Updated: Jun 23
The book, Phyllis’ Orange Shirt written for children 4 - 6 years old, begins this way:
Little Phyllis lived with her Granny on the Dog Creek Reserve.
They would pick berries, garden and catch fish to preserve.
There were not many kids with whom Phyllis could play
Because they went to residential school far, far away.
One day Granny took Phyllis to town.
It was exciting to see so many people around!
Granny took Phyllis to a shop full of clothes,
With hats for your head and socks for your toes.
Phyllis picked out a shirt that was so orange, shiny and bright,
And Granny bought it for her to wear with delight.
On the first day of residential school, Phyllis just couldn’t wait.
She wore her orange shirt so that she would look great.
But when she arrived her mood started to change,
The place was so cold, unfriendly and strange.
Her bright orange shirt was taken away
And she worried about how long she would stay.
That orange shirt was never returned to Phyllis Webstad who survived 300 sleeps at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School near Williams Lake, British Columbia. This happened to her in 1973 when she was just six years old.
In 2013, Phyllis was asked to speak at a press conference as part of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemoration Project. Her speech included the story of what happened to her orange shirt. Orange Shirt Day, celebrated on September 30 each year, and the not-for-profit Orange Shirt Society were born out of that speech.
Today, Phyllis is the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society that passionately spreads the message that Every Child Matters. The orange shirt is now a symbol of hope and reconciliation. September 30th is a day to honour Residential School survivors, their families and to remember those children who didn’t come home.
In 2020, the Society released the Orange Shirt Day book. It’s an educational resource created for parents, teachers, government officials and folks like you and me. I found a copy at my local library. You learn more about this informative book by visiting the orangeshirtday.org website or finding it on amazon.ca.
Every child who was brought to Jesus, every child He met, mattered to Him. “Let the little children come to me,” He said. “Do not forbid them for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Every child matters to Jesus. As Christians, every child, regardless of race, or creed, or colour, or country of origin must matter to us. And their parents must matter to us too!
We don’t have to wait until September 30 to wear an orange shirt, or anything orange for that matter, to honour Residential School survivors, their families and to remember those children who didn’t come home. We don’t have to wear an orange shirt to be kind to every child. Just as the red poppy reminds us of the soldiers who died fighting for our freedom, and the white lily reminds us of the One who died to save us, the orange shirt reminds us of the children taken from their families, stripped of their identities, stripped of the names their parents gave them, and the over 6,000 children who were stripped of their lives. The orange shirt reminds us that we must never allow something like this to happen to any child in the world ever again.
As we study the Biblical meaning of colours, we find that the colour orange, found in the rainbow and obtained by mixing red and yellow is also a color of fire that represents the Fire of God - the power and presence of God.
How fitting that the shirt that Phyllis’ grandmother bought for her was orange.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19 says this:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
Let’s pray to have a deeper understanding of the ministry of reconciliation and the word of reconciliation God has given to us. Let’s pray to learn how we can develop reconciliation partnerships with those who we’ve previously avoided or discounted.
May the Holy Spirit help us to bravely listen to truths we’d rather not hear, and then gently guide us to be obedient to these words of Jesus when He said: Love one another as I have loved you.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.