Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Blessed Lent. It began with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day. Not since 1945 has it happened, Rev. Daniel told us, and the vision of people lining up for ashes and chocolates on the same day. Hearts and crosses, red and gray, “be my valentine” and “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And the same day the scene someone shared with me of parents outside a Florida school and another tragic shooting, some embracing their children, others waiting desperately to see their child alive and not dead, and the cross of ashes clearly visible on the forehead of one mother. And this first Sunday of Lent when we remember stolen sisters, missing and murdered indigenous women, in numbers multiple times any other population in this country when one is too many, and God’s words of promise in a rainbow to remind God and all creation to never again flood and destroy the earth, and the Holy Baptism this prefigures; and Jesus’ own journey from baptism promise of belovedness and pleasure to wilderness temptation and testing against Satan with the wild beasts and angels, and John’s arrest and Jesus’ mission beginning, serving and suffering the good news of the time fulfilled, God’s dominion coming near, repent and believe this good news.
That’s a lot. It’s a lot of life and death held together, a lot of all God loves and our loves, and all God must hate, violence and destruction, loss and grief, held together in this world, in us, and the good news of God’s desire in Jesus that it would all be turned around, to love, to life, to joy, forever.
Once again on this Stolen Sisters Sunday, I want to read the story of an indigenous woman. The story is from the Native Women’s Association of Canada website. Each story begins with these words: For years, communities have pointed to the high numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has been honoured to work with families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls to share the story of their loved one. As part of the storytelling process, families’ are also invited to share their experiences with the justice system, media, victim services and other institutional and community supports. Storytelling is a way of teaching and learning. The stories shared by family members are intended to raise awareness, educate, and promote change. They have been told to honour the daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers that have been lost to violence and remember those still missing. This is what their stories tell us.
Lisa Marie Young was 21 years old when she disappeared on June 30, 2002 in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Lisa is the daughter of Don and Joanne Young, the granddaughter of Cecilia Arnet and sister to younger brothers Brian and Robbie. She is loved by her large extended family and many close friends. In the years since Lisa disappeared, family members have covered Vancouver Island with missing person posters. They have followed leads, consulted psychics, held vigils, and talked to countless members of the media. They want us to know that Lisa Marie is beautiful and fiery, talented and caring. They remember her. They love her. Not a single day goes by that they do not think about Lisa Marie or what could have happened to her.
Lisa Marie Young was born on May 5, 1981 in Nanaimo, a healthy and beautiful baby with long eyelashes. Her hair was dark and kind of curly, like her father’s. “She was just awesome,” says Lisa’s mother, Joanne. Lisa Marie was the first child for Joanne and Don and the second grandchild for Joanne’s mother, Cecilia. Joanne was 18 years old when Lisa was born. “The pregnancy was really nice,” she remembers. “I knew the baby was going to be a girl because she hardly ever kicked.”… Cecilia fell in love with her new granddaughter immediately. “She was a beautiful little angel. She looked just like her mother,” she says. Cecilia can still picture Lisa as an infant, can still smell her “baby smell.” Remembering her own childhood, Cecilia made sure her grandchildren were loved and cared for. Both Cecilia and Joanne’s father attended Kakawis Residential School on Meares Island. Cecilia was nine years old when the Indian Agent took her to the school. “It was really bad. Scary. Lonely,” she says simply. She attended the school for seven years. Thankfully, Cecilia’s time at residential school did not affect her experience as a mother. Cecilia loved being a mother, loved every minute of it. She treasured her children and, later, her grandchildren.
Lisa’s story goes on to describe in caring detail Lisa’s life from infancy, as a toddler, beginning school, through primary, middle and high school, her gentleness, beauty and strength, her love for her brothers, her many talents, her strong sense of self and independence, her volunteering and first job.
Lisa Marie Young was last seen in the early morning hours of June 30, 2002. Lisa was downtown with friends to celebrate a birthday when someone in the group struck up a conversation with a young man driving an older model red Jaguar. No one in the group knew him, but he seemed friendly and offered Lisa and her friends a ride to a house party. A few hours later when Lisa said she was hungry, the driver offered to take her to get some food. They left together in his red Jaguar. She has not been seen since.
Lisa Marie was just 21 years old when she disappeared. She was in the process of moving to a new apartment and was set to start a new job two days later. She talked about going back to school to become a TV sports announcer. Lisa was a vivacious young woman. She had no reason to disappear.
The story describes the initial hours of deepening concern for Lisa by her parents, their contacting police and struggling with the officer to take some action, their beginning a search on their own with family and friends, contacting the media, their frustration with communication with police, and an official ground search not beginning until 2 months later, putting up posters across the Island, organizing vigils, working to see a Crimestoppers video made, always hoping and working to find Lisa, and finding strength in the help of others and primarily in one another as a family.
Since Lisa went missing, family members have talked to journalists from all over Vancouver Island. Joanne talks to anyone who will listen, determined to keep her daughter’s story out there. But it has not always been easy. For a long time, Joanne refused to have her picture taken. “I didn’t want anyone to know that I was Native, because of way people judge. That’s how I felt,” she says. It is only in the last couple of years that she has agreed to go in front of a camera. She wants people to know that she is still looking for answers; that she is not going to forget. Somebody knows something, she says. Somebody knows what has happened to her daughter.
Cecilia has been active in the search for Lisa as well. In August of 2008, she joined Walk4Justice, a group of activists and family members that walked from Vancouver, British Columbia to Ottawa, Ontario calling for a public inquiry into the unsolved disappearances and murders of women from across Canada.
Cecilia was one of the oldest people on the walk. She wore a t-shirt with Lisa’s picture on it and handed out posters on Parliament Hill. It was quite an experience, she says, and very emotional. Still, Cecilia is glad she did it. She felt a lot better after doing the walk. She just kept telling herself, “I’m doing it for my granddaughter.”
Lisa always felt strongly about her independence. Having grown up in Nanaimo she felt safe in the community, as though she knew everyone. She never thought anyone would harm her. Still, Lisa was practical. If she went downtown at night she was always with a friend. But the night she went missing, Lisa was with friends.
Joanne has been resolute in her efforts to find out what happened to her daughter. Like Lisa, Joanne is a fighter. If she knocked on one door and it was shut, she went to the next door. If one person said “no,” she moved on. Cecilia is very proud of her daughter. It is amazing how strong Joanne is, she says, how she keeps Lisa’s name alive. In June 2009, Joanne held a candle-light vigil for Lisa Marie in Tofino, the community where Joanne was born, “I wanted to bring her back to the place where I come from. My daughter belonged here, she was from here too,” Joanne says. She wanted to bring Lisa home.
Lisa Marie Young is remembered as a beautiful and vibrant woman. She was a good listener to her friends and protector to her brothers, always. And she was a fighter. She believed in herself, was strong-willed and confident enough to stand up and say, “I’m right about this.” Don and Joanne always felt like she was going in the right direction. “My daughter wanted to shine,” Joanne observes. “No matter what she wanted to do, she would have been awesome.” Lisa had a great sense of humour too, says Joanne. All of her kids do and she likes that in them; it is good to laugh sometimes. More than anything, the family wants to keep Lisa in people’s minds. They do not want people to forget about Lisa Marie We remember Lisa Marie with them.
We pray together; God we commend Lisa Marie and her family and loved ones to you, trusting that she is your beloved and delight and you remain near to her, and that as Jesus contended with evil and death to free all people from its destruction, this promise remains for us all. And calls us to live your hope of life over death, love over violence and hatred, understanding and compassion over racism and prejudice, now and forever. Amen.