The article below was published in Caledonia’s Regional News paper as one of Gary McHale’s weekly columns. Gary’s example and instruction were key to me eventually deciding to become a Christian. More below… (all photos added by VoC)…
Christmas: God’s gift to Haldimand County
by Gary McHale (Dec 21/11)
I am quite certain that God’s gift to mankind wasn’t a Turkey, stuffing, cranberries and an iPod (or a stone tablet and a chisel). Even the Charley Brown Christmas show tells us that the gift was God’s son being born in a manger. However, it wouldn’t have been much of a gift if Jesus grew up to be a drunken sailor.
God’s gift includes the life Jesus lived and how Jesus was willing to pay a price in order to show the love of God to all mankind. If Christmas was merely about giving then God could have rained down Turkeys and cranberries until everyone was full.
Christmas is about Jesus being willing to sacrifice himself to bring us the truth. As he stated before Pilate, “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth”. This truth caused riots, crowds called for him to be stoned and he was finally crucified. His death is as much a part of Christmas as his birth is. While Jesus doesn’t walk the earth today, he lives on in the hearts of all Christians who are called to be the salt and light of their communities.
For this reason I have, for the past 30 years, wondered what pastors and Christians who lived in the deep South would say when they stand before God and are asked what they did to help their black neighbours, what they did to end racism or what they did to address the injustice that they saw every day. I envision the Christian saying, “I did pray privately and I didn’t engage in any beatings but I was afraid to speak out, I was afraid of what my neighbours would say, would I lose my job, would my family be targeted for hate so I… well… didn’t do much.”
Christmas is all about God’s son paying a price to be our advocate, to bring God’s love to us and helping us to see the truth. The greatest gift God can give Haldimand is for Christians to bring Christmas to this community through their actions. By being the light and salt of the community we answer the call to love our neighbour knowing full well that “people will insult us, persecute us and falsely say all kinds of evil against us”.
Christmas has no meaning if there is no cost.
As Martin Luther King jr. said, “We shall overcome, Lord before this victory is won more will have to be thrown in jail but we shall overcome. Don’t worry about us that before the victory is won some of us will lose our jobs but we shall overcome. Before the victory is won some will be misunderstood and called bad names and dismissed as rabble rousers and agitators but we shall overcome. I’ll tell you why because ours is a moral universe… no lie can live forever… that truth crushed down to earth will rise against… We shall overcome because the Bible is right that you shall reap what you sow… Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome…”
It must be remembered that Dr. King jr. was publicly opposed by Christian leadership. While King was in jail for not having a parade permit, the Bishops of several church groups issued a public letter declaring King to be an outsider and someone who incites hatred and violence. King’s response from prison was a 12 page letter where he states, “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”
I didn’t come to Haldimand because a family member was being attacked. I didn’t come because my best friends lived here nor because my business was losing money due to the occupation. While my family did live in Caledonia in the 1950s and I have two brother born here, I was born in Kingston and prior to July 2006 I had never been to Caledonia.
I came for one reason – I was compelled to. Yes, the people of Haldimand County were complete strangers to me but how could I claim to be a Good Samaritan and ignore those who are in need. Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I am better than anyone else – after 30 years of marriage you can just ask my wife for the long list of my faults – but if God has demonstrated His love to me through Jesus then how can I avoid sharing that love with others?
Christmas is about understanding God’s commitment and faithfulness to us. Some of the same people Jesus helped cursed him and attempted to kill him. Should Christians only help those who are kind to them and thank them? Should we only do the things that reward us with people’s gratitude? Or are we to help all people because everyone is of value and created in God’s image?
To the Christians in Haldimand I ask you to consider this Christmas that Christianity comes with a cost and certain duties and obligations. We are called to take up our Cross daily, pay the price, endure the hatred, understand the anger, pray for our enemies, turn the other cheek, and radically change our community by being the salt and the light.
This Christmas decide not to hide your head in the sand or be controlled by fear, but decide to give the gift of Christmas to your neighbour by standing up and being an advocate for truth, justice, equality and help bring an end to racism within government policies.
We Shall Overcome when God’s people pay a price as Jesus did. If you have any questions call Merlyn Kinrade 905-765-5131 or me 289-286-0423 email: info@GaryMcHale.ca
How’s your persecution coming?
Gary’s article was written by someone who has more than earned the right to ask, ‘How’s your persecution coming?’
