Using the First Nations Version Bible: Learning from indigenous voices

As we start our gatherings, we “acknowledge the history, spirituality, culture, and ancestral stewardship of the land on which we regularly meet by the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinabek Nations, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.” We continue our land acknowledgement with words that one of our emerging leaders helped us adopt several years ago: “we commit ourselves to seeking to live out the Good Way, which encompasses both love and humility as we bravely journey towards the justice which Jesus proclaimed with his words, life, death and resurrection.”

Our land acknowledgement recognizes our complex histories of the land on which we live and gather and reminds us of our desire to learn from other cultures. One way we as a community have chosen to more actively learn from Indigenous wisdom is through using the First Nations Version of the Bible, which is an Indigenous translation of the Bible. Using a different translation of the biblical text can be helpful for hearing the text in a new way; furthermore, the use of cultural norms and words that are different from what many of are used to can challenge our assumptions about what the text means.

As we have been using this version of the Bible at our gatherings these past few years, many people have commented on how the translation uses descriptions for names, such as Creator Sets Free (Jesus), Bitter Tears (Mary), Father of Many Nations (Abraham) and House of Bread (Bethlehem). Such descriptions may feel distracting at times but most of us have found them helpful, as they provide us with extra information for understanding the biblical text, including the meaning of the words in the original language.

Using the First Nations Version of the text is a simple and concrete way of acting out our desire to learn from Indigenous voices. We are hopeful that the Holy Spirit will work in and through this translation to allow many to grow in appreciation of the Bible and how we can learn from other cultures.

God’s good plans? A sermon on Jeremiah 29

The following sermon was preached at Willowdale Christian Reformed Church and (Scarborough) Grace Christian Reformed Church in fall 2023.

Text: Jeremiah 29:1-14

One of the things I do as a campus minister is to help people understand God and the Bible better. Sometimes this means I study the Bible with a group of people, and we wonder together how what we are leaning applies to our lives. Sometimes this happens in one-on-one conversations that are filled with curiosity and challenging questions. And sometimes my job involves challenging people’s misunderstandings about God and how God works.

And this is hard, because who is able or willing to admit they might be wrong without the Holy Spirit’s help? Our understanding of God, as well as the Bible, is closely connected to how we live and what we believe we can and should do. And we don’t want to change! There are reasons we believe the way we do: it makes us feel better, it confirms how we see the world and how God works, or it’s what we’ve been taught or always known. On top of that, most of the misunderstandings around God are the kind that are only partly wrong. If they were all wrong, we would know better: beliefs that are mostly true are harder to recognize.

Misunderstandings about God are not simply an intellectual problem. Wrong beliefs can lead to harm to oneself or others.

Problem in world – despair (from wrong understanding of God)

Jeremiah 29, especially when certain verses are taken out of context, can easily lead to misunderstandings about God and how God works.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

You might recognize these words, even if you didn’t know that they’re from the book of Jeremiah. These words are often written on cards or on posters that Christians might have or give away.

They are especially common on things given to people graduating from high school or university, which are seasons when people are entering into the unknown. The future is uncertain, and it is comforting to remember that God is with us in this season.

But too easily these words can feel like a promise of a future without suffering. Too easily we can read that God’s plans to make us prosper are about being successful, or about getting what we want for our future and for now.

The idea that I ought to be happy as a Christian is an idea that many people hold. And it’s a belief that has some truth in it. After all, the Bible talks about learning to be content in all circumstances. Furthermore, we have joy from the Holy Spirit and hope in Christ.

But God’s good plans for us, the well-being that God has for us, is not quite the same as happiness.

When we start to believe that following God means being happy, we can start to feel like we need to pretend that everything in our lives is going well – even when it’s not.

Or we start to make decisions about what is good based on whether it will make me happy now, even if this harms ourselves or others Or goes against Christian teaching.

Or, if people believe that following God means being happy and receiving all their desires, when things don’t go as they plan or they suffer in some way, I witness how hard this is for their faith. They start to believe that God no longer cares about them or does not listen to their prayers. And they despair.

Problem in text: despair

The text that we read today is written to people who knew despair. In the first few verses of chapter 29, we read that the letter is written to those whom God had carried into exile. God, through Nebuchadnezzar, had removed the people from their land and now they were in a foreign land, struggling to know what to do and how they’d survive. They had been uprooted and were now in an unfamiliar place, treated as second-class citizens or worse. Those here who have left their home countries to start new somewhere else probably understand some of the despair that the people of Israel were feeling.

Besides the despair that came from being uprooted, the people of Israel probably thought that God had abandoned them.

In Ancient Near Eastern understanding one’s God was usually tied to land, and as they were no longer in the land where their God dwelled, and God had not been strong enough to keep them in their land, how could they not assume that God was absent? The people of Israel would have been filled with despair, taken from what they knew and feeling deeply abandoned by God.

