Celebrating the Gospel in a native way

“The intertwined histories of Wheaton College and Native Americans provide the context in which students and faculty are forging fresh and healing relationships with Native people,” wrote professor Gene Green of the Biblical and Theological Studies department as a preface to his article in the Winter 2013 issue of Wheaton Magazine. Next weekend, Green’s department, along with Intercultural Studies, sociology, anthropology and the Office of Global and Experiential Learning, will welcome what they see to be an opportunity for knowledge and reconciliation for the community at Wheaton.

Terry LeBlanc, who will be the speaker in chapel on Friday, Sept. 26, is a member of the Mi’kmaq First Nation in Canada.  He received a doctorate from Asbury Seminary, and is the founder of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). Cheryl Bear of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation received her doctorate from Kings Seminary and is committed to First Nations ministry. She authored Introduction to First Nations Ministry, planted the First Nations church in Los Angeles, and is a recording artist and storyteller. She will be giving a concert on Thursday, Sept. 25. Both LeBlanc and Bear will be a part of a panel discussion on Friday, along with Green and professor Brian Howell of the anthropology department. David Iglesias is the moderator.

Green said that their visit is “Part of a larger movement here on campus to bring awareness to the Wheaton Community on native issues.” This movement is reflected in the courses that will be taught at the Black Hills this summer, one by Green and Folch on Colonialism and Redemption, and one by Matthew Milliner on Introductory Art with a Native American focus.

“It is important,” Green said, “to hear how the gospel is celebrated among people who are not from our culture.”

LeBlanc’s work is to contextualize theology  for native peoples, just as it can be contextualized for any people group. Green expressed the tragedy of how, for the Native Americans, Christianity is so associated with the destruction of their culture. Even those who have converted have felt the pressure to reject their roots and community. LeBlanc and Bear are committed to relating the beauty of worshiping with drum and dance and through the interconnection of all things.

For students at Wheaton, the purpose of attending these events is manifold. Green hopes that it will “open the door to native culture and community,” through appreciating the many different dimensions in the body of Christ. The events also present an opportunity to learn how to reach out to native people with the gospel as it is, rather than how western culture has made it to be. As Green said, “This opens us up to talk with brothers and sisters who look at the gospel through a different lens.”

Through the visit of Bear and LeBlanc, Wheaton has been presented with the chance to own a shared history, which is full of regret and the possibility of healing. “They are such welcoming people,” said Green. “They welcomed us here. Now is our opportunity to do the same.”

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