It Matters to Me

John Vissers

I met Jesus in Saskatoon.

I was there in June as part of our church’s delegation to a national gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I’ve been following the work of the TRC since it began. I’ve been encouraged by the ministries of indigenous peoples in our church and recently I’ve been involved in stimulating conversations about the gospel and culture with First Nations theologians. But nothing prepared me for the experience of sitting through the testimony of survivors of residential schools. I winced and I wept. It moved our church’s 1994 apology from my head to my heart. I heard Christ’s call to our church in Canada in a new way. I saw Jesus at work in the lives of so many I met.

I met Jesus in truth.

For many years survivors of Indian Residential Schools have had to keep the pain of their experiences in residential schools a secret. Family members, in many cases, knew little or nothing about what had happened to their parents or grandparents. We dare not shrink from the profound truths that are being spoken by indigenous peoples. We follow a Lord and Saviour who is the truth (John 14:6) and whose truth has the power to set us all free.

I met Jesus in healing.

Time and time again in Saskatoon we heard survivors speak about the damage done to children, parents and families by the Indian Residential School system. But we also heard about hope and healing as indigenous people spoke about coming to a place of peace in their own lives and about restored relationships in families and communities. At the General Assembly in June, Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, reminded us that the Living Word of God in Jesus Christ has been at work in creation and history among indigenous peoples. He reminded us that Jesus has the power to heal the hurt and the harm that has been inflicted on indigenous peoples. Jesus Christ, he reminded us, is our destiny, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.

I met Jesus in reconciliation.

During the TRC, St. Andrew’s, Saskatoon, hosted a luncheon for survivors of Presbyterian-run residential schools. What a privilege to embrace and be embraced by those who shared their stories. Reconciliation is rooted in deep listening and respect for one another. As followers of Jesus we believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).
I also met many First Nations sisters and brothers in Christ who are teaching us what it means to follow Jesus passionately while embracing aboriginal culture and teachings. They are helping us understand the difference between Christ and culture. Their challenge can help us become more authentically what the gospel of Jesus calls us to be.

My prayer is that our work with the TRC will move our church’s apology not just from our heads to our hearts, but also to our hands. I believe we are called to listen and learn, and to live into a new relationship with Canada’s indigenous peoples. It matters to me. And the renewal of the Presbyterian Church in Canada may just depend upon it.

In Christ,


About John Vissers

Rev. Dr. John Vissers is director of academic programs and professor of historical theology at Knox College, Toronto.