Magazines 2024 Jan - Feb B.C. First Nation and nearby church journey together

B.C. First Nation and nearby church journey together

22 February 2024 By David Donaldson and Joel Zantingh

About 100 km east of Vancouver, the Cheam First Nation and Sardis Community Church report on a seven-year journey of reconciliation

Shortly after Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation report was released in 2015, Don Klaassen of Sardis Community Church reached out to the council of the nearby Cheam First Nation. Both are located on the Trans-Canada Highway about an hour east of Vancouver.

Despite mutual interest in responding to the report and pursuing some kind of reconciliation, neither knew what that would mean in pragmatic terms. Andrew Victor, a Cheam council member, remembers his response – “Now what? How do we respond? More specifically, how should we live, then?” He introduced Klaassen, mission team leader at Sardis Church, to Chief Ernie Crey.

Klaassen assured the band council during the initial conversations that this was an invitation to journey together without an agenda, to discover what reconciliation would look like in their specific context. Neither the church not the band knew what would happen, but Chief Crey concluded, “They [Sardis Community Church] are willing to walk with us, we’ll figure out as we go.”

Working with the band’s department of health, the church developed relationship through youth camps, processing corn together, building home-based garden boxes and sharing many meals.

Klaassen had reached out in part because he knew reconciliation was central to Jesus’s message. Klaassen’s initial message mentioned wanting “to correctly apply the teachings of Jesus in a way that initiates reconciliation.” He included a four-point “acknowledgement and response to past wrongs.”

Seven years later, many people at Sardis Community Church have realigned their lives to reconciliation and peacemaking – Jesus-centred living. “It is part of Sardis’s DNA,” Klaassen says. “It has benefitted the church and its mission; there are people now attending Sardis Community Church because of our example of journeying together with the First Nation in their community.”

What reconciliation pragmatically means might be unclear, but pursuing it draws communities together, and draws Christians closer to the heartbeat of Jesus.

Pursuing reconciliation draws communities together, and draws Christians closer to the heartbeat of Jesus.

Victor describes a shift in attitude that occurred at a barbecue early in the relationship. “The TRC was no longer just a report, just talk about it, but people are here wanting to walk it out.”

In a service of thanksgiving in September 2023, Victor recounted the developing relationship. “You have walked with us in times of sorrow as we took last steps with loved ones. You have walked with us in celebration and fun times. You have been with us.”

Victor recounted that former band chief Crey used the example of the reconciling relationship between Cheam and the congregation when he spoke with CEOs and corporate presidents. “If one church can walk the road of reconciliation,” he said, “why can’t you as a corporation? Where is your statement of reconciliation?”

The Sardis congregation meets on land bordering the Fraser River – historically the major source of food, transportation and livelihood for the First Nation. This people has never ceded rights or authority over the land, but settlers came and pushed them from their homes and took over their territory. The further tragedy of the residential school system of the last century has deepened the pain and hurt.

“Echoes of the harm done in these past generations fill the stories and lives of the current generation,” Victor says. “When we [First Nations leaders] look at a [development] proposal, we don’t look at what it is we can do or build, but is this something that will be a foundation that we can build on?” He sees a day when the focus “will no longer be about reconciliation – it will be the relationship that should have always been.”

Klaassen, when discussing the congregation’s involvement with Cheam First Nation, acknowledges most pastors can’t take on another project. “Especially after Covid, church leaders are overwhelmed, and have turned insular.”

But where a pastor can’t do it, someone in the congregation can have the heart, passion and ability to champion reconciliation. This person can move reconciliation from just a project we do to aligning the church’s heart and ministry with the heart of God.

“Reconciliation is the heartbeat of God,” Klaassen states. “Peacemaking and reconciliation is the way of Jesus, not another project to adopt or shrug off.”

Peacemaking and reconciliation is the way of Jesus, not another project to adopt or shrug off.

Victor says, “There’s been a lot of sermons about reconciliation; we can post many scriptures about reconciliation. But the exciting thing is for us to look at each other, saying we are living a sermon of reconciliation. The church’s community needs you to advance reconciliation.

“You can’t send a proxy for reconciliation. There isn’t a hybrid option for reconciliation; you can’t be virtual. You need to leave your gift at the altar [referencing Matthew 5:23-24] and go be present in our lives. It’s a long journey ahead.

“At some point in the journey, there will be a relationship. I ask you to create space in your life for this journey of reconciliation, because its important. Your actions will echo into future generations. That healing, compassion and love would be louder than all the harm that happened over all those generations.”


David Donaldson is a writer in St. Catharines, Ont. Joel Zantingh of Guelph, Ont., is Canadian coordinator of the WEA Peace & Reconciliation Network. Photo of Rosedale and Agassiz bridge from Mt Cheam by Dru! Used under Creative Commons licence. Peace and Reconciliation Network logo

The PRN can do its work through the generosity of donors like you. Connect with the PRN or donate. Invite Canadian director Joel Zantingh or global director Phil Wagler as a speaker. Read more of these blog posts at

Related Articles