Many of us have had extra time to: reflect, recall, and ponder, during these last few months. I have spent some time thinking about those who have influenced me for good. This is a deliberate activity to counteract my natural bent to thinking about those who may have harmed me.
One of the most positive of influences was a most humble man. I met Jake when I first was asked to preach at the Gospel Church in our new community of Elkhorn, Manitoba. This was the first of many preaching engagements there as I preached once or twice a month for years! Jake was from a Mennonite background and though he was affiliated with this Gospel Church was still a ‘cultural’ Mennonite, holding all the values and most of the traditions of that historic community of Jesus followers.
Jake was like his friend Jesus, a carpenter but he was like Jesus in many more ways than that! Not long after our first encounter Jake invited me to join him in an outreach to the men of the Brandon Correctional Centre. For years Jake had been taking a team there each month. He was careful who to invite, his standards were high. For some reason I passed the test and soon I was privileged to be a regular member of the team. This team included Jake’s wife Nettie, a gospel band (usually a bluegrass band) and a preacher. Through Jake I met more than a few Christian Bands and with Jake made our own attempt to start our own Gospel Jamboree at our Centre in Elkhorn.
Jake was not a preacher nor was he a musician or singer. He was a humble man on a mission. He was energetic for the Gospel and had a deep passion to see people find faith and hope in his friend, Jesus. In Jake I saw an example of what God could and would do through someone who was committed to Jesus and who was not looking for credit. Jake never ‘blew his own horn’ but always encouraged others to step out in ministry. In my own halting way, I have tried to follow his example.
I was thinking of Jake and our times at the Brandon Correctional Centre, and my visits to jails and prisons right across this country, because the topic of “systemic racism” is in the forefront these days. When we would visit that centre upwards to 75% of the imprisoned were First Nation’s people while the population on the streets of Brandon would be more like 10%. I have done enough work in corrections to have a realistic view, so I know most if not all of these people committed crimes. I do not believe for a minute that racist judges or police were the reason for the disproportionate incarceration. I do believe that the larger picture demonstrates that there is something seriously wrong with the system.
I believe the answer is not so simple. How does a nation repent? What is the fruit of such repentance? If we scapegoat police we miss the point. If we dig in and blindly “support” Law and Order we miss the point. The answer is not in denial nor is it in tinkering but the messy business of recognizing and humbly addressing a justice “system” whose fruit seems unjust.
I usual try to avoid political controversy. People of all political stripes need Jesus and that is my primary concern, but some topics stir me, and I cannot help but share.