The Christian Reformed Church’s Youth Ambassador of Reconciliation program (YARP), which ran for the first time in 2016, ran this year as an online event for seven participants Aug. 17-21. Shannon Perez, the CRC’s Canadian Ministries' justice and reconciliation mobilizer, said the program “is geared for young adults to come together and learn together. We hope to emphasize this with an Indigenous perspective.”
Cindy Stover, also a justice mobilizer for the CRC in Canada, said, “The hope is to equip young leaders to think critically about the narratives of Indigenous communities, and Indigenous people who are Christians, to better understand ways their church communities can be welcoming and hospitable to Indigenious communities and partner with communities looking to exchange culture.”
Perez took part in the first experience when a group of four traveled to a First Nations remote reserve in Northern Ontario. They met people in the community, lived with them for a week, and learned about their culture. In 2018, participants spent time in Hamilton and Waterloo, Ont.
“A theme of the trip (that year) was the importance of being connected to the land and how being in relationship with the land is healing. … I’ve taken this teaching to heart and have strived to get to know the places I live better. Learning the names of plants, animals, etc. And taking seriously our call to steward the earth well,” said Jessica Banninga, a past participant who attends Vitalpoint Church, an emerging CRC congregation in London, Ont.
“In the past it was face to face, and we’d have Indigenous people come alongside us. This year with COVID-19, it had to go online, and we had Indigenous speakers join online,” said Perez.
Stephanie Septembre, one of this year’s participants, said, “As part of the program, all participants design a Reconciliation Action Plan to put the knowledge they have gained into action. I hope to work with my local church and school communities to share the knowledge I gained in YARP. I don't know many people who have engaged with Indigenous communities beyond surface-level interactions, but I want to see that change. In the process, I hope to become more connected to Indigenous communities in my area.”
Monika Couperus, another 2020 participant, who attends Gateway CRC in Abbotsford, B.C., said, “My experience with YARP was humbling as there is always more to learn, more stories to listen to, and more approaches to Truth and Reconciliation to take. Despite not coming together in person, I felt connected to a passionate community of learners stretched across the country.”
Stover said, “Before the pandemic, everything had to be local and in one place; now we are challenged to think about how we are connected by technology and it’ll change things, how we do (these kinds of programs) in the future.”
The Youth Ambassador of Reconciliation program is a partnership of The Canadian Indigenous Ministry Committee, The Office of Race Relations, and World Renew.