Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Québec

Collateral damage – or the real target?

I have been musing about the Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe and North America; who are these attacks really targeting? Is it the terrorists goal to make Western nations more favourable to the aspirations of Muslim people and nations around the world?  I think we can give them credit for being smart enough to know that isn’t going to work.

Our governments have shown admirable restraint in the comments they make about the supposed religious motivation of these attacks. The same cannot be said about all the citizens. There is a portion of the populace who have voiced suspicions about all the Muslims now present in our nations. Often it goes beyond mere suspicion to statements that no one if the Muslim faith can be trusted. Some of these statements are coming from people who self-identify as Christian.

Is this perhaps the real goal of the terrorists? To make Muslims in our countries feel marginalized, to fear that they will never be accepted and trusted? That makes fertile ground for Islamist propaganda among Muslim young people.

How are Muslims going to know that love permeates the foundation of the Christian faith,if supposedly Christian people are actively promoting distrust of Muslims?

Earlier this year, after a shooting at a mosque in Québec City, Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec told people that words matter and that we should endeavour to get our facts straight before we speak and write. He also spoke of the need to talk to each other and suggested: “The next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?” That’s good advice.

Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Answering Jihad gives the same kind of advice. He advises Christians to reach out to the Muslims around us and develop friendships, but not to expect overnight conversions. It will probably take years for a Muslim to make the step of trusting Jesus rather that Allah. But many have done that, including Qureshi himself. First we have to convince them that Christians are not their enemies, even if we do not worship Allah.

Hazards of cross-cultural ministry

At a worship service in Québec the visiting minister rose to begin his message. He had just heard us singing in an unfamiliar language but the melody was familiar and he felt he had found a common thread to connect  with the congregation. He began by referring to several words of the English hymn he thought he had heard.  The brother who was interpreting first explained in French that the minister was referring to an English hymn, then gamely tried to express his thoughts as clearly as he could in French.

As the minister continued with his message, he kept coming back to the words of the English hymn and the interpreter valiantly tried to create something coherent out of those thoughts in French. Those of us who were bilingual smiled inwardly, others listened in respectful bafflement.

That is a common stumbling block in cross-cultural ministry. Every major language has a number of hymns that are unique to that language. Some hymns have been translated into many languages. How Great Thou Art is a Swedish hymn that is familiar to people in many other languages. A Mighty Fortress is our God originated in German and is likewise known to many people in their own language. However, differences in grammatical structure and rhythm often make it  next to impossible to create an exact translation. Thus, new songs are written in other languages, expressing more or less the same thoughts.

More hazardous yet for a preacher venturing to speak to people through an interpreter, often a completely different hymn is set to a tune that is familiar to the speaker in his native language. That is what happened in the incident mentioned above. The words of the song we had been singing bore no resemblance at all to the words that had been playing in the preacher’s mind.

Just a little reminder that in cross-cultural ministry we first need to try to understand before we try to make ourselves understood.

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

How adaptable can a flatlander be?

I am a flatlander, a native of Saskatchewan. The nickname refers to the flatness of our landscape, but there are other aspects of our character where the term applies too. I like people to just say what they have to say, with no long descriptive or flowery preambles. Sir or Ma’am sound artificial and phony to me. If anyone tries to tell me something in a round about way, only hinting at the message they want to get across, I’m not going to get the message. I don’t have the code book, it’s not part of my genetic or cultural heritage. Most likely, I won’t even catch on that they are hinting at something.

Now, our landscape is not completely flat and barren. I grew up, and now live once again, in the part of Saskatchewan that is called short grass prairie. The grass never grows very high, neither do the trees. But there is a lot going on that doesn’t meet the eye of someone speeding through on the freeway. An abundance of wildflowers grow on the seemingly barren prairies, though mostly close to the ground. There is abundant wildlife too, and I don’t just mean the mosquitoes.

In like manner, we may not appear to have very polished manners, but we are considerate and try to take care of one other. Like the the time I was riding a city bus in Moose Jaw and the driver saw in his mirror that someone had come to the bus stop just after he had passed it. He stopped the bus, backed up and let the man on. They then traded friendly insults and the man sat down and began to visit with the driver. You see, it just wouldn’t do to make a man feel that you had gone out of your way to help him, even though that is exactly what you did.

