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Reconciliation work

Presented by Zach on May 21st.

Good morning, I am 16 years old. I’ll be finishing grade 10 at Brookswood Secondary School next month.

For those of you who do not know where Brookswood Secondary is, you probably do know that directly across the street from our church building is the Langley gun-range. Brookswood Secondary is the high school that the Langley School District thought would be a good idea to build just on the other side of the gun range!

20 years ago this coming October, my parents and my brother (who was just a 1 year old at the time) started attending Langley Mennonite Fellowship. 20 years ago was also the time when the people of this church were raising money to build this building.

But instead of just raising the money needed for construction, it was decided that the church would also raise an extra amount to contribute to God’s mission here in Langley.

Earlier in the life of our church, a victim-offender reconciliation program for people involved with the criminal justice system had been launched by this congregation. It was called Community Justice Initiatives. Over the years, it has helped to promote the practice of restorative justice here in British Columbia.

So — it is not surprising that when the extra money was raised as part of our church’s building fund, it was given to Community Justice Initiatives to extend its reach to young people not yet involved in the justice system — and their victims. It was the desire of our church and of CJI to address issues such as bullying, harassment and other conflicts in the education system. Therefore, the funds were used by Community Justice Initiatives to extend Jesus‘ way of peacemaking into the Langley Schools and other districts. The result was a new program called Restorative Action.

This morning I am here to tell you how the church’s decision to create the Restorative Action program intersected with one of our church’s own kids who was victimized at the school which is such a close neighbour to our meeting place: That kid is Me.

Before I tell you the story itself, however, I should say a few words about growing up in my family and in this congregation:

I was born in 2001, the same year as the destruction of the world trade centre. At that time, both my mom and dad were active in serving here at Langley Mennonite Fellowship — especially with our Children’s Ministry.

In their working lives, my parents were involved in a number of projects to demonstrate better ways of reaching and helping high risk youth:

  • They founded and developed a large alternative school near for about 200 high schoolers with mental health challenges and other issues placing them at risk of dropping out.
  • My mom and dad also created started two residential centres for run- away youth — one in the local area and another in further away.
  • A third project that they began was called the Beyond Program. It was located inside a Correctional Centre for Women. At that time, some teenage girls who committed very serious offenses were incarcerated in the adult prison. The Beyond program was developed to prepare these young female offenders for life after prison as they returned to the communities in which their crimes had been committed.
  • However, the most ambitious project that my parents were working on at the time of my birth was the assembly and leadership of a large coalition of seventy government agencies, religious organizations and

private non-profits. My parents facilitated this major effort -in order to promote important changes in the way that communities dealt with young offenders returning from incarceration. That major reform effort was built upon the principles of restorative justice.

When my brother and I were young, we often travelled with my mom and dad as they worked on these big projects. We may not have had much understanding of why we took these trips, but Mom and Dad always made them fun for us. And no — we never had to go inside any prisons or juvenile justice facilities!

As you can imagine, growing up in a home with parents like mine had an impact on my values. Growing up in this church also reinforced the importance of reconciliation and compassion for us.

Many of you may not know me well, but this church is my home.

  • This is where my parents publicly dedicated themselves to raising me in the ways of Jesus.
  • I have been here on the vast majority of the Sundays of my life. Russell Nelson can tell you lots of stories about teaching my preschool Sunday School class. He always said that it was more like Group Therapy for little kids. For some reason, we all brought our preschool problems — like conflicts with our siblings! — and talked with Russell about them every week. I may not remember the details, but I remember the experience and I know that Russell taught us about Jesus way of peacemaking.
  • This sanctuary is also where my mother’s funeral took place in 2006 when I was five years old.
  • Over the years, women in the church like Esther Heinrichs & Shannon Ediger have been like 2nd moms to me since I lost my own. More recently, Ian Funk (our pastor) has been my mentor since Grade 8.

This church has had a major impact upon my life and how I see both God and the world around me.

