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Ambassadors of Peace

Notes by Hon. David Kilgour, P.C., M.P., Edmonton Southeast and
Secretary of State (Latin American and Africa)
at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast
Holiday Inn, 1 Princess Street
Kingston, Ontario

April 25, 2001

It is a pleasure to be in Kingston for many reasons.  First, your mayor, Isabel Turner, a participant of this breakfast, is from all indications a remarkable leader of this historically important city, the first capital of Canada. 

Second, Kingston was, of course, the home of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister.  For our purposes today, I'd like to say a brief word about his spiritual life.  Years ago, a friend told me that his second wife, Agnes, had a strong influence on this side of his personality.  Donald Creighton's book, The Old Chieftain, indicates that Sundays the couple "would go to church…."  Soon after they moved to Ottawa for the first Parliament of Canada in late 1867, she expressed the "wish for a law forbidding Sunday politics" (p.48, Agnes – The Biography of Lady Macdonald by Louise Reynolds).  Her prayers that John A. would give up his habit of working Sundays were soon answered because he gave up business meetings on the Sabbath.

The couple usually attended St. Albans Anglican Church in Ottawa, but sometimes went to services of other denominations.  According to Joseph Pope, Macdonald’s authorized biographer, while he was a "firm believer in the truths of Christianity, (he) cared little for external forms of worship, and was at times ready to accept the ministrations of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches."  Some years later, according to Lady Macdonald’s own biographer, John A. began to conduct family worship personally.

Third, Peter Milliken, our new Speaker of the House, is very proud to be from Kingston.  If one - or preferably all of you - tell him I was here and said positive things about him, it will no doubt help me get more than the 35 seconds government ministers now have to answer the most complicated questions (e.g.: What is the best way to cure the economic problems of South America?").  Seriously, I have no doubt that if everyone here were to plead with him, it would make not the slightest difference.  Peter and I worked together around the Speaker's chair two Parliaments ago.  You should be very proud of him.

I propose to speak briefly about the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast in Ottawa on May 10th and serving Jesus in our respective communities.

National Prayer Breakfast

The speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast this year will be retired General Romeo Dallaire, who is, of course, a national hero for his work during the Rwandan genocide of April – June 1994.  As far as I can see, he was one of the very few officials who acquitted himself in Rwanda without fault throughout the entire ordeal, although he still insists on blaming himself.  There are others and one was Father Pinard of Shawinigan, Quebec.  Not far from the parish church in rural Rwanda where he was murdered while giving communion stands a beautiful church centre overlooking a lake.  A nun at that centre told me last summer that when hundreds of persons from the district arrived with machetes, etc. to kill her during the genocide period because she was a Tutsi, Father Pinard confronted them and they miraculously left.  Tragically, he survived the genocide only to be killed later.

Dallaire has been quoted as saying, "There must be God because I have shaken hands with the devil."  The $20 tickets for the breakfast are selling very well, but if any of you are prepared to go to Ottawa, please speak to me afterwards.  I'll do my best to get you in.  The pre-breakfast speaker on the evening of the 9th will be Mavis Ettienne, who was on the other side of the barricade from Dallaire at the Oka crisis because he was in charge of the Armed Forces on that occasion.  Please consider coming to that too.

Kim Phuc

The speaker of the National Prayer Breakfast two years ago was Kim Phuc of Ajax, Ontario, and I'm quite certain many of you have heard her speak personally or on television,

To honour her commitment to us, she flew home early from Tokyo, where I gather some international body decided that the photo of her at age nine as she ran naked after she was hit by napalm in South Vietnam was the most important photo of the entire 20th century.  She spoke on reconciliation and how after she became a believer she was able to forgive all who had caused her grief, including the American who authorized the Napalm bombing in her district.  After the breakfast, she shook hands with or hugged many of the 400 or so who came to the event.  What a deep impression she made on all of us.

Last year, her biography, The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong was published.  Some copies of my review of it for a newspaper are at the back of the room, so I'll not use the short time left to speak further about it.  Suffice to say that, while Kim thinks Chong did an excellent job, she doesn't think it caught the importance of faith in her life.  I wish you could all meet her too.  Hopefully you will – perhaps at a future prayer breakfast here.

Reverend Dale Lang

Last year's speaker was Rev. Dale Lang of Taber, near Lethbridge.  His 17-year-old and well-liked son, Jason, had been shot and killed approximately a year earlier at his high school by another student.

Lang and his wife, Diane, were praying at the hospital emergency ward that their son might be saved when the attending doctor gave them the news that Jason "didn't make it."

