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Those dead children in the Kamloops residential school: One Lesson

Kamloops Indian Residential School, circa 1930: Kamloops, BC, Canada Public Domain

You might have heard about a mass grave discovered in a residential school, in Canada. Recently, technicians with ground penetrating radar found something near a school at the city of Kamloops, BC. An investigation will confirm what they found, but the claim is that the searchers found the bodies of 215 children.

The school was for native children “Indians” and the children were taken from their families, to the school, to adapt their behavior to modern society. The children were taken from their families by government order. The school in Kamloops was run by the Roman Catholic Church, for the Government. The school opened in 1890 and closed almost ninety years later.

There are many rumors, and we don’t know what really happened. The investigations will continue, probably for years. We don’t know yet what the radar scanners found in the ground. There are old rumors of abuse of young students, in the school. It is obvious that before the time of modern medicine, with antibiotics and vaccines, and modern hospitals, children could die in crowded boarding schools. I am shocked that the little bodies were not returned to their families.

I want to make a disclaimer here. The people affected by this are sad and angry, and the reaction belongs to them. I can’t use, or borrow their tragic story for my own advantage. I am writing as a Christian, and Native Residential Schools were operated by people who called themselves Christians. With respect, there is a lesson we all need to learn.

READ: Discovery of human remains at Kamloops Residential School grounds

There is an old saying, from the Roman Catholic Jesuits and probably from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, before them: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” Some versions end in “… and I will have him for life.” Christian boarding schools are usually built on this thinking. The belief is; conversion comes from classrooms, and teachers. So, if children are educated to be Christians, they will stay with that religion for life. The plan, in places like the school in Kamloops, was to make Christians, followers of Jesus, with religious boarding schools.

It didn’t work.

After nearly a hundred years of conversion in the classroom, we have grief and anger, and even a statement of sadness from the Pope. What we do not have is Catholic churches filled with devout believers. It’s hard to find anyone who converted.

If we think this failed idea is only a Roman Catholic problem, I was one of many raised in a conservative family, with many hours in a different church. I didn’t mind going to church, but when I started getting restless as a young man, I found a respectable solution. I drove a Sunday School bus. There was a time, before safety inspections and expensive mechanics, that churches would buy old busses and transport children to Sunday School. That plan died when someone reviewed the budget, but until then, I drove a bus when my friends had to sit in church.

I still like to drive big machines.

I have lost contact with most of those old friends, and that is partly because many dropped out of church. They got tired of listening to other people’s ideas, and went their own way. I struggled with my beliefs for several years, until I had my own meeting with God. Now I am shocked to report that there is a new person standing in my shoes. I am more surprised by this every year. God put a new person where the old one used to be.

The old church is doing well, without the busses. I am doing well, although I don’t live near the old church and I don’t go there now.

In history, somewhere between Aristotle and the Jesuits, we have the story of a man named Saul. He hated Christians and he worked, with violence, to destroy the movement. One day, as he rode to the city of Damascus, to arrest Christians and lock them in prison, he saw a bright light and he fell to the ground. That’s where we get our expression “blinded by the light.”

Saul, who changed his name to Paul, changed when he had a personal meeting with God. He heard a voice, in his vision, and later he said “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19)

For the terrified Christians, the worst enemy became the best friend, and he wrote a large part of the New Testament. That man had a personal meeting with God, and the world changed. What is missing from the story is a boarding school and years of indoctrination. Jesus was not someone he learned about in school; the man seemed to jump from the dark side to the Jesus team, instantly.

Strangely, Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who is credited with the “give me a child …” quote, had his own conversion experience. His life changed and he was never the same, after that. It’s an interesting story:

READ: Ignatius of Loyola

Among those who call themselves Christians, we have two methods to make new Christians. One is a complete disaster, and the other has changed the world.

The contrast is stark.

From the earliest days of my youth, among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I lived as a Pharisee, adhering to the strictest sect of our religion. (v4)

and then …

I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were condemned to death, I cast my vote against them. I frequently had them punished in the synagogues, and I tried to make them blaspheme. In my raging fury against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

In this pursuit I was on my way to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice say to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ ‘Who are You, Lord?’ I asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. (Acts 26: 10 to 15)

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