One passage in the New Testament that applies to would-be Christian activists is Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians in which he is defending his works against critics. Paul does not talk about the hungry people he fed, or the homeless people he sheltered (all good and honourable work for Christians). He speaks instead of how he was persecuted:
“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? — I speak as a fool — I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked…”
- Holy Bible, New King James Version: 2 Corinthians, Ch. 22
It is good to feed and clothe the hungry and homeless, but it is also very safe. You will not be criticized for these works. No one will falsely accuse you of being a white supremacist. No one will threaten your life. No one will beat you and try to kill you. No one will falsely arrest you and accuse you of inciting violence. All these things have been suffered by McHale and others.
One of the religious leaders we have met told Gary McHale he came with “too much baggage.” Does it sound like Paul had too much baggage? Would he have been shunned by today’s churches? What about Jesus – how much baggage does he come with, what with driving money lenders out of the temple, associating with prostitutes, and inciting the violence in those who murdered him?
How much baggage are you willing to carry?
A Donkey’s Search for God and Justice in Caledonia
Gary’s devotion to Jesus and his belief that God called him to Caledonia because others would not speak out is recorded in Christie Blatchford’s book Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, And How The Law Failed All of Us. After watching Gary and his wife Christine, the only Christians I ever knew personally who were willing to risk everything they had for people they did not know, some of whom despised them, some of whom even tried to kill Gary, I was inspired to learn more about Jesus.
Other Christians like Caledonia residents Pat Woolley (photo, R) who loaned me Lee Stobel’s amazing books (The Case for Christ; The Case for Faith; The Case for a Creator); Merlyn Kinrade, co-founder of CANACE; and lawyers Peggy and John Findlay of the Caledonia Class Action; also inspired me to make the decision to become a Christian on December 31, 2009 — more than three years after deciding to help Gary seek justice for Caledonia.
There were others. ‘Experienced’ Christians like Jack and Marina Van Halteren, and newbies like Larry and Bonnie Stephens who were also inspired by Gary McHale. Jack was one of the Caledonia Eight arrested Dec 03/11. The picture of the man wearing handcuffs above is of him. He and Marina have been rocks during our struggle in Caledonia. The image to the right is of Bonnie being taken to the paddy wagon.
One of the first questions I asked Gary after I understood his motivation for going to Caledonia was this: “I understand that you feel God has called you to Caledonia, but what am I – a non-believer – doing here?” He told me not to take it the wrong way, but I was a donkey. Actually, he said I was an ‘ass’ and that I should read Numbers 22. I learned that God can work through anyone, even a donkey, so he could certainly work through me. Long before I decided to become a Christian, I was proud to be a ‘donkey.’
You can learn more about the donkey’s journey here:
- VoiceofCanada, Feb 24/11: ‘Where are the Christians?’ A Donkey’s Search for God and Justice in Caledonia (NOTE: since this article was written, a religious leader has reached out to talk about Caledonia’s issues.)
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mosab Hassan Yousef, author of Son of Hamas which I have just finished reading. Yousef (son of a Hamas founder) tells the stunning story of his gradual rejection of the intrinsic violence and hate of Islam and Hamas after encountering a Christian bus driver (on vacation from England) in Jerusalem who leads him to Jesus and His commandment to love your enemies.
I was struck by the similarities to my own story. As with the Son of Hamas it was not the church who led me to Jesus; it was ‘ordinary’ Christians. Christians like Gary McHale et al.
Merry Christmas to all, and Happy Chanukah to our Jewish friends and their supporters! I thank you for your support from the bottom of my heart – for standing with us in Caledonia, and standing for Israel, including with me during my Blue Beret vigil (opposing the Canadian Boat to Gaza) where we were joined by even more Christians – and non-believers – prepared to pay a price. Bless you all. Thank you for the work you all do.
A ‘true’ Christmas ad with over 8,000,000 views…
What soundtrack is playing inside you? Be sure to watch ‘The Stethoscope’ right until the end.
Many thanks to my Jewish friend Steve Scheffer (wearing Israeli flag in photo above) for sending this. (You should hear the soundtrack playing inside him!)
Some treats from Christmas past
- VoiceofCanada, Nov 22/10: Halleluja chorus by flash mob at Seaway Mall, Welland (over 35,000,000 have viewed the video linked to in this post!)
- VoiceofCanada, Dec 20/11: Amazing Grace – a Christmas message for supporters