Gospel Contextualization: Labrador
Gospel Contextualization: Labrador
Last month, myself and Steve Bray had the opportunity to travel to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador. This is my second time and Steve’s first to Labrador, a vast and expansive land that often gets forgotten about, not just by the rest of Canada, but even by Newfoundlanders themselves. Our primary incentive for travelling up there was to get a lay of the land for church-planting; what’s the history of the Church in Labrador, how different is the culture from Newfoundland, how do we contextualize the gospel for its people. These are all questions that we wrestled with during our brief visit, and as each day passed, I began see more plainly the importance of understanding culture. Just as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 9,
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
To put it bluntly, what works in Toronto, or Dallas, or New York, or Montreal, will never work here. Ever. Cookie-cutter solutions won’t do it, and never have I seen this more clearly demonstrated than by the history of the church in Labrador. There is a litany of church hurt and abuse in this part of the province, especially towards the Innu and Inuit peoples. Under the residential school system, much of their culture was stripped away from them. Children were taken from parents, educated elsewhere, punished for speaking their native languages. I’ve heard heart-breaking stories of children being sexually abused by a priest. Men who claimed to know Christ, to be His ambassadors, all the while dragging His Name through the mud with their abuses, their domination, their evil.
So now try to plant a church in this kind of context, where the people have been told
“Jesus died for your sins” thousands of times, but where the name of Christ is associated with sexual abuse scandals. During our trip, we got to talk to one of the community leaders of Sheshatshiu, the Innu Reserve close by. As we sat in a Labrador tent lined with spruce tree branches, eating ‘Innu donuts’, and hearing about Innu culture, my heart instantly became desperate to see the gospel properly proclaimed in this place. In these neighbourhoods, where drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence reign, both in the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, I wanted to see the gospel restore. And as I sat and listened to the story of a woman, and how all her sons were sexually abused by a priest, I became incensed that such evil could be committed by a man who claimed to know Jesus.
All this to say, church-planting in this province is hard. And unless you’re willing to be here for the long haul, to move into a community, meet new people, become a part of their lives, and listen to their stories and their culture before just assuming that you know exactly what they need, you’ll never make it here. Many prospective church-planters have come to Newfoundland and Labrador with unrealistic expectations, imagining themselves to be our great saviours from the mainland. But if there’s one thing I learned from my trip to Labrador, it’s this: Just start by listening. If we take time to learn the people, the dialect, the history, the culture, then we can better understand how to contextualize the gospel to that culture. If I may make a small substitution to the apostle Paul’s words,
‘To the Newfoundlanders I became as a Newfoundlander, in order to win the Newfoundlanders. To the Labradorians I became as a Labradorian, in order to win the Labradorians. To the Innu and to the Inuit. To the baymen and the townies. To the people from Kilbride, Downtown, Shea Heights, Harbour Grace, Bay Roberts, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rabittown, and every other community in this beautiful province, I became as one of them, in order to win them. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.’
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