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November/December 2006 Issue

One Youth's Life or Death Struggle
By Adrian Jacobs

* Name and some
details have been
changed for the
purposes of
protection and

Andrew* is in most every way a typical young Native man: intelligent, artistic, naturally athletic, handsome, taken to church regularly by loving parents. He grew up with Bible reading as a regular part of his life, plus a lot of popular Christian fiction. Yet Andrew’s emotional pain grew so acute that ending his life seemed better than struggling on hopelessly. Andrew overdosed and came close to death. How could such promise turn so ugly? And why is such pain typical for so many Natives?

Andrew’s early life began on an Indian reserve. His parents were Christian and raised him in church. More than 80 percent of Native people in Canada have grown up in a nominally Christian home. Yet as so many have found, Christianity doesn’t necessarily mean protection from deeply troubled lives. Andrew’s father grew up in the traditional way but came to faith in Jesus as an adult. He gradually withdrew from his family as he retreated from ongoing relational conflict with his wife. Andrew’s mother was also raised in a nominally Christian home but struggled with personal damage from her father’s alcoholism, violence and unfaithfulness.

Andrew’s family, like most Native families, is large. He has many aunts, uncles and cousins. Native people in Canada are the fastest growing ethnic community. Andrew’s home is a mix of community values and a lot of unresolved pain.

Andrew remembers his parents yelling in the middle of the night. He saw his mother hit his father and then cringed inside as his father slammed the door and disappeared, sometimes for days. Native people love their big communities and big families and at the same time struggle with the pain of their broken relationships. Alcohol, drugs and multiple relationships sometimes are avenues to alleviate this pain. Andrew is disillusioned with the Christianity of his parents and the conflict in his home.

Andrew is also a born warrior and athlete. Native people have the fight in them but have only been given a feminine Christianity that appeals to women and children. His athletic talent is being sidelined by abuse of alcohol and drugs as he seeks to lessen his emotional pain. Reserves and urban Native communities are full of such crippled natural athletes.

Andrew grew up in the city and faced the reality of gangs, poverty and drug dealers. He smoked his first joint at 12 with another student at an all-Native Christian school. Some of the worst influences for Native people have come from places meant to help.

Adrian Jacobs

In some ways it is too late for Andrew. He is already deeply scarred. He sees that western Christianity has generally given up on reaching Native adults – instead it sends out Sunday school buses to gather Native children to children’s programs. Andrew sees that his parents needed deep healing and not sermons.

Andrew sought more and more chemical relief as his parents’ marriage ended in divorce after many years of conflict and uncertainty. His pain makes him challenge – with intelligence and sensitivity – every cherished belief, his anger increasing when his challenges are met with clichés and rules. He longs for an earlier, more perfect time when his parents were together. Even the pain of the past looks better when the pain of the present is so acute.

And so the litany grows: depression, truancy, fighting, shoplifting, irritability, sleeping all day, punching holes in the wall, exploding in anger, cutting himself and continuing abuse of alcohol and drugs.

Andrew’s siblings love him but they are afraid of him too, never knowing what his mood will be. Andrew is reproducing his mother’s and maternal grandfather’s violence and abusiveness, while mixing in the silence, brooding and distance of his father.

Andrew recently tried to commit suicide like so many Native youth. He contemplated this for months and finally wrote a suicide note saying goodbye and sharing his anger and longing for something better.

Prayer and supportive family and friends intervened and showed him he was not alone in his struggle. He began a treatment including antidepressants. He is beginning to see that life is not all pain and disappointment.

His childhood faith remains in the distant background. He needs the reality of Jesus in the flesh and perhaps is catching glimpses of Him in those around him who love him dearly. Three times in the months following the attempt his father stood with him when Andrew was at the brink of hurting himself again.

His flawed human father like so many fathers and his perfect heavenly Father seek to show Andrew that he doesn’t have to give it all up and crash and burn completely. Those who know Andrew – and the many others like him in our nation – are praying that someday soon he may embrace fully the Jesus who was wounded and rejected too and who is the healer of the broken heart.

Adrian Jacobs of Brantford, ON, is a member of the Aboriginal Ministries Council of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He is a single father of five, a member of the Cayuga Turtle clan of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. He works for My People International, a ministry dedicated to developing indigenous leaders. His books can be found at www.wiconi.com. [From this issue of Faith Today you can also read Native Suicide: A Challenge to the Church, a related article by Terry LeBlanc.]

Other articles
Nov/Dec 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Called Into The House

Featured Articles
Native Suicide: A Challenge to the Church

One Youth's Life or Death Struggle

From the Editor
Called to Respond

Kingdom Matters
Affair Ministry Emerged from Brokenness

Family's Story Tied to Mercy Ships

Phone Ministry 24/7 

Splat! Paintball with Christian Love

The Gathering Place
Responding to Distortions

God at Work in Denominations
God Uses Willingness to Serve

A Church You Should Know
Eglise Nouvelle Vie

Ask a Theologian:
What DNA Matter Did the Baby Jesus Have?

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