How does it work then when a flatlander moves to a place where the culture is altogether different? Well, we can adjust, but there are so many little things that are so different that it may take a long time. The first step is learning that other people’s minds are not wired like mine. What seems normal to them and what seems normal to me, are so different that it takes quite a while to even catch on that I’m giving people an altogether different impression than what I thought.

While in Scott’s Parable Christian Store on Tuesday I found a book that I wish I could have read more than twenty years ago, before we moved to Québec. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even written then.

The book is Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A Lanier and it is a primer in understanding the differences between cultures. It does not give an in-depth look at all the different cultures, just enough information that one will know that there are differences and be alert to the possibility that one is not picking up, or sending, the right signals. It would be good to have that much understanding in advance, so that one does not blunder on, assuming that the other person is the problem.

Ms. Lanier differentiates between cold-climate cultures and hot-climate cultures. Evidently I belong to a cold-climate culture. She also speaks of high-context and low-context cultures. High context cultures are those with an abundance of unspoken rules governing behaviour. I don’t think that’s me. I would highly recommend this book for anyone planning a mission term, also for those thinking of any kind of outreach to immigrants in our local communities.

Once again, the book is Foreign to Familiar, the author is Sarah A. Lanier, and it is published bu McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. The ISBN is 1-58158-022-3. It’s not a big book, not very expensive, a quick read. But it will probably need to be read more than once. It could be life-changing.

Remedy for the Indian problem

Starting in 1701, the government made treaties with the Indians living in Canada. The treaties were rather open-ended arrangements, promising schooling and health care, giving the Indians parcels of land for their exclusive use, but not limiting their right to hunt, fish, and trap wherever they wanted.

Left to their own devices, the Indians would have found a way to prosper in the new reality of a land dominated by other people. But the government considered them to be a problem. Rather than establishing schools where the people lived, they established residential schools far away. All the better to teach the children how to fit in the new society, so they said.

At the same time, Indian agents were established on every reserve to manage things. Indians were not allowed to leave the reserves without permission of the Indian agent. So the children finished their schooling, where they were taught to be ashamed of their Indian heritage, then sent back to the reserves and not allowed to leave. Here we see the genius that a bureaucracy has for taking a small problem that would have corrected itself and transforming it into a great big problem that will last for generations.

In the course of time, the Indians began to develop their own bureaucracy. On the national level it is called the Assembly of First Nations; in addition each province has its own Indian bureaucracy, here in Saskatchewan it is the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Both bureaucracies have endeavoured for years to find a solution to the Indian problem, most of them involving the spending of large sums of money with little visible results. It is in the nature of bureaucracies to find ways to invent solutions to problems that just make the problem more complex. The Indian problem is money in the pocket for the people in both bureaucracies; if there ever was a genuine solution, a lot of people would be out of a job.

Twenty years ago a French language news magazine ran pictures of Cree Indian communities around James Bay. The communities in Ontario consisted of dilapidated housing and the text explained that in these communities most people were unemployed, there was rampant alcoholism and crime, and school attendance was sporadic at best. On the Québec side, the houses were neat, clean and well maintained, there was very little unemployment, crime or alcohol problem and the children were faithfully attending school. The article asked why there was such a difference, but offered no answer.

The difference is that on the Québec side evangelical missionaries had brought the gospel and it the people had received it. The majority of the people in those communities are now Christians. Once parents are converted, they stop drinking and begin to take responsibility for their homes and their children. They want to work and provide a living for their families. Those communities were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The communities on the Ontario side were not.

Billy Diamond grew up in one of those Québec communities at a time of 100% alcoholism, 100% unemployment and 100% welfare (his description). He went away to university, came back and was elected chief at the age of 21. Shamanism was the people’s religion, until an Indian preacher came and began holding services. A few people went at first, then one of the most powerful shamans got converted. News spread like wildfire and more and more people came and got converted. Billy Diamond and the band council cut off the welfare of those who got converted. This only seemed to make them happier.

About this time Hydro Québec began planning the huge James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood a large area of their hunting grounds. Billy Diamond became Grand Chief of all the Cree in Northern Québec and negotiated a very good settlement with Hydro Québec. Suddenly he was national news; he travelled across the country, sometimes speaking three times a day, appearing on talk shows and lapping up all the attention.

