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 of New Testament as a preface to his article in the Winter 2013 issue of Wheaton Magazine. Next weekend, Green’s department, along with the intercultural studies, sociology and anthropology departments and the Office of Global and Experiential Learning will welcome what they see as 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 recieved her doctorate from the Kings Seminary and is committed to First Nations ministry. Author of “Introduction to First Nations Ministry,” Bear planted the First Nations church in Los Angeles, and is also a recording artist and storyteller. She will be giving a concert on Thursday, Sept. 25, and will be a part of a panel discussion on Friday, along with LeBlanc, Green, professor of anthropology Brian Howell and director of the J. Dennis Hastert Center David Iglesias as moderator.
Green said that Bear and LeBlanc’s 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 Drs. Green and Folch on Colonialism and Redemption, and one by Dr. Matthew Milliner on Introductory Art with a Native American focus. “It is important,” said Green, “to hear how the gospel is celebrated among people who are not from our culture.”
LeBlanc’s work is to contextualize theology among the native peoples, just as it can be contextualized for any people group. Green expressed the tragedy of how Christianity has become so associated with destruction of culture in the mind of many Native Americans, and 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 worshipping with drum and dance and through the interconnectivity 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 the chance to own a shared history, which is full of regret and the possibility of healing. “They are such welcoming people,” Green said. “They welcomed us here. Now is our opportunity to do the same.”

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