And now — onto the story of how the values I learned from my parents and from this church helped me to face a real world challenge of being the victim of bullying:

Because my dad was facing life as a single parent and because this church offered him a lot of help in raising us, my dad moved x and I here to Langley not long after mom died. So I have been educated in this community from Kindergarten onward. Since Grade 6, I have been a French immersion student, which — as you may know — involves a great learning experience but also intensity and stress.

Last school year, when I was halfway through Grade 9, I happened to be assigned to a group of three to do a challenging project in one of my French classes. It was one of those ridiculously challenging projects
that no one your age should really be expected to do as part of the curriculum, so I was already stressed out about it. Then some problems started with my project partners.

To preserve their privacy, I will call my partners Doug and Phil.

Doug had been my friend at school since grade 6. We both play soccer and had other things in common. Phil was also a friend. He has high functioning autism, a disorder that used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome.

Unfortunately, Doug was not doing his share of the work. I could be patient with him, but because of Phil’s autism, he could not. The teacher tried to help us, but he was new and inexperienced and did not

have effective strategies to solve the problem of Doug not doing his share.

Phil began to complain more and more about Doug — sometimes in a way that other students knew what was going on. Unfortunately, Doug began responding by saying and doing hurtful and aggravating things to Phil publicly in the classroom. Because of Phil’s limitations I tried telling Doug in private to stop and to get his work done, but Doug was mad and did not listen to me.

After this situation had already gone-on too long, I decided to ask the teacher’s help in protecting Phil. However, instead of improving the situation for us, the teacher made matters worse by putting even more pressure on.

Eventually — because I continued to stand-up for Phil — Doug turned on me. In spite of a meeting with our parents, a vice principal and the

teacher, Doug intensified his harrasment of Phil and started to talk about me behind my back, trying to turn my friends against me. Things got really bad. At one point — Doug even tried to pay an older student to beat me up.

Hearing this, my dad asked for a one-to-one meeting with the vice principal. The vice principal then decided to ask our school’s Restorative Action mediator (Kaylie – a staff member at CJI) to work with Doug.

Doug was given two choices by the vice principal: either he could engage in conflict recognition and resolution through Restorative Action or the RCMP would become involved, due to the nature of the threats he was making.

I also was able to meet with Kaylie. I told her that I would prefer that the situation to be addressed by Restorative Action and not have Doug face law enforcement.

Unfortunately, Kaylie had a long wait-list of other situations at Brookswood to deal with. After quite a long time, she was able to meet with Doug on a regular basis. Eventually, Doug decided to meet with Phil and I to apologize and to take responsibility for his actions.

The meeting itself was very long, but Doug acknowledged that he had hurt us. I accepted the apology — and that brought me a great sense of relief at the time.

I would like to say that Doug changed after that meeting. Although the conflict was resolved for Phil and I, Doug continues to struggle with this kind of behaviour towards others. He has faced further consequences

and Brookswood has continued to work with him toward better outcomes.

Even so, it is still true that Langley Mennonite Fellowship has made a difference in the lives of many students in our local community and beyond. Through Community Justice Initiatives and Restorative Action gift of this congregation keeps on giving, and stories like mine have been happening in all of Langley’s high schools for many years now.

As a victim of bullying and harassment I can testify that Restorative Action has made a positive difference in my life, but more needs to be done:

  • There are still too many kids like Doug who don’t have the advantage that I did of growing up in a family and church where peaceful conflict resolution is valued. Teenage culture today is strongly influenced by media and militarism. Most kids have never experienced a good

example of peaceful resolution. What could Langley Mennonite Fellowship be doing to impact even the youngest children of our community?

  • Restorative Action does not have enough staff to meet all the needs for conflict resolution in the Langley schools. What could LMF do to decrease the wait time for conflict resolution services in the schools?

My story had a good outcome for me and for Phil. But there are other stories and other kids. What can we do to expand the impact of Jesus’ way of peacemaking here in our own community?