Billy Diamond was a big man physically and he became a very big man in his own eyes. Too big for his backward little community. He went home to say good-bye and cut his ties. His wife had become a Christian; too bad, she could stay if she wished.

A friend came to tell him that he wasn’t running away from his family, he was running away from God. He began to think bitter thoughts: “How dare these preachers come into my community and take over my people? We were doing okay before without them.”

Then he remembered the 100% alcoholism, unemployment and welfare and how that had changed after the preachers came. He began to get curious and the next meeting he went to church for the first time in his life, sitting near the door to make his escape if things got too uncomfortable. He began to shake as soon as he sat down and as the preacher spoke, the tears began flowing down his face. That night he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, asking forgiveness for his sins against God and for the way he had persecuted His people.

Billy Diamond says he walked into that meeting a drunk and walked out a sober man. He is still living with his wife in that community and manages a local business.

There is the remedy to the Indian problem, the same remedy that worked for me and everyone else who comes to Jesus. It is not something that can be done by bureaucracies. It is not something that starts at the top with a Grand Chief. It starts with the little people at the bottom, but as their lives are transformed by the blood of Jesus Christ, sometimes even a Grand Chief will abandon his pride and ambition to become one of God’s children.

School crisis in Québec

More than 50 congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in seven Canadian provinces are operating their own schools. These schools provide the foundational tools to enable their graduates to go on and continue learning whatever they need to make a living and be useful members of society. The schools are recognized as legal by their respective provincial governments, even though they do not follow the official curriculum or employ government certified teachers. Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in 37 states of the USA are doing the same.

It has been in the news this week that this will not fly in the province of Québec. The school operated by the congregation at Roxton Falls, Québec is considered an illegal school and will be forced to close. Many attempts have been made to find an accommodation with the government; at times it has seemed that a way had been found, but the news this week appears to be final.

This leaves our brethren in Québec with three options: send their children to public school, home school their children, or leave the province. The families who live there would not consider public school to be an option, so in reality there are only two choices. I’m afraid that some will choose to leave.

Personally, I believe home schooling is the most attractive choice. After all, the education of children is the responsibility of parents, why would we think it essential to bring them all together into one building and have someone else teach them?

The forces behind the public education system have done their work well. When we look at the origins of public schools in North America, we read that the proponents openly stated their intention to remove children from their parents’ influence and to counter the religious influence of the home. They planted the thought that children needed to be together with children their own age in order to learn how to behave. That thought is still believed by many who want their children to be educated in a Christian setting. Why don’t we stop and think a bit? If there was any truth to the statement, then the children in the largest schools should be the best behaved children in our society. Has it worked out that way?

I hear people saying that home-schooled children aren’t learning much. That may be true in a few instances, there are variations in every educational setting. Yet extensive studies have been done of home-schooled children in both Canada and the USA and the results show that on average at every age level home-schooled children are far ahead of their peers in public schools.

Most parents who home school give two reasons for their choice: they want their children to learn more than what the public schools are achieving; and they don’t want their children to learn the attitudes and behaviour problems that are rampant in the public schools.

My observation of home-schooled children is that they will play in an uninhibited way with other children their own age, and are able to visit with children and adults of any age level. They are far more articulate than most children who learn in a classroom setting. Again there are differences from home to home, and child to child, this is normal, but on balance home schooled children learn more social skills than children learning in a classroom.

Many parents fear to even try home schooling, imagining that the work load would be too much. While home schooling families need to have a schedule and maintain order, they do not have to duplicate a classroom setting. And the children need to take up a good share of the household chores. This is a bonus.

We had supper in the home of a home schooling family who have five boys and two girls, the girls being the youngest. After supper the boys started playing around. After a few minutes, the father said, “Boys, what is it that you do every day when we don’t have company?” That was all he needed to say, the boys came and cleared off the table, put things away, washed the dishes, and did it cheerfully.

Consider all the time and money that can be saved by home schooling: no need for school buses or vans, no time wasted travelling to and from school, no school lunches to prepare ahead of time (the children should help prepare meals at home), no special clothes just for school, no need to try and pry out of your children just what happened at school today.

The studies of home schooled children also show that the education level of the parents doesn’t matter. Parents got better results than the public schools, whether they had a Grade VIII education or a Bachelor of Education degree. And yes, there are parents with a B. Ed. degree who do not trust their children to the public education system.

