Holy Spirit urged John Postuma to get communities praying together
When a long-standing land dispute brought his Indigenous and settler neighbours toe-to-toe at the barricades in early 2006, Rev. John Postuma heard God’s call loud and clear.
“When you get the nudging of the Spirit, you better move,” says the Christian Reformed Church pastor, who’s lived in Caledonia, Ont., southwest of Hamilton, for 30 years. “When God told me to do something about it, that stirred my heart.”
Out of that call, the Grand River Leadership Prayer Breakfast – preparing for its 11th edition this April – was born.
In November, it earned Postuma a Canada 150 medal for promoting reconciliation and healing between Haldimand County and its neighbouring First Nations, Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the New Credit. MP Diane Finley honoured 150 community builders in her Haldimand-Norfolk riding, joining a number of MPs who paid for medals with their own budgets when the federal government decided against a national program.
Postuma was nominated by Marie Trainer, who was Haldimand County mayor when the Grand River land dispute came to a head over an under-construction housing development in 2006.
A group of indigenous people occupied Douglas Creek Estates, near Caledonia, alleging it is disputed land. For loyalty to the British during the American Revolution, Six Nations were deeded a large tract of land along the Grand River, which was later eroded by settlement – a shrinking of traditional Indigenous territories mirrored across Canada.
During the standoff, local roads and highways were blockaded and there were violent confrontations between Indigenous people and local residents, including vandalism resulting in a two-day blackout.
Message of hope
“If there was ever a time to call our congregations and communities together for prayer, it was then, because Jesus said ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’” says Postuma, who picked up the phone to get fellow pastors on board.
But when he got a lukewarm reception, God pointed the way. “The Holy Spirit laid on my heart, ‘John, you lead this ministry of prayer.’”
Catching the interest of movers and shakers in Haldimand County and its neighbouring First Nations, the first Grand River Leadership Prayer Breakfast came together in 2008, striking a tenuous balance to avoid alienating either the Indigenous or settler communities.
It drew 350 people from all three communities to hear Kim Phuc, a Vietnamese immigrant who was famously photographed as a young girl burned in a Vietnam War napalm attack.
“When she told her story of the hurt experienced in war and the healing, forgiveness and message of Christian love, I knew right away we were on to something,” says Postuma, who felt the Holy Spirit melt the tension. “You could see people filling up with Christian joy and love for one another and our leaders. For me, it was a holy moment. I pray that in 10 years there have been healing moments.”
The prayer breakfast is about affirming and encouraging civic leaders, bringing them together despite their differences, says Postuma.
“It’s only the catalyst that inspires, urges and compels us to pray in the Spirit and pray persistently for healing not only in these three communities but across our nation,” he says, adding that it paved the way for fellowship with Indigenous pastors.
Postuma says he had to learn to just listen.
“Be there. Take an interest. Have them share how the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives and church,” he says, inspired by the frank discussions he’s had about challenges facing many Indigenous communities, including missing and murdered women and high suicide rates. “To have built that kind of trust is a gift of love. They give me so much.”
Underneath it all is a call for justice, reconciliation and unity – the three pillars of the Belhar Confession. It’s the future of the church, says Postuma.
“I rejoice when I see glimpses of that glory and taste that grace happening in communities where the church can be at the cutting edge of society,” he says, adding that Christians have an unquestioned role in reconciliation with their Indigenous neighbours. “It’s very simple. Jesus says ‘this is my command that you love one another.’ When we hear of suicides or missing women, we as Christians should hear Christ and his cries.”
The medal is an honour, but Postuma keeps it tucked in his sock drawer and his eye on God’s glory. He stepped back from the prayer breakfast last year – this ministry has to be bigger than one person, he says.
“I find it fascinating to watch God at work. You don’t have to make ministry happen. You just have to be in tune with the Spirit and see where it leads.”