In this despair and abandonment, the people would have clung to the words of the prophets who, claiming they were from God, spoke about how God would remove them from their current difficult situation and return the people to Israel right now. But verses 8-9 make clear that these words were not from God. Such words were based on false beliefs and proclaiming false hope.

Instead, the good that God wanted for the people of Israel was not simply to make them feel better by making their problems go away right now. Instead God wanted for them a long-term good, an all encompassing peace, that is, shalom. Shalom, which can be translated as the way things ought to be, is actually the Hebrew word used in verse 11, For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your shalom and not for your harm.

These plans provide real hope and a future that is different than the mess that they had left behind.

Yet, for the Israelites, these words would have been a mixed blessing.

They were words of hope, yes, words that said that they would no longer feel abandoned by God as they had when they were in Israel, and when it felt like God ignored their cries for help when the armies were coming against them.

And these are words of hope because there would be a future for them and their families and an eventual return to Israel. More so, they would once again pray to God, and God would listen to them; they would seek God, and they would find God.

But with these words of hope is the reality that they had been torn away from their home, that their suffering was not going immediately, and instead they are being asked to build up a new future somewhere else.

In Jeremiah 1:10, at the beginning of this book when Jeremiah is called and appointed as a prophet, God proclaims that Jeremiah is appointed over nations and kingdoms: to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.

In Jeremiah 29, we see that happening. The people of Israel have been uprooted, their cities and homes destroyed, their country overthrown, and their lives torn apart.

It is in this context that we need to hear God’s words of a plan for a future, a future where they are planted in a foreign country, where God will indeed build them.

Such a future involves learning lessons they might not have wanted to know, lessons about how the Lord God Almighty is not confined to any land, and God is present even in a foreign land. They will grow to desire God’s presence in this place in a way that they didn’t back in the land they thought would always be theirs.

So yes, those are words of comfort and hope, but perhaps not the words the people of Israel – or even we – might want to hear.

This not a quick fix. Instead it is experiencing the pain of tearing down and the sense of abandonment that was part of their journey to know God anew.

When we translate these words to our context today, you can see how Jeremiah 29:11 and its words about God’s plans for our future are more challenging words than we might initially assume or even like.

God does indeed have good plans for each of our well-being. The only difficulty is that these plans might look a lot different than you or I expected or even desired: God’s plan will likely involve suffering, a potential uprooting from what we’ve known and loved, a tearing down of false ideas, being convicted of sin as necessary, and growing in new understandings of who God is and how God works.

Hope in world – God’s presence and God’s good desires for us.

I believe these are words of hope, but they are also hard words. God’s plans for our well-being might not look like what we expected or even wanted, but they are indeed for our well-being. And the promise of God’s presence given to the people of Israel continues to us today.

God’s presence is with us through the Spirit, who speaks through the words of the text and the community of believers around us, convicting and encouraging us.

We can also trust that when we seek the LORD, we will find God. Matthew 7 (vs. 7-8) says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

We can call on God, come and pray to God, and God will listen to us.

Even if God’s plans might involve tearing down and building up, we can trust that God will be with us.

We can trust that everything is held in God’s hands, as we hear in the words of Heidelberg Catechism that we will read after this sermon. And knowing this, we can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well ,and for the future we can have good confidence that nothing will separate us from God’s love. We can trust that God’s plans for us, even if they involve suffering, are indeed for our well-being.

But just as the words of Jeremiah 29:11 could be misunderstood, the words of Jeremiah 29:7 also have the potential to be used to re-shape God into who we want God to be.

While some will try to limit how God works by assuming that God’s primary purpose is to make us happy, still others tend to limit God by focusing instead on how much we have to do. In some Christian circles, while it might not be said explicitly, there is a sense that we Christians ought to be saving the world. And thus there is nagging sense that You need to do more.Such words feel exhausting to me. It has been a hard season in campus ministry for us: there have been a lot of transitions, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of hard conversations. Even though I don’t know you as a church, I know you are also in a season of transition and uncertainty, and I expect you also can’t carry the burden of needing to do more for God.

The place where people get the idea that we Christians need to do more is from verse 7 where it says ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it.”

Many people have taken the idea in this text, as well as other texts in the Bible, like the end of Genesis 1 which calls us to be stewards of the earth, and have dedicated themselves to making the world a better place and more in alignment with the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed in his life, death, and resurrection.

Such efforts are good and holy and true, but they can also lead to a misunderstanding of who God is and how God works.

Furthermore such work of fixing the world can lead to despair. For, despite all our efforts, the world is still a mess. There is violence and death in the Middle East, and the dialogue around that is too often filled with words of anger and even hate.

