14 and Genesis 1:27).
God’s Beautiful Garden
BY LLADANEYAH GAYLE, SALVATION ARMY CAMPER
Like a beautiful garden that blossoms in the spring with flowers of different hues and fragrances, and the gentle welcome of a cool breeze, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. But, imagine being judged by the colour of your skin. Imagine being told to go back to your country. Imagine people thinking that you are uneducated, assuming you do not speak English or that you are poor because you look “different.” These are a few of the things that I have experienced as a young Black person.
My name is Lladaneyah Gayle and I came to Canada from Jamaica in 2017 at the age of 10. As a youth, I experienced racism among my peers at school. I was asked if I was poor because I was born in a developing country. I was resented as a Black girl for my exceptional performance abilities. My hair was touched in amazement because it was not straight. I was asked why I did not “just brush it” or if it looked that way because I didn’t wash it. I was asked if I was fatherless because the perception is that Black children are from broken homes.
I was always seen as the “different” girl. My school wasn’t very diverse and with that came added struggles. In the past, I had always loved and treated people the way I wanted to be treated. In Jamaica, a predominantly Black country, I had peers of different race, colour and status, and it never dawned on me that I was Black, or they were white, or of a different descent. Coming to Canada was my wake-up call to discrimination.
Even as I was excluded, I tried to remain true to myself and exist in the best way I knew how. As the months went by, I felt challenged to be the best version of myself. I co-founded the Black Youth Empowerment program in the Windsor-Essex, Ont., community to raise awareness and help youth to overcome racism through experiential learning, capacity building and leadership development. The program was a seed grant with the Ontario Trillium Foundation, under the Youth Opportunities Fund.
I see myself as an ambassador for change, especially since I have lived experience as a Black person. I no longer want to be told that I am being too dramatic when I’m excluded because I’m Black. I belong. I am special. Through resilience and education, I have learned to use my challenges as a motivation to help myself and others excel.
Last year, I attended The Salvation Army’s Newport Adventure Camp near Huntsville, Ont. Being at camp changed my life. I learned many life lessons and met people who had a positive impact on me. My experience at camp affirmed the calling of God in my life. After returning home I made the commitment to God by being baptized at my local church.
I am comforted that by my God-given abilities and talents, I will grow and bloom where I’m planted. I will continue to live my purpose to educate and bring awareness to help others excel so we all can shine bright with our different colours in God’s beautiful garden.
Promoting Diversity in a Challenging World
BY MULRY MONDÉLICE, SALVATIONIST, MONTREAL CITADEL
I have been a member of Montreal Citadel since moving from Haiti to Montreal in 2010. I am also a member of the band, where I play trombone and, upon request, euphonium, teach five students, and sometimes sing in the choir. My wife and oldest daughter enjoy playing their timbrels, sometimes with the band. Montreal Citadel has always been an enjoyable place for us. The people there are like family.
My major challenge has been learning English, since my first official language is French. The band helped me because I could practise with friends and fellow band members. I am fortunate in this respect. Others in the community have difficulty accessing services because of linguistic barriers and lack of information in their first language.
I remember facing those challenges when I first came to Montreal. I had very few interactions with English-speaking people. Yet, being able to interact in the official languages is something we need in order to feel fully accepted in the integration process.
This requires patience and courage. Even my daughter will say, “Hey, Dad, we have to work on your pronunciation!” But the rich diversity including languages in this country and within The Salvation Army has been very encouraging. My family has been blessed with our life in Canada.
While we live in a challenging context exacerbated by COVID-19, we need to focus on the message that we are all created with the same human dignity. We can’t change the colour of our skin, but we can change how we interact with people. We can change our mindset and help people feel accepted. We can continue offering opportunities for open dialogue and conversation in our community and the wider society, and networking opportunities for young people.
This message extends to the broader context of human rights in our society. People want to be valued and respected. This is about how we deal with people, how they participate in church activities, how they partake in decision-making processes and how they participate in governance at all levels. The church can lead by example, not just in the way we treat ethnic minorities, but also Indigenous people and those with disabilities. We must show them love, respect their dignity and continue to promote social justice not only through our actions but also partnership and advocacy at local, national and international levels.
I hope this captivating feature in Salvationist, along with important steps taken by the International Social Justice Commission, encourages more senior and youth leaders to foster an open dialogue on anti-racism, diversity and the future of The Salvation Army in a challenging world. This would promote diverse cultural expressions and foster participation in a stronger faith-based organization.
Seeing the Heart
BY MAJOR ED CHIU, CORPS OFFICER, RICHMOND COMMUNITY CHURCH, B.C.
