I’ve been closely involved with Act Five since the day the program got possession of the property on Blake Street, I lived at the Act Five house for over two years, and I’ve worked for the program since August 2020. I often find that providing a list of the uniquely special opportunities that our students get does a good job of showing what the program gets to do, but it fails to paint the picture and show what this initiative is and the ethos it carries with it.
So in this blog post, I share with you about the six day Indigenous learning trip that Act Five, in partnership with the CRCNA’s Heart’s Exchanged program, got to take to Manitoulin Island last week. As I do this, I will share by painting pictures of particular things I saw, rather than a list of activities we did.
We just finished a hike and the thirteen students, three staff, and Cindy from the CRCNA, are all sitting looking out over stunningly beautiful Mudge Bay. Sheldon, an Indigenous man who was born and raised on Manitoulin Island, is standing with his back to Mudge Bay as he shares his life story with us. I look around and see 13 students who just spent a majority of their high school experience learning over Zoom, sitting there with their senses activated and hearts stirring. Sheldon is passionately sharing about how he encountered the Creator and became a follower of The Way. As Sheldon shares that he became a believer through direct encounter with Creator speaking to him and freeing him from addiction, rather than through evangelism or the discipleship that we are used to, I feel the students understanding of how Creator works expanding, and with that comes a sense of new hope that can be felt in the air.
We show up at the home of Richard and Cheryl in the mid-afternoon. In the backyard, they had set up a teepee within which was a warm fire. Cheryl made a hot pot of cedar tea for everyone, while Richard brings out his homemade cinnamon buns. Our students are floored by and grateful for their posture of hospitality toward us, non-Indigenous strangers from far away. They introduce us to Cheryl’s father, Frank, who tells his story of being a residential school survivor and learning to make peace with himself, his family, and the Creator throughout his life. Cheryl then shares of her battle with cancer and how God is healing her body both through modern medicine, and by reconnecting her to Indigenous wisdom and medicinal knowledge through her son, which she had once rejected in her pursuit of Christian faith. She is rediscovering how she can be fully Christian and wholly Indigenous simultaneously, embracing both faith and her culture. Piers, their nephew, shares his journey of self-discovery as a young man who has lived both on and off-reserve. Hearing these stories was in many ways a spiritual experience for our students and staff. I saw students learning to listen, learning to appreciate story as a way of teaching, and embracing the messages that made home in their hearts through these stories, though different for each person. I also watched our students’ understanding of God grow bigger and wider as they heard other people speak of their encounters with the Great Spirit.
I saw students learning to listen, learning to appreciate story as a way of teaching, and embracing the messages that made home in their hearts through these stories, though different for each person.
A small group of students set out to meet Mark, a language-keeper of the Ojibwe people on Manitoulin Island. Mark greets us with a big smile. Rachel presents him with a gift of tobacco, inviting him to share his knowledge with us and thanking him for his willing spirit. He smiles his big, toothy smile and says, “Miigwech. Thank you. This is very meaningful to me in my culture. Chi-miigwech. Thank you very much.” Mark spends most of his days in nature, hiking throughout Wikwemikong and praying for people and the creation. He knows the forest, and in many ways, the forest knows him. The plan is to go on a hike with him and have him share his knowledge and stories with us. But first, he offers us each a walking stick. “I made these for you all”, he says. Each of us took one. “I carved them myself and left them out last month under the full moon, to bless them and ask the Creator to protect you and show you the way of life”. He smiles at us, and each one of us felt the honour of beholding such a thoughtful gift. He didn’t even know us, yet he cares about each of these students and wants the best for them. We proceeded to hike, hearing his stories and knowledge and excitement for the wonders of the bush – pausing every 10-15 steps to be quiet, look around, and be thankful for where we are and what we get to experience. I saw students come alive on this hike and truly appreciate the created world. I saw them light up at Mark’s smile and understand the depth of his love for life and nature. Through Mark’s entirely different perspective on life, spirituality, and the world, students were able to appreciate Indigenous spirituality in a new way and practice paying attention to where they are and what’s around them.
Those are just three of the stories of how we saw students on this trip develop a deeper understanding and experience of our God through connection with the natural world and our Indigenous neighbours. We’re grateful for the hospitality that the Ojibwe Nation showed us during our visit and look forward to continuing our partnership with Daystar Ministry.