Even in our own relationships, we hurt those we care about, by neglecting what we should be doing or by saying things we shouldn’t.

The words “Seek the peace, that is, the shalom, the well-being, of the city” weren’t written to the people of Israel with the intention that they would establish a new Israel in Babylon. Instead they were intended as gentle words of admonishment not to escape from reality.

God is inviting the people to be present in this city, to grow to love and care for this place that they didn’t choose and might not have wanted. From a very practical standpoint, God invites them to invest in this place, because if it prospers, so do you.

The people’s doing well in this city is part of God’s plan for their well-being now and in the years to come. This invitation to invest in this place is also a way of reminding the people that God is present with them, and in this place where they are. They do not need to fear this foreign land with its foreign gods, because the God of Israel has not abandoned them and is present and working in this land, too.

I hope it is easy to see how such words apply to ourselves: these are not words intended to burden us with the need to go and fix the world. But these words also tell us not to retreat into our own circles.

Instead, we are invited to participate actively in the world, resting in the assurance that God is already present and working in the world. Sometimes God works through us, but it is not our efforts that are creating shalom. It is God who is restoring things to how they ought to be for this city and of the world.

I’ll end with a story of how God acts in ways that we don’t always expect:

I know a young adult who moved back to her home church when she started grad school. There had once been a strong 20s-30s group at her church but when she came back there were few young adults attending the church. She had a sense that God wanted her to start something up again and so she met with the pastor about it. She made a couple of announcements at church and committed to putting together 3 social evenings. After that, she figured she’d done her part in whatever God had called her to do with a young adult group. The first time they met, there were 6 people. The group only grew after that, and now the church has a thriving young adult group.

When she told the story, she did so recognizing how little she had done and how much God had done. God’s plans and working often does not look like we expect: sometimes God takes the seeds that we plant, even the ones we do halfheartedly, and grows more than we could have imagined.

But sometimes God still uproots: for God has provided a job for this same young adult in a new city, which means she now has to leave this thriving community that has come to mean much to her. Yet she leaves, trusting, as we also can, that God has good plans for her, plans for her well-being, even as they might not be what we expect: sometimes better than we can imagine and sometimes harder than we can imagine. But we can trust that God will indeed be with us.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

– Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

A prayer of confession re: disunity + lack of diversity

Brenda, on behalf of the Christian Reformed campus ministry, participated in a Palm Sunday service for all CRC churches this week. She was asked to offer a prayer of confession, which is given below.

Gracious God,
Life can be hard, and we often feel confused and disoriented.
In our desire to fix that disorientation on our own,
we have turned away from those who bring us more confusion:
those with different languages, culture, or backgrounds;
those who ask questions and have ideas that unsettle us. 

In our desire to create a safe and comfortable place for us and our people,
we have often excluded those who are different from us,
and we are saddened by our actions. 

O God, "our sins are too heave to carry, 
too real to hide, and too deep to undo.
Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
what our hearts can no longer bear
and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.

Set us free from pasts that we cannot change;
open us to futures in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image;
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world." Amen

The second half of the prayer is a quotation of the prayer in Lift Up Your Hearts 636, which was adapted from Book of Worship (United Church of Christ)

Always be prepared to have an answer (1 Peter 3:15)

This past week we looked at 1 Peter 3 at GCF. The following was the email text send out to GCF folks ahead of time (which was adapted from a Wine Before Breakfast email sent out in summer 2021).

I grew up in a tradition where having the right answer mattered. It was important not to let others live in ignorance if we had the answers or knew they were doing something wrong, even if they didn’t like what we had to say. I thought this was what Christians ought to do, a way to share the truth we had with others. 

It took me a long time to realize that this was a poor interpretation of the text. 1 Peter 3:15 highlights that we are not to go around telling people the right answer(s), but instead to wait until we are asked. This implies living in such a way that people will want to ask about our love and humility and why we repay evil with blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9). Assuming that people will be impressed by how we live, we are to be prepared to give people an answer. The text commands us to be prepared to give an answer, not to give an answer. It is as if the preparation is what matters most, as if the answer is more for us than for others.

The answer that we are to prepare is not the ‘this is how you ought to live your life’ kind of answer, but the sort of answer that shares what has happened in our lives so that we have hope. And then, just in case we’ve started leaning towards responding to others with an “I know how to fix your life so it will be better” answer, the text reminds us to give our answers with gentleness and respect.

Having the text challenge our assumptions is one of the things I love most about studying the Bible, especially in community. When I lead a study, I hope that we will all be challenged and am thankful that the Spirit can use the insights and experiences of all those present to challenge us, including myself. 

Not surprisingly, the study this week reminder that the word answer (or defense, depending on your translation of the Greek, “apologia) is necessarily a response to other’s curiosity or questions. It makes me wonder how I can live such a life that people might ask me about the hope I have, or how to give answers to ordinary questions that bear witness to how I sense the Spirit working in my life, even as this might make me uncomfortable.

– Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink, Chaplain

Silent Retreat

January 27 10:00 – 4:30 St Andrew’s By-the-Lake Anglican Church, Centre Island

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

Looking for some calm, quiet space in the midst of your busy life? Interested in a time of being still with God in a beautiful place? Every year, our campus ministry hosts a silent retreat: a day in which we invite you to set aside some time and space to listen and reflect. This year we will be hosted by St. Andrews By the Lake Anglican Church on Centre Island (as the Anglican convent where we usually meet is undergoing renovations). We invite you to join us for our Silent Retreat on Saturday, January 27, from 10 am to 4:30 pm. The retreat is open to all those connected to the campus ministry community or at a university here in Toronto, so feel free to forward it to others who might be interested.


The day will begin at 10 am with coffee/tea and scones followed by a time of prayer and entering into the silence together at 10:30am. The day will unfold in silence, including a silent lunch together and a quiet afternoon coffee break. We will gather at the close of the day to end our silence together and reflect on our experiences. Carol will be available for pastoral conversations during the day if things emerge you need to talk about. 

Getting there

As we are meeting on Centre Island, you will need to catch the Ward’s Island ferry (round-trip ticket $9). The church has a van that will pick people up from the 9:30 am ferry, or you can start your day of quiet with a 25-minute walk to the church (probably you would want to take the 9am ferry). We will ensure you can catch the 4:45 pm ferry back.


Some reading material and resources will be available for those who want them on the day. Please feel free to bring along any items that will deepen the experience and the silence for you. Suggestions include a journal to record any of your reflections, a Bible, devotional materials, poetry, art supplies and/or books on faith. Additionally, you can take time outside on the beach or walking around Centre Island, or do the labyrinth on the church grounds.


The cost for the retreat is $40.00 which includes lunch and two coffee breaks. If this amount causes any hardship, bursary options are available. Friends are welcome to join. Please contact Carol ( with any questions or to register. You can pay by e-transfer (to the same email address), or directly to Carol at GCF. Let me know if you have any food restrictions. We will need to know names and numbers by the week before to finalize food, so please confirm and pay by Fri. Jan. 19.

We hope you will join our community for this day of intentional quiet – to give space to reflect on what our hearts are telling us, and encounter the presence of God. 

Reflections from previous participants

“The 2023 silent retreat was the first time I had had the chance to practice a period of intentional silence with others. I found it really restful and a useful opportunity to take time to reflect and pray about a big change in my life, with no expectations or distractions and in the encouraging company of others also taking time apart.”

“The silent retreat was a change of pace. The sacred space and the time away from my usual flow of life allowed for a movement within myself to take place.”

“The retreat allowed me to let God in and quieted the worries of my heart. It gave me clarity and hope.”

Striving to be a safer space

As a ministry we desire to create spaces where young adults and others connected to the university feel welcome. We especially want to be a safer space to those who might feel less welcome in more traditional church or Christian spaces, such as those who ask uncomfortable questions or who have experienced trauma or other negative experiences related to church.

As part of that desire to be a safer space, we’re working on providing descriptions on our website for what people can expect if they attend gatherings, the opportunity to meet with a chaplain ahead of time, and through having and ensuring we follow our safe campus policy. In our conversations, we encourage and welcome a diverse range of opinions and we also are intentional about (graciously) challenging people to pay attention to how their language might comes across as racist or ableist, as being dismissive of the complexity of the Bible and Christianity, and/or as being exclusive of or causing distress to others.

We do this recognizing

  1. That creating safer spaces where people are held accountable is part of proclaiming the gospel, where all people and their experiences are valued. Melissa Kuipers, a Christian Reformed campus minister at Mohawk College in Hamilton, explains this well: Your Inconvenient Safe Church Policy Helps Spread the Gospel.
  2. That healing from trauma is a hard and often long journey. As Amanda Benckhuysen addresses why we can’t just get over trauma: “I think a large part of the answer is that we weren’t made for this. We weren’t made for a world in which we are violated and harmed. We weren’t made for a world of brokenness and sin. As such, we should never hope to get good at getting over oppression and violence and abuse and injustice. To simply “get over” the wrongs done to us is to acclimate to the brokenness and evil of the world and lull ourselves into believing this is OK. The hurt we feel when we are violated or mistreated, then, is not an indication of what’s wrong with us, but an indication of what’s wrong with the world. And this realization should inspire in all of us a deeper longing for Christ and Christ’s kingdom.” (The Journey to Healing After Abuse)

It is our hope that we might learn from the wisdom of people like Benckhuysen and Kuipers and so be safer spaces where people are able to lament injustice as well as imagine and long for God’s kingdom.