By Michelle Ballard
In July, 23 Cooperative Baptists journeyed to the other side of the globe to explore and witness one country’s response to a growing population with only a limited amount of resources.
We spent our days adventuring in the Masai Mara and Kakamega Forest, meeting image bearers of God (both people and animals), and discussing our common concern for the future of our beloved planet. One thing we shared in common was a concern for the future of our world in light of a changing climate and increasing population. We also discussed our frustrations with folks back home, who see no need for conservation or for a reduction in the consumption of our planet’s natural resources. And, we spent countless evenings in a time of devotion, as we read excerpts from, Laudato Si’: The Encyclical of Pope Francis on the Environment.
As we listened, witnessed, and encountered God’s creation we began to be transformed by the plants, wildlife, and people that we were encountering.
Our conversations left me with many questions: What steps should I be taking each day to conserve and preserve water, electricity, and food waste? What steps should my church engage in or advocate for as we seek to honor God’s good creation? How is God calling me to respond?
These questions have led me to develop a short list of tangible actions that you and I, and our communities, can take to become better stewards of the environment.
15 Ways Your Church Can Care for Creation:
- Celebrate earth day as a community of faith
- Consider planting leguminous trees on the church property
- Consider whether or not a community garden is right for you and your church
- Make the church building more eco-friendly
- Consider having less or no meat at Wednesday night dinners/Sunday afternoon potlucks
- Preach on creation care as Christian witness
- Utilize or write curriculum that explores earth care
- Use less electricity & water (turn of that light that you keep leaving on when you leave the church building)
- Order less food for youth events (you know that you always have way too many leftover pizzas)
- Encourage church member to carpool, bike, or walk to church
- Provide an outdoor worship service at least once a year
- Practice gazing at the beauty of the world that God has created and called good
- Advocate for the environmental protection of streams and national forests
- Call your representatives to discuss your environmental protection concerns
While at Amani Ya Ju, a social economic enterprise and work center for refugee women from various African countries, we were given a tour of the facilities, and as we gathered in the sewing room our group noticed a stunning mosaic on the wall. The mosaic had yellow, coral, teal, navy, and University of Kentucky blue tiles, all placed on the wall to form various swirls and lines.
At first glance, you might think that someone has created a simple and unexciting pattern on the wall, but as we looked closer, we noticed its intricacies and complexity. We noticed the coral swirl breaking in and twisting around the yellow curves. And, we noticed the blue swirls and how they gently hug the edges of the teal tiles. And, finally, we noticed a metal-plated sign at the base of the mosaic that read, “Pamoja Tunabadilishwa”, which means, “Together we are transformed” in Swahili. This motto is not only depicted on the walls of the center, but it is revealed on the smiling faces of the women who have been transformed by that place and by their God.
Much like the twists and turns present in the lives of the refugee women of Amani Ya Ju and the winding paths that our lives often take, we too are transformed by our environment and culture, and most of all by the One who sustains us during seasons of climate chaos.
The world that we know and love is changing. I know this, because the water level of Lake Baringo has risen countless feet over the past five years and I know this, because East Africans have experienced two consecutive years of drought, thus leaving 48 million God-bearers without adequate water supply and with ruined fields of crop. We can look outside or feel within our bodies that something is off — that our planet and our bodies have become unhealthy.
But, this does not have to be the chapter where the story ends. God is the One who formed you and I from the dust of this holy ground — the One who breathed life into our nostrils, who created the birds of Kenya and Atlanta, Georgia, to sing God’s praises, and the One who looks on us with love and who gifts us with holy responsibility.
Won’t you join me in protecting what God has deemed good and sacred? Won’t you and your community of faith join me in tending and keeping this sacred place that we have the gift of inhabiting? Won’t you join me as we repent together of our apathy and carelessness for the resources that give us breath and life each day? Won’t you join me as we seek to be transformed together in our thinking and in our actions?
May the transformation and renewal of the earth begin with us. Amen.
Michelle Ballard serves as the Young Baptist Ecosystem Intern for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She is a recent graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, and is a lay leader at Edgewood Church in Atlanta, Ga.