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Deanna Geelhoed, 24, and Anneke Spoelma, 14, attended a Climate Witness Project Bootcamp this summer, a learning experience put together by the Office of Social Justice and World Renew.

Geelhoed and Spoelma each were already passionate about combating climate change, but by traveling to parts of Kenya and Uganda, the two said they observed first hand its far-reaching effects. The trip also allowed them to better understand the way these effects are felt in developing countries where many people make their living as subsistence farmers.

“Climate change has created new weather patterns, which impact people’s abilities to farm effectively,” said Geelhoed. “These changes can range from flooding to drought, and the resulting food scarcity can cause political and social destabilization. This further compounds the cycle, making it difficult for people to adjust their farming techniques.” 

One man Geelhoed spoke with told her his community can now get eight months of rain in one day. 

These dramatic weather shifts have necessitated new farming strategies. “Conservation agriculture has taken hold in many communities,” Geelhoed said. “(It) uses the three pillars of minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and crop rotations/associations to reduce watering and increase yields.”

Prior to their trip and since returning, the Geelhoed and Spoelma have talked with people in their home congregations, including those who doubt that climate change is occurring around the world.

Spoelma often explains to them, “Everywhere in Kenya and Uganda (climate change) is known and accepted as fact. They don’t have time to argue about whether climate change is real or not because they are already living in the effects of it.” 

Both women have enjoyed these intergenerational conversations with their fellow church members and are hopeful about the positive feedback they’ve received.

The trip also has reminded the two about how blessed they are. They feel compelled to respond to these blessings by faithfully speaking about climate change and encouraging others to address it. 

At a recent Office of Social Justice event, Spoelma called attendees to dramatic action and declared that, in our role as creation stewards, we need to take diligent steps toward honoring the earth we’ve been given. Her presentations now include direct actions she does along with ones she recommends, such as “creating a rain garden, composting, not using paper towels, and planting trees.” 

Furthermore, Spoelma and Geelhoed call churches to love creation through worship, sermons, and reducing the congregation’s physical impact on the environment. 

Sometimes in North America, it’s easy to avoid the full weight of environmental changes. But, “as Christians we have a moral obligation to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when they live on the other side of the globe in East Africa. Climate change is making hard-to-live-in places even more difficult,” Geelhoed said. “This trip gave me a face to the problem of climate change.”

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