I was born in the Philippines and came to Canada with my family in 1967 when I was five years old. My father was Chinese and my mother Filipino. A British family sponsored us to live in Brampton, Ont., before we moved to Toronto’s Parkdale and the Junction neighbourhoods, and eventually settled in Mississauga, Ont.
My two brothers and I had a normal upbringing. We went to school and had part-time jobs. The atmosphere we grew up in was very multicultural: a lot of Ukrainians and Italians, some British people, a few Black and Asian people. Growing up, I wasn’t a Christian, so my mind and heart weren’t focused on the church’s view of racism. I just saw humanity and figured we were all equal. We were the minorities, but there was a lot of diversity. I didn’t feel racism of any kind.
Since then, my wife and children have pointed out that they have noticed racism directed towards me. I tend to not pay attention to this and instead, will make jokes to put people at ease right away. I tend to not notice racial insensitivities. It’s just my personality to always look at the sunny side of things.
That changed when I moved to Richmond, B.C. From the start, people would look at me and say, “Oh, you’re one of them.” You’d hear the stereotypes about “awful Chinese drivers.” Many people were shocked to discover that my wife, Major Kathie Chiu, is a tall blonde Irish-British woman. There was a stigma towards Asian Canadians, and it was sad to feel this discrimination.
My wife and I have been Salvation Army officers for 28 years, but I really started identifying with my culture when I first attended the church. When I took the Army’s soldiership class, I was very aware that the Army was founded in 19th-century England, a white colonial culture. I stood out as an Asian person, which wasn’t always a bad thing. It emphasized my culture and made it important, since at that time there were few Asian officers.
My wife and I were asked if we would consider doing Chinese ministry when we were in our first appointment in Yorkton, Sask. We went to conversation classes at night to learn Cantonese and Kathie studied Mandarin. In the end, my wife spoke better Chinese than I did! We did Chinese ministry in Vancouver in 1994 for three years. We did feel more at home here as there were a few other mixed couples with mixed children and there were so many Chinese people there. A difficulty I did encounter was Chinese people who pointed out I wasn’t full Chinese and, because I am mixed, it made it more difficult to minister to them. It was also difficult to get the white members of the corps to make accommodation for the new Chinese members we were reaching out to. It wasn’t something we defined as racism, just a lack of sensitivity or ignorance about Chinese culture and the needs of new Canadians. When we moved to Richmond in 2014, although it was a white corps, it had a Chinese ministry with people hired specifically to do the Chinese ministry. I became a little more involved with it and we have tried to create more unity. However, it has not been easy. Now our congregation reflects the community, with about only 25 percent white people. Working with the Chinese community was challenging, but gratifying, because I felt that I was reaching my own people.
The key to combatting racism is action. That starts with good communication and reaching out. The Army could still use more Chinese literature in Canada. I still have to call Hong Kong for materials and literature, and even their resources are limited.
The most amazing experience of my officership was celebrating the Army’s 150th anniversary at the international Boundless Congress in England. It was amazing to see Salvationists representing more than 130 countries where The Salvation Army is present. It would be great to see some of that diversity make its way more into the Canada and Bermuda Territory. We could use more cultural representation, especially in leadership.
At our core, my wife and I are just like everybody else. We are created in the image of God. We are no more or less special because of our cultural backgrounds. 1 Samuel 16:7 reads, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” May we learn to look at each other with the eyes of God.
BY DAMIAN AZAK, CORPS LEADER, GITWINKSIHLKW, B.C.
I am a Salvationist who lives in the K’alii Aksim Lisims in northwestern British Columbia in the Nisga’a Nation. After signing the Nisga’a treaty, we’ve been in self-government for 20 years. With this agreement, we have an opportunity to better the way our people live. Rather than having to go through the Canadian provincial government, we now go through our own Nisga’a government.
I watched my father and other leaders in our nation work for this treaty. Our Nisga’a teachings are clear about the responsibilities of leadership. Our cultural protocol supports and encourages our young people to be leaders. Yet, as a young man, I didn’t really see myself as a leader. I struggled as a teen and young adult to even be a follower. At times I acted as a Christian leader, but often it was simply for the benefit of others. I really had no idea and not a lot of motivation to step up and really follow Christ. I certainly was not envisioning myself speaking and encouraging others to follow and lead as well.
I did have an incredible encounter with God as a young adult and his transforming power worked in my life. I was certainly identifying myself as a Christ-follower. Eventually I started working at The Salvation Army’s Camp Mountainview in Houston, B.C., but still did not consider myself a leader. While I could be loud and enthusiastic around friends and family, I didn’t feel seen. My position was very much behind the scenes and most times it felt like that was where I belonged. At the time, I lacked mentors to encourage me to seek what else God had in store for me. This is when God began to grow in my heart so he could speak through me. I began to feel like I wanted to be heard. I was trying to be heard. But again, it was difficult. It was a very tough place to be.