Soon, authorities were asking the devastated couple to prepare a statement for the media arriving from just about everywhere.  When they did so, the RCMP told them the force's lawyer had said the police couldn't read it.  Dale therefore read the statement, which incredibly forgave the 14-year-old accused in the murder and called for the community to embrace the accused's family.  As he told the prayer breakfast, Dale began only then to realize that we Canadians are not used to forgiving.  He and Diane gave credit only to God as a healer for having the strength to forgive.

He then told us that when his first child was born something happened to him.  His wife insisted that they baptize their baby.  He spent the next eight months reading and talking to people about Christianity.  Deciding that Jesus was exactly who he said he was, he decided to become a Christian.  Faith began to grow in him and he became a youth pastor.  Later he studied for the ministry and became an ordained minister.  St. Theodore's in Taber was his first congregation. 

  You might be interested in some of the things Rev. Lang told us last year.  On why the tragedy occurred, he offered a number of possible explanations:

  • As a culture, we Canadians glorify violence in movies, music and video games, etc.

  • As a society, Canadians often denigrate what it means to be a human being.  We must all be more responsible about things like pornography and violence,
  • Many Canadians need healing from various injuries as he has discovered in speaking in about 45 junior and senior high schools about what happened in Myers High School, Taber,

On where to look for healing, he doubts if it is stronger economies that will provide it.  He refers to II Chronicles: "If my people will humble themselves…I will forgive them."  “All of us, especially believers, need to be humble,” Lang said.

The last words he said to Jason were, "Have a good day."  He thought afterwards how important it was that they parted as the best of friends.  He referred the audience to Ephesians, "Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”

In his travels across the country, Lang finds that many young people are turning to God because they need solid ground.  In short - and my brief summary does him no justice - everyone who heard Lang was deeply moved.  

Living our Faith in Communities

What does it mean to follow Jesus at work, in school and in the home today?  Having observed Christians over many years, I’m constantly struck by how varied, yet essentially similar, their answers to this question are likely to be.  Women, men and older children everywhere who have a personal relationship with Jesus/God read the Bible, pray and attempt in their daily lives to be points of light for our faith.

People with whom we rub shoulders ought to see in us God’s message of kindness and unconditional love for humankind.  As Paul put it in his letter to the struggling new church at Corinth, no letter of introduction is needed for a believer.

On a visit to South America and South Africa, I discussed this question with a number of individuals.  A leader from Central America indicated quite spontaneously that God has been good to her and her family.  God, she added, gives talents to everyone;  the more one has the greater the ability to be a “beacon” for Him.  Whenever she feels herself to be in God’s presence, which I took to occur frequently for her, she wants to use all her abilities to advance His will.

A Canadian colleague on the same flight to Uruguay offered another perspective.  For him, Jesus offers every believer a sound basis for salvation because He came into the world to help the marginalized and suffering.  He loves every human being and does not judge individuals in the foolish way the world does so often.  Love and redemption are His promise to believers.

South African Faith

Several days later in Johannesburg, I met an old friend from Canada, who now works there with a lay ministry.  He and some others were invited to conduct a “spiritual wellness” forum for employees of a large utility company.  Its management, deeply worried about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in southern Africa, asked Christians to speak to employees on faith,self-esteem, family breakdown under apartheid and promiscuity.

Not long afterwards, I found myself on the rocks and sand of Robben Island off the shores of Cape Town for an unforgettable day of listening to former political prisoners of the erstwhile maximum security facility.  Beforehand, we 600 or so visitors, mostly from North America, were given a tour, beginning with the lime quarry known as the ‘birthplace of reconciliation’ because there Nelson Mandela and many leaders of the new South Africa first reached out in friendship to their guards.

The personal humiliation and natural human desire for revenge they had to overcome to do so became clearer as we listened to Robben Island ‘alumni’.  The white wardens at Robben Island tended to be bitter men who were often assigned to the island as punishment.  Beatings of prisoners were common, but in such rocky soil the ‘miracle of South Africa’ took root.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu spoke of reconciliation during a visit to Canada earlier last year.  Emerging from 27 years in prison, said Tutu, Mandela “urged his own people to be ready to forgive and to work for reconciliation.  He has preached his gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation a great deal more by example than by precept.  He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest. Who would have imagined South Africa would be an example of anything but the most awful ghastliness?  And now we see God’s sense of humour, for God has chosen this unlikely lot and set up as some kind of paradigm…that just might provide the world with a viable way of dealing with a post-conflict, post-repression period.”

