Responsible

Posted Apr 23, 2012 by 2 Comments

“Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry…”

In Kenya, whenever someone trips or drops something or spills some tea, everyone else in the room apologizes.   If you stub your toe, for example, the guy next to you will say “sorry”, even though he had nothing to do with it.

Because Kenyan culture is shame-based, everyone else takes responsibility when someone slips up.  That way, the unfortunate guy or gal who made the mistake doesn’t need to feel shame.

Learning about this seemingly odd quirk in a non-Western culture was my first glimpse into the concept of corporate responsibility, and I thought I understood the concept.

The view from beautiful Penelakut Island, where I spent the last month.

But I was wrong.  What I’ve learned in the last four weeks here in British Columbia has taken it to a whole new level…

Paying the Price

The U.S. is a strongly individualistic society.  We value individual responsibility for our actions.  If someone does something wrong, they pay the price.  If someone does something right, they get the credit.

I’ve been raised in that culture my entire life, so it is very difficult to encounter situations where the lines of responsibility are not so clear.

In the past, when I heard stories about European settlers doing terrible and unjust things to First Nations people, I felt a twinge of guilt.  It’s uncomfortable to know what my ancestors were capable of.  But at the end of the day, I could go on with my life, because hey…  I wasn’t the one who messed up.  It wasn’t my fault.

But now that I’ve spent time among the Penelakut First Nation, I’m realizing something I never understood before.

People from my ancestry stole land.  People from my religion committed cultural genocide.  People from my race discriminated.  But First Nations communities are the ones paying the price for these injustices.

An old abandoned church building on Penelakut Island.

At this very moment, First Nations people are struggling with systemic poverty, broken families and a loss of culture, all because of what transpired in the past.  Meanwhile, I enjoy the economic and cultural fruits of my colonialist predecessors.

Can I really claim to have no responsibility here?

Another Factor

The more I’ve thought about this, the more this concept of corporate responsibility has left my head reeling. It makes me feel guilty.  Frustrated.  Uncertain how to respond.

But as I’ve wrestled with these concepts, I’ve come to another realization: there is another factor at play here and it has nothing to do with guilt…

I am a Christ follower; a part of God’s kingdom.  And as a subject in God’s kingdom, I have a responsibility to live out the desires of my King.

God makes his desires clear throughout scripture: care for the poor and marginalized, love for the unloved, hope and healing for those who need it (Matthew 25:31-46 is a great example).

When there are people suffering from injustice, it is my responsibility as a Christ-follower to respond.  But this isn’t just an obligation. It’s a privilege.  God wants to use me as a part of the healing of the world.

The Penelakut Island Elementary School Grade 6/7 class playing a school song on a drum.

When I combine this kingdom mandate with the responsibility that comes from being a rich, white American, the truth becomes clear.  I must respond.  I must act.  I cannot continue to let First Nations communities shoulder the consequences of my predecessors’ actions alone.

Partnership

But I live thousands of miles away from Penelakut Island.  My day-to-day suburban life has practically nothing to do with the lives of people here.

What can I possibly do to take responsibility?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and the answer lies in a simple word… partnership.

You and I have partners who are here on Penelakut Island living out the values of the kingdom every day; Tal James and Tim Christensen, the creators of ROOTS.

I recently asked Tal what suburban Americans could do to be a part of the healing happening on Penelakut since only a handful will ever actually make it here.

His answer was this: “Not everyone is going to go, but everyone can be a part… One of your own, [the American] Tim, has been called to this place,” he continued, “and the church has a responsibility to support him.”

Tim Christensen

But Tal deserves our support as well.  Like Tim, he has a specific calling to that community.  You see, Tal is a Penelakut.  His father, mother, brothers and sisters live on the island.

Tal’s own story of transformation is the reason he has dedicated his life to this work.

Transformed

When he was young, Tal was a bit of a wild child.  But through a series of relationships with Christ-followers who simply loved him for who he was, his life was changed forever.

“There is a broken spirit in the First Nations community,” he told me.  “Without the empowerment of Christ in my life, I would not have been able to stop what I was doing.”

With a renewed spirit and a new understanding of the healing that can come through God’s kingdom, Tal began living out a new vision. Although he had the option to pursue his dreams all over the world, Tal decided to stay on Penelakut.  “I knew from day one that I was going to be among my own people,” he said.

And this, to me, is the most significant thing.  Tim, a trained and experienced cross-cultural veteran, can leverage his skills and gifts to support Penelakut leaders.  Tal, a skilled and talented servant in his own right, is a walking testimony of the transformative power of the Creator among his own people.

These two men are uniquely positioned to live out the love of Christ and the healing of the kingdom of God in this community in ways that I can never be.

Tal James

A Simple Question

Which leads me to a simple question.

If it is true First Nations communities need healing (which they do)…

And if it is true the kingdom of God is the source of true healing (which it is)…

And if it is true Tal and Tim are living out the kingdom of God (which they are)…

…then why wouldn’t we support their work?

This is how I can fulfill my responsibility to the people of Penelakut Island.  By supporting the work of those who are already here.

I can give financially to the work of ROOTS.  I can pray consistently for their work.  And I can spread the word about what they are doing so that others can get involved.

———

I will never be able to un-do the damage of the past, but I can now join in with the healing of the present.

And though my ancestors did so much wrong, I now have a chance to help make things right…

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Next Steps
    • Both Tal James and Tim Christensen do their work through the financial support of others. Consider joining one or both of their support teams! Go to http://www.naim.ca/Donate.html and make sure your donation is designated to “321 CHRISTENSEN, Tim & Julie” or “620 JAMES, Tal and Christina.”
    • Alternatively, consider donating specifically to the ROOTS program. Click here and designate your gift to “KWT – ROOTS Outdoor Program.”
    • If you would like to pray more specifically for the work of Tim and Tal, send an email to Christensen@naim.ca and ask to receive their updates.
    • Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Lisa Davis said... 

    Reply

    April 24th, 2012 at 1:30 pm  

    Wow, Barry! If I am being honest, I’d almost wish I had stopped catching up on the articles because here is where it goes beyond appreciating hearing some informative and compelling stories to “getting in the game”. I could have also tried to get around the issue of personal responsibility, but calling myself a Christ follower requires a continual awareness…eyes, feet, hands and heart open to how I can be a part of bringing God’s love and healing to those who suffer from not only present, but past injustices. Thanks to you, sharing their stories, shedding light on their painful history and their present needs, this wonderful group of individuals is now in my mind and on my heart, and prayerfully, never forgotten.

  2. Tasha Simons said... 

    Reply

    April 25th, 2012 at 7:43 pm  

    “God makes his desires clear throughout scripture: care for the poor and marginalized, love for the unloved, hope and healing for those who need it (Matthew 25:31-46 is a great example).

    When there are people suffering from injustice, it is my responsibility as a Christ-follower to respond. But this isn’t just an obligation. It’s a privilege. God wants to use me as a part of the healing of the world.”

    How true! It is both our responsibility and a privilege to care for the disenfranchised. Sounds like Tal and Tim are doing amazing work to bring about healing for the First Nations people in Penelakut. I look forward to hearing more about them through the Access interns who will be spending the summer there as well as the Access missions trip in July. Thanks for going and telling their story, Barry. It’s a story that needs to be told.

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