By Brayton Shanley It all started in 2016 with Donald Trump’s Muslim taunting. Our Mission Council members were gathered for our winter meeting and the planning our next St. Francis Day when John Paul Marosy, one of our crew asked of our group: “What is our world going to need by the time we reach October?” Our collective response seemed simple enough: Muslims needed our support as the race-baiting would likely continue and grow with a following. We decided to name the October 2016 St. Francis Day “Listening to Muslim Voices in an Election Year.” We spent the following months contacting mosques and Islamic Centers in Massachusetts in an attempt to find speakers who could address the growing Islamaphobia, being driven to extremes by the Republican presidential nominee and his base. As a result, we received responses from Muslim speakers, primary among them Mohammad Bajwa, leader of the West Springfield Muslim Society, who also located a Muezzin or prayer leader who called us to prayer on Agape grounds. Nevertheless only ten or so Muslims joined the crowd of several hundred that day, our first warning that being white Christians, even though we were calling our event “Listening to Muslim Voices”, still meant that a Christian community hosting such an event could present a barrier to Muslim sisters and brothers even if our intention was to support them. A few years before the Muslim day, we asked a local Native leader to bless the planting of a cedar tree considered sacred to Nipmuc Natives from our area. When I shared with this easily engaged Native elder that we were a Christian community, his response was clear: “Oh no, I could never come to your community”. We at Agape knew then we had some soul searching to do. In December 2016 I went to Standing Rock in North Dakota to support the nonviolent witness of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota people as they stood in civilly disobedient opposition to the oil pipeline going through their sacred ancestral lands. When I returned, our Mission Council supported a plan to dedicate our next Francis Day, 2017, to the noble tradition and painful history of our original people. We pledged to keep the theme on listening by inviting Indigenous people suffering from oppression in our country and as we listened compassionately to their stories. We named the day “Listening to Native American Voices: Standing Rock is Everywhere.” As we considered the specifics of the event, Suzanne offered a wild proposal: “Why not invite the Chief of Standing Rock, Arvol Looking Horse?” A great idea, I thought, but I knew he would be almost impossible to locate, yet alone agree to travel all the way from North Dakota to Agape. Through an odd coincidence, Suzanne found a Facebook post with information about a Standing Rock activist. We got in touch with her which led almost immediately to contact with Paula, the Chief’s wife whom Suzanne immediately contacted. Within 48 hours Paula agreed that she and Chief Arvol would come to Francis Day in October. When Chief Arvol finally made his way to Hardwick, I asked him: “Why did you come all this way to a Christian community you didn’t know anything about?” He answered, “My wife and I looked into the community (I assume he read our website) and it looked good to us.” His “yes” to Agape may have origins in the nonviolence of Standing Rock Encampment, Oceti Sakoin. My experience of the camp, led by Native people, was that it was a safe place of welcome and acceptance of all who came. It was clear through constant testimonials at the Sacred Fire that the oppressor had always been white settler colonialists with a “take over” mentality, who called themselves “Christian”. At the Oceti Sakoin Orientation meeting, the Native speakers encouraged the white allies present. “You will make mistakes, offend Native People and fall down in your efforts to help us. But remember to always get up quickly.” I attended a major three hour-long Interfaith service where six denominations of Christians and a Catholic Jesuit spoke to the gathering of hundreds. As he attentively listened to seven testimonials from Christians, Chief Arvol seemed to stand in the aura of nonviolent mercy and acceptance that was Standing Rock. In a conversation with Chief Arvol, I asked with some trepidation: “Is it Ok to ask for forgiveness of Native peoples for how they had been beaten, driven off their land and killed?” He quickly answered, “Yes”, then paused and added, “But it depends on who you are.” I assumed that he meant that there would be no easy forgiveness and that asking for mercy needed to entail a repentant and humble request to be taken seriously by Native Peoples. While inviting six Native speakers and members of ten tribes throughout the New England, I often found myself in the middle of uncomfortable tribal dynamics. We learned about communication protocols and how to judge native peoples’ reactions, especially negative ones, toward our community and even between tribes? A man from a local Native tribe commented when I phoned to invite him: “If you invite inter-tribal groups, some other tribal people will not attend.” We had to ask ourselves: How do we navigate the painful terrain of Native American trauma resulting from centuries of our violence? Were it not for the generous help and council of Chief Arvol, Chief Cheryl Holly of the local Nipmuc tribe, John Gentle Hawk, Nicole Braithwait-Hunt and members of the Worcester Inter-tribal Indian Center, we would have “fallen down” more often in our planning.