 In a session on reconciliation and the future, we heard from an Anglican priest, Michael Lapsley, who as a New Zealander was expelled from South Africa for working as chaplain to both white and black students.  Shortly after he returned to Africa from a national tour in Canada, he received the letter bomb which destroyed both of his hands.  For him, Jesus looked to individuals at the bottom of society and offered the form of compassion which liberates rather than merely pities.  He thinks believers today must also attend the poor, widowed and orphaned with a similar message.  In his own case, he has gained much from his faith journey, in part by refusing to accept the “harvest of hatred” of which he is one prominent survivor.

Christians in Community

But let me return to workplaces and homes in Canada.  How are we to interpret what Jesus says in the Gospels in our daily lives today?  Those who prefer rules – ‘rule takers’ – assert that living for Jesus means, for example, no stealing, no lying, no padding expense accounts, etc. at work.  The ‘rule shunners’ say that Jesus is love;  those who accept this need not be obsessed with rules, although in practice their conduct would probably not differ appreciably from that of the first group. 

One can certainly be successful and a committed Christian; the one need not exclude the other. A young South African woman noted, “People are attracted to Christianity as a place where the soul comes to rest. It should be a refuge and a way of life – not a label that places one apart from others. People today are still asking the same questions raised by the Greeks: Why am I here? Why do I find myself at this specific time in this specific place? Do I have something special to accomplish?” Faith provides sound answers to such questions."

On the issue of believers and leadership in society, consider the monk in the third century AD who felt called to visit far-away Rome.  He finally arrived to see a huge crowd going into a coliseum; curious, he followed.  Inside, he watched gladiators killing people with swords.  He soon entered the field himself, shouting in Jesus’ name at the gladiators to stop, but was ignored.  Before long, he was killed too, but thereafter a silence slowly descended over the crowd.  One spectator, then others and finally all of them left the coliseum.  Never again did such an event occur in Rome.

More recently, take Rosa Parks of Alabama, who changed American history when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in December 1955 and was arrested.  In a book written long afterwards, she noted, “I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face.  God did away with all my fear.”  Her book, Quiet Strength, explains how religion shaped her life and has been a central part of the American civil rights movement from the ’50s to the present day.

Things don’t always turn out as well for Christians as they did for Rosa Parks.  The war against us in various parts of the world today is creating an estimated 160,000 martyrs per year, probably greater than at any time in our 2000-year-history.  Don’t all of us have an obligation to show solidarity with victims of religious persecution whatever their faith?  If our neighbours of, say, Muslim faith know that we Christians of all denominations denounce the persecution of Muslims in Kosovo or Bosnia by self-proclaimed Christians, they will be more supportive when we raise our voices against the persecution of Christians in, say, Sudan or Pakistan.

C.S. Lewis

The late C.S. Lewis noted frequently about Christians that our faith “asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever… There are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever.”

Elsewhere, this great mid-20th century advocate for our faith reminds us that Christ taught us not only to be “as harmless as doves”, but “ as wise as serpents.” Believers are required to practise justice and honesty, give and take, truth seeking, keeping promises and having ‘guts’, which for Lewis includes the kind “that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it out’ under pain.” Without these qualities, or at least their beginning, inside us, nothing could constitute a “heaven” for us after death.

Another Christian giant, Francis of Assisi, noted in 13th century Italy: “Christians witness by the way (they) walk across the town square.” Each of us encounters colleagues and strangers daily.  Are we attracting them to Christianity and our denomination?  Acts of kindness in an increasingly distracted world are probably the best way to catch another’s attention.  For example, a friend of another faith of origin in Burma (Myanmar) noted that the individuals who had assisted him the most at key moments in his dangerous life were Christians. He is precisely the sort of person who might wish to join if someone would only make an effort to open a door for him and his family at a local church. Christians have an army of other believers out there in the world during the past 2000 years whose good deeds can help us to win others to Christ.

Friendly Believers

I’d argue that believers of all faiths have a duty to be happy and positive individuals.  Nothing is more off-putting than a sour workmate or colleague, whereas someone who is serene and friendly is magnetic. If we are to be effective witnesses for our faith in our workplaces, much is demanded of us. Good interpersonal relations must be under constant re-examination in case we are hurting someone’s feelings by thoughtless words or deeds.

Grace – God’s love for all humanity even though undeserving – deserves the final word. It is the one thing that only the church can provide in a world which craves it the most. Grace can bring transformation and hope.

As Philip Yancey, who is probably the most persuasive writer in English for the Christian cause alive today, put it in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, it is hunger for grace that brings people to any church. “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there,” he writes. “I returned because I found grace nowhere else.” In a world full of too much ‘ungrace,’ we believers should seek to dispense grace in every city, town and village of Canada.

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