Fertile soil, plentiful fuel, clean water—in the midst of such blessings it’s easy to overlook the crucial role our environment plays in sustaining our lives and livelihoods. But for many people around the world, ignoring this connection can have dire consequences.
Take Bangladesh, for example. This Asian country, about the size of the state of Iowa, is home to 156 million people, almost half of whom live on the equivalent of less than one U.S. dollar a day.
Recently, Bangladesh has made great strides in improving its economy by producing garments, leather, seafood, rice, and other exports. But these advances have often come at the expense of its natural resources.
“Bangladesh is very vulnerable,” says Kohima Daring, Bangladesh country consultant with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).
“There are impacts from floods, cyclones, misuse of farmland, and more, all of which impact crops, food security, housing, and the ability of poor communities to survive.”
Poor families living in the countryside cut down trees to sell as firewood and overwork the land to grow more food. As a result, 95 percent of Bangladesh’s natural forests and 50 percent of its freshwater wetlands have been lost or degraded.
The consequences are devastating. Depleted soil makes it harder for families to grow food and make a living. When monsoon rains or cyclones come, deforestation means that crops get washed away and homes destroyed. This leaves impoverished families even more desperate.
And Bangladesh is not alone. Similar things are happening in many countries around the world.
“Poverty and environmental degradation go hand in hand,” said Stephan Lutz, program consultant in Kenya for CRWRC.
“The environment—soil, trees, water—is literally the basic sustenance of livelihoods on earth,” Lutz says. “How we treat our environment affects the quality of our lives in the future, and this is most evident among those whose lives are so closely tied to the land.”
That is why the Christian Reformed Church includes creation care as a key component of its global ministry.
Jeffrey Bos, a project leader and educator with Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) in Bangladesh, Kohima Daring, and others organized a conference last October, bringing together pastors, community leaders, and non-government organization staff members to talk about the environment.
The Restoring Creation conference was held at the College of Christian Theology Bangladesh (CCTB). It was organized and supported by CRWRC and CRWM, as well as Tearfund-UK, St. Andrew’s Theological College, and CCTB.
People from those agencies, as well as from the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and A Rocha (a Christian nature conservancy organization), made presentations at the conference. Conference participants explored the biblical call to be stewards of creation, reviewed scientific facts about the current state of the environment, and considered what the church could do in response.
At the close of the conference, they filled out an environmental impact survey called “How Green Is Your Church?” and came up with some next steps to take back to their congregations and communities. Ideas included educating churches and communities about creation care, reducing consumption of resources, starting recycling programs, and planting trees.
“This was a good example of the CRC coming together on the issue,” said Bos.
Christian Reformed missionaries are similarly working to incorporate creation care as part of the training they provide to pastors and other church leaders.
“As we work to build up church leaders around the world, we help them recognize the importance of caring for God’s creation and the essential role that the church can play in leading this action,” explained Sarah Van Stempvoort, who works with CRWM in Burlington, Ontario.
In Romania, for example, Steve Michmerhuizen works with New Horizons Foundation to incorporate creation care teaching and training into NHF’s youth ministry.
“Because church, community, and school leaders of tomorrow are in the high schools of Romania today, New Horizons Foundation is beginning creation care teaching and training within the youth ministry of NHF,” Michmerhuizen said.
“I also hope to begin teaching classes on creation stewardship at an evangelical seminary here in Eastern Europe.”
Other CRC agencies are also developing programs with care for the environment in mind.
“One of the most difficult things we see constantly is how unpredictable weather has become,” said Jacqueline Koster, who lives in Uganda as CRWRC’s disaster-response program manager for East and Southern Africa.
“Rains that used to come in October now come in December or, worse yet, they stop and start. Poor farmers often only have enough seed for one planting, if that, so when the rains start they plant immediately. But if rains that used to last for months only come for a few weeks, the seeds will not flourish.
“This was particularly evident in northern Mozambique this year,” Koster said. Farmers started planting when the rains started. Then the rain stopped. They lost all their seeds.
“Those who could gather some more seed came down to the flood plain where they could irrigate their crops, but then there was an excess of rain and it flooded . . . so some farmers were hit by both too little rain and too much rain in the same year.
“When you’re talking about people living under the poverty line, this is an almost insurmountable blow.”
To lessen the impact of future disasters, CRWRC regularly includes tree planting and other environmental protection initiatives as part of its disaster-response activities.
“In Kenya, when CRWRC provides food aid, we distribute split peas instead of beans,” explained Koster. “While beans are more common in the local diet, they take a lot of firewood to cook. Split peas, which are also eaten locally, can be cooked in smaller portions and in a lot less time. Community members were happy to receive peas instead of beans. Choices like this help to prevent deforestation.”
Similarly, CRWRC encourages communities to plant trees and use soil-conservation techniques as a means to increase food production and prevent future problems.
“We feel it is urgent for the church leadership in Kenya to be sensitized to the importance of caring for and advocating on behalf of creation,” said Lutz.
Lutz says some church partners have been using the Canadian International Development Agency’s environmental assessment tools and, in collaboration with Tearfund-UK, are receiving aid that will help their communities mitigate the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.
“Whether climate change is a reality or not, the reality is that God will care for his earth and promises never to destroy it (Gen. 9), and yet we are crushing it with the weight of our building projects (Gen. 11),” said Bos.
“The problems facing poor communities concerning the environment, poverty, and justice are there whether or not you think the polar ice caps are melting. The church is part of that problem and should also be part of the solution.”
Creation Care Books from Faith Alive
- Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues, by Calvin B. DeWitt
- Living the Good Life on God’s Good Earth, edited by David S. Koetje
- Not entirely focused on creation care, but valuable: What Do I Owe? Managing the Gifts God Gives You, by Rolf Bouma
Faith Alive is the publishing arm of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (http://www.faithaliveresources.org, 1.800.333.8300).