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Jesus And HumboldtJesus And Humboldt

Jesus And Humboldt

Father Raymond de Souza, Convivium’s editor in chief, says a pastor’s unadorned call to Christ was crucial following this week’s horrific bus crash in Saskatchewan.

Raymond J. de Souza
3 minute read

The eyes of all Canadians – as well as many from abroad – have been turned this past week toward Humboldt. It has been less than a week since the accident that killed 15 aboard the Broncos’ hockey team bus, but it seems much longer than that given the intensity of the attention and concern.

Christians have had particular reasons for giving their attention to Humboldt. The memorial vigil at the hockey arena on Sunday night was one of the most explicit manifestations of Christian faith in our common life. At the 9/11 memorial on Parliament Hill, Jean Chretien banned all prayer, later characterizing it as one of the “best decisions” of his premiership. So, to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau politely and appropriately taking his place at a prayer service organized not by the federal government, but by the residents of Humboldt, is noteworthy. It was a moment of grace in Humboldt, at which politics was not given pride of place.

I have served 14 years as the chaplain of the Queen’s University football team. The most difficult day in that time with the Golden Gaels was Good Friday 2005, when I got the news that one of our boys had been murdered the night before. A murder is altogether different than a highway accident, but of course still deeply traumatic. I did the best I could to offer words of comfort and a comforting presence in the days that followed. I don’t think I really offered though the consolation of the Gospel.

A few months earlier, a high school student in my parish was killed after being hit by a train on the tracks near the church. It was a few days before Christmas, and I was asked to speak to his classmates from school. I told them that such suffering and unexpected death reminds us that the world is not as it should be, that it needs a redeemer. At Christmas, I told them, we give thanks that the redeemer the world needs has come.

On neither occasion did I really say what needed to be said. Or at least not completely. So I admired greatly the words of Pastor Sean Brandow of the Humboldt Bible Church and chaplain for the Broncos hockey team. Christians across Canada have been listening again and again to them, in which Pastor Brandow spoke with sincerity about the pain of loss, and with certainty about faith in Christ. He spoke as many a preacher would wish to speak. I would encourage readers to read over – and pray over – his words.

Pastor Brandow did not blanch from confronting the difficult questions that arise when we are confronted by the mystery of death, especially sudden death, especially the death of the young.

Yet I would draw attention – especially for those, like myself, who work with the young on campus or in sports – to the last part of his preaching, when he reflects upon his mission with the team:

I talked to Darcy [Haugan, the head coach] numerous times about what should we be doing at chapel and we sat down at the beginning of this year. It’s written on the back of the Broncos truck, maybe you haven’t even noticed, it says ‘character determines success.’

So we wanted to talk about character, and a week or two in, Darcy just turned to me and said, ‘Sean, you’ve got to just tell them about Jesus, don’t worry about all the character, they need Jesus.’ I would do Darcy a dishonour and a displeasure, and I do would myself the same, and I would do (that to) anyone who is a Christian if I tried to give you pat answers, and here’s a list of things you can do to feel better. You need Jesus, he’s walked here, he’s walked it first and death couldn’t hold him. Death couldn’t hold him. He’s alive. And he sits at the right hand of God on the throne and he’s in control. It doesn’t feel like it, but he is…

How many of us Christian pastors think about offering good, but secondary things, like “character determines success”, when the primary “thing” we have to offer is Jesus Himself?

Character is important. Success is not wrong, but for the followers of Christ Crucified, it is an ambiguous category. And it is true that not everyone wants to hear about Jesus, and there are others, often with power, that don’t want us talking about Him.

Pastor Brandow and Coach Haugan remind us, though, that what is needed more than anything is to hear from God, to encounter Jesus. It’s more important than character or success.

This week we mourn with Humboldt. But there is more than mourning to do; there are lessons to be learned from a good chaplain and a good coach. Tell them about Jesus.

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