Parents don’t need to be experts in the subjects their children study. There are excellent textbooks available for home schooling families that will guide the children into learning on their own with some parental supervision. Universities now are competing for children who have been home-schooled through to a high school level. They have found that these students have learned how to learn and do far better in university.

My perspective on all this is that our independent congregational schools do serve a useful purpose. Not every family dynamic is compatible with home schooling; for instance there are single parent households and households where the parents are not united in the faith. However, we should not be looking for direction to the public school system. They have nothing useful to offer as far as textbooks and teaching methods are concerned. We will find more helpful examples in the textbooks and teaching methods used by home schoolers.

Clinging to the rock

The majestic elm tree was a landmark along the Autoroute des Cantons de l’Est south of Montréal. It stood straight and tall on the east side of the highway, near St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, but it looked the same in summer as in winter. Like most North American elms it had fallen victim to Dutch Elm disease and had been dead for many years.

It must have been eighteen years ago that a Montréal artist decided to do something about it. He collected as many discarded green plastic buckets as he could and cut out hundreds of elm leaves, then rented a crane with a man basket and fastened the leaves to the branches of the elm tree. It did improve the appearance of the tree; the leaves may not have been exactly the right colour, but they caught your eye as you sped by on the freeway.

Two months later, a strong wind came up in the night and the tree fell. Perhaps the leaves hastened the fall by catching the wind, yet we all knew the tree was rotten on the inside by now.

The oldest trees in Canada are the eastern white cedars along the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario. These cedars are neither big nor beautiful, yet they cling to the rocky cliff and have survived extreme weather variations for an astoundingly long time. Many of them have very little bark left due to blasts from wind borne sand and the effects of freezing and thawing, rain, hail and snow, yet show no sign of aging or rot and produce seeds every year. Some of them are more than one thousand years old, still healthy and drawing nutrients and moisture from little crevices in the rock. The oldest is estimated to be almost 1900 years old.

Which tree does our Christian life resemble? Are we trying to hold up an artificial resemblance of Christian life for others to see, with no spiritual life inside? Or are we battered and worn yet still surviving the battles, clinging to the rock and sustained by roots growing deep into the living water Christ provides?

Not as easy as it looked

There is a little Christian bookstore in Sherbrooke, Québec that we used to visit when we lived in that province. I would buy a book or two and we would visit with Priscille, the lady who managed the store. I’m not sure if she worked there full time,  occasionally there would be someone else there.

Priscille was a wife and mother, also a writer. I have a book entitled Un chant nouveau (A New Song) containing mostly short songs and choruses for use in worship and Sunday School. Priscille wrote the words for six of the songs.

She also wrote verses for a greeting card company. There was a greeting card company in Ontario that also had a line of French language cards with spiritual messages and she wrote for them. Her teenage boy would sometimes remark that this was such easy money – Mom would write out a number of short messages, send them away and in a few weeks a cheque would come back. It seemed to him that Mom was taking money for not doing much at all.

There came a snow day when school was cancelled and there wasn’t much to do at home. Priscille gave him a pad of paper and suggested he try his hand at writing greeting card verses, promising that if he could come up with something good she would send it to the company so he could share in the easy money.

He eagerly sat down at the table and began to write; his mother went about her work. He wrote a few lines, crossed them out, wrote some more, crossed it out and wrote again. He tore off that sheet of paper, crumpled it up. threw it in the waste basket and started over.

Sheet after sheet went into the garbage and finally a plaintive wail was heard: “Mom, this is hard work!

Music to his mother’s ears, no doubt. Evidently though, the young lad did have a feeling for what good writing should be. One would hope that he didn’t give up on writing.

Discovery learning

The Province of Alberta recently announced a complete transformation of their teaching methods. The new model is based on the wonderfully naive expectation that a classroom of 30 children of the same age will learn much better if the teacher is relegated to the background and not allowed to teach.

Where does this dewy-eyed credulity come from? Certainly not from any investigation into how such a classroom actually behaves. One has to wonder if the educational “experts”, having succeeded in excluding parents from the picture, are not finding too many teachers who actually want to teach some realistic values to their pupils.

Study after study has shown that children learn best from direct instruction, that the modern alternatives have resulted in a continuous decline in actual learning. The province of Quebec, for example, has resisted the move towards newer methods of teaching math. In Quebec they still teach the basics, like memorizing the times tables. The result is that Quebec students place 6th on the OECD comparison of learning outcomes, on a par with Japan.