God continued to speak to me. He continued to give me his words when I would share with friends and small groups. The desire to lead began to grow in my life. I thought often of my Nisga’a ancestors and the fight they have endured to be heard. Like them, my path to leadership was not an easy road. However, I began to trust God and his plan, and when other people didn’t seem to acknowledge me or invest in me, I knew God was enough. Slowly but surely, I began to grow in strength and wisdom. I began to find my place in leadership within my nation and within The Salvation Army.
Today, I am a unit leader in Gitwinksihlkw, and have been able to speak to many Indigenous communities and to the greater Salvation Army about my experience. I still have so much to learn about leading for Christ. I still believe that I am a better follower than a leader, but maybe this is part of my calling. I can teach others how to follow Christ.
Today I desire to see more young leaders within my nation and the northern region of British Columbia. It has been 20 years since we signed the Nisga’a treaty, and yet somedays I still feel that I spend too much time educating people to see Indigenous people as human. Historically, we were painted as savages and more recently as people that need to be rescued and helped. But I find my identity in Christ. I know that only Christ has rescued me. He has given me a voice and many opportunities to help other Indigenous people to focus on the richness and value of our cultures and to recover the history that was lost.
These are interesting times. In 2020, many people have been leading positive change, whether it’s changing the discriminatory names of sports teams or raising their voices for justice. I believe the changes happening right now could lead to an even greater reconciliation and understanding. They can help us move forward if we are willing to walk gently with each other. Seeing the changes that are happening now, anything is possible.
I also know and believe that there is much work God wants to do in my own life and my nation. No longer living under the thumb of the Indian Act has been a challenge for many Nisga’a people. Sometimes we can be like the Israelites wandering in the desert. They were no longer slaves in Egypt, but they were unable to embrace their freedom. Our people may still be in the desert mentally, but we’re in the promised land now. We must be open to the possibilities. Twenty years ago, our leaders signed historic documents that can continue to improve the people if we are willing to change.
Jesus himself went to be with people and to change people. He ate with people society rejected. He saw them as humans and we, as Christians, must do the same. Reconciliation is possible. I’m looking forward to more—I know it’s not the end.
My people’s creation story aligns with a biblical view—my people were placed here by K’amligiihahlhaahl or what English-speakers call God. We were taught by God to take care of each other and to take care of creation. We may come from different cultures, but we all come from the same Creator. That Creator has a Son who came to teach us how to love each other. That’s a good place to start.
All Are Equal
BY CAPTAIN KIM CHAN, DIVISIONAL SECRETARY FOR BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION, MARITIME DIVISION
I was born and raised in Newfoundland and Labrador, and from an early age I was immersed in The Salvation Army.
Growing up in a rural area of my home province, racism was a fact of life. As the child of an inter-racial marriage, I knew far too well the impact of being treated differently because I wasn’t like the other children. Fortunately, my parents instilled pride in my sister and me for who we are, and we embraced both our Chinese and Newfoundland heritages.
I had to learn how to deal with the derogatory comments and the jokes about my family almost daily, but through those experiences I gained an appreciation for people from all walks of life. My sister and I were taught to believe that all people are created in the image of God and that we are all equal regardless of colour, race or creed. We were raised to value diversity and accept everyone for who God made them to be. My own experience of being singled out reminds me of my responsibility to ensure that everyone within my sphere of influence is treated fairly.
If I could convey a message to the church and to The Salvation Army, it would be to value diversity and to embrace the learning that comes from our uniqueness. As Salvationists, we believe that we are all created in the likeness of God and it is in our differences that we find our greatest strengths. We are stronger when we can appreciate a wide range of experiences and the richness of walking with others in their journeys.
One of the most moving moments for me as an officer was witnessing the gathering of the nations during the 2015 Boundless Congress in London, England. The music of Gowans and Larrson’s tune They Shall Come From the East echoed through the arena as we were reminded of all the nationalities and races that make up our great Army. As individuals walked into the arena in their native dress, it was an emotional moment. One of our greatest blessings is the people that make up our Army.
I thank God for making us as individuals who look different, think differently and see the world in different ways. I am saddened that racism is still a fact of life in our world. It hasn’t always been easy to be discriminated against because of my heritage. But today, I can say that I am blessed to be who I am. We are all the same inside; let’s continue to treat one another with value.