Students from the rest of Canada are already far behind, discovery learning will put them even further behind. An article published in Educational Psychologist a few years ago, based on more than 100 studies over 50 years, stated that none of the research supported discovery learning.

Pardon my cynicism, but to me this just looks like the latest attempt of the “progressives” to seize control of our children’s minds and train them in their collectivist philosophy. I applaud all those parents who have removed their children from the abyss of public education. All the studies show that children who get their learning at home or in small private schools are far ahead in both learning and in responsible conduct.

 

 

Why parents need to be involved in their child’s education

Governor Jeb Bush of Florida was in Toronto at the end of October to speak on the educational reforms that have moved Florida schools from the bottom tier of educational achievement to near the top.  He spoke to the Economic Club of Canada at the Royal York Hotel, the talk was well-publicized and co-sponsored by the Society for Quality Education, yet the audience appears to have been remarkably free of any representatives of the Ontario educational system.

Perhaps they should have been paying more attention.  The OECD International Student Assessment statistics show that Canada is slipping one place per year in Math proficiency.  We are now down to 13th place, from 7th in 2006.  Even this ranking is higher than it would be if it only included the English-speaking provinces.  In Québec they still teach math by traditional methods and obtain the highest scores in the country.

In my humble opinion, the declining test scores are collateral damage from the all-out efforts of the educational bureaucracy to convince the public that education is a highly sophisticated process that is beyond the ability of mere parents.  It’s not that they don’t want to teach children to read and write, and to add and subtract, multiply and divide, but they want to do it in such a way that parents have no idea how they did it.

This does not appear to be an attainable objective.  At the same time that the public education system shows constantly declining results, studies in Canada and the USA show that home-schooling parents are obtaining results that are far superior.  Not only do those studies show that children do far better when taught by their parents, the results are the same for parents who never finished high school and those with a university degree or two.

The gurus of educational mystification react to those results either by ignoring them, or by suggesting that some kind of sinister brainwashing is taking place in these unsupervised home school settings.  Many of the rest of us believe the brainwashing is taking place in the public system and is the fundamental reason for trying to keep parents from understanding what is going on in school.  Blessed indeed is the mother whose daughter comes home from school and says, “Mom, the teacher said we shouldn’t talk to our parents about this because you probably won’t understand, but I really want to know what you think.”

For those of us who have opted out of the public system in favour of independent Christian schools, I fear that some of the attitudes of the public system still linger with us.  It is not the school’s responsibility to teach social skills to our children.  If my child is being a disruptive influence in school, it is my responsibility to apply corrective measures.  We should take an interest in what our children are learning and how they are learning it.  We should not be a disruptive influence on the school, either, but we really can help our children with concepts that they just don’t seem able to catch in class.  We should take an interest in the curriculum, too.  Our independent schools are apt to get the same mediocre results as the public system if they use the same curriculum materials.  There is a wealth of curriculum materials used by home schooling parents that are much more effective.

Back to Governor Bush.  Education reform was the main plank of his platform when he first ran for governor and once elected he began to implement his program.  All the schools in Florida were ranked by results as A, B, C, D or F.  The schools ranked A were given an extra $100 per student to spend as they wished.  Most schools used it for teacher bonuses.  Students in schools ranked F were given vouchers to switch to another school, either public or private.  Social promotion was banned after Grade 3.  Bush believes the first three years are spent learning to read and the following years in reading to learn.  It makes no senses at all to pass an illiterate child into Grade 4 and condemn him or her to a lifetime of ignorance.  The emphasis of his program was on providing measures of accountability and rewarding schools and teachers that were achieving excellence.

Other school systems in the USA are taking notice and emulating Florida’s measures, New York City, for example.  I’ve not heard of any Canadian public school authorities showing any inclination to follow suit.  Good education is not mysterious or expensive.  Our grandparents knew how to do it 100 years ago and those methods have not become outmoded, despite the pretensions of the educational bureaucracy.

As a final note, the Society for Quality Education offers free remedial programs for reading and math.  If your child is not doing well in these basic subjects, try these programs.  You will find them at: www.teachyourchildtoread.ca
www.teachyourchildmath.ca

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