By Kamilah Jones
There are many ancient stories and beautiful cultural perspectives on how Earth was created and our origins and development as human beings. From a Christian perspective, it is generally accepted that God is the creator. Christianity emphasizes the sacredness of creation and a harmonious connectedness between the Earth and human existence. Genesis 2 highlights that God formed us as humans from the dust of the Earth and breathed into us the breath of life through our nostrils, and we became living creatures.
From this scripture, we also understand that God intentionally created the mighty expansiveness of the Earth with mountains, valleys, trees, plants, flowers, gardens, rivers and streams, oceans, lakes,\ and more which shows God’s artistry and creativity. God’s creation also provided a foundation for our sustenance and a purpose for us to live in harmony as stewards of the land. Reflecting on these thoughts brings several questions to mind:
- Currently, how do we honor the Earth? Do we respect the world and everything within it as God’s creation?
- What are the intended and unintended impacts of not collectively being environmental stewards of creation and the Earth? Collective impact relates to how what we do within our local communities and nationally not only influences us here in the United States of America, but also has implications that influence the environment, life, human beings and our dear brothers and sisters worldwide on various continents.
- Are there times when we identify as Christians though our actions and behavior are not identical to God’s creation of the Earth due to lacking honor and respect for the environment?
- What makes us distinctively different as Christians if we don’t honor creation? What does God think of us when we don’t honor the gift of being able to live on Earth? Does God look at us as foreigners? Do we personally feel dissonance in our relationship with God when we have potentially become estranged by disavowing our sacred connection to creation and the Earth?
- Are we foreigners because of our current relationship with God’s creation?
I was privileged to have the opportunity to reflect heavily on questions like these and others by participating in the 2022 Kutana Kenya, Africa Exchange Program through Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The blessing of immersing myself in the cultural traditions within Kenya included the opportunity to witness and participate in the general rhythm of life.
Kutana in Swahili means “to meet together,” which is a befitting description of the program because of the mutuality and the experience of communing with common goals. The essence of Kutana was woven into every part of our immersion experience—culturally, spiritually and environmentally. On a macro level, this was witnessed within the partnerships that CBF, Africa Exchange and the Trees for Life program have made in various villages and rural communities throughout Kenya. Kutana was also evident on a mezzo level through Integrated Child Development Centers (ICDC) that have supported families and children with education and with particular attention to their health and nutritional needs. Witnessing and participating in the mutual goals designed by Kenyans and these organizations was a blessing to see firsthand how we can jointly work as human beings to maintain the sacredness of the Earth while working in harmony with each other.
Parallel to this, I had the opportunity to learn more about Kenya’s distinct ecological and cultural settings: Limuru/ Brakenhurst Forest and Gardens, Kipkaren, Lumakanda, Kakamega Rain Forest, Sigor, Lake Baringo and Masai Mara.
It was a special privilege to be able to witness so many species of birds and butterflies indigenous to Kenya and Africa’s most incredible wildlife yet also see what happens firsthand when we are not good environmental stewards and how this impacts the beauty of God’s creation through a trickle down of events that include deforestation, land degradation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, drought and also the extreme opposite that is seen through flooding which in turn impacts villages and communities through forced migration or loss of land for agriculture, further impacting the health and wellbeing of families and communities when drawing sustenance from the land is interrupted by these events.
CBF, Africa Exchange and Trees for Life have stood in the gap by changing the trajectory of these events, working to replenish the earth and land by reforestation, planting trees, supporting communities and families with education and nutrition, which in turn help the overall well-being of communities, families some of the most vulnerable human beings, children. In short, this models a mutual encounter where all parties involved commit to the success of their communities to thrive.
Mutual encounters were also experienced through the opportunity to have a two-day rural homestay in Lumakanda and spend time at the homestead of various families in Wamaganga and Sisit. Communing over Kenyan cuisine and the blessing to sip tea together several times daily was a rich experience. Being able to fellowship at church (Lumakanda Church of God and Ridgeway Baptist Church) was spiritually felt and understood from the heart even when Swahili was being spoken. The opportunity to place my hands deep into the ground to assist with tree planting was also a sacred experience for me that served purposes of reforestation and natural nourishment if, for example, it was a tree that bore fruit, but also benefited families with monetary support for school fees in exchange for their willingness to have a tree planted at their home. This form of interconnectedness between humans, the land, sustenance, respect and gratitude for the creation and the Earth are what I think God would want all of us to experience.
Where is God amid the environmental destruction and turmoil we have generated as humans? Again, is God pleased with how we collectively care for creation, the earth and humankind? Are we being called to be more effective stewards of creation, the land, our interactions with fellow human beings, and all things that inhabit the earth?
I think these are questions we should continue to ponder and act on as an extension of faith practices or simply being a good human being. During our collective reflection time through the Kutana Kenya Africa Exchange Program, we read and discussed “Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World. I hope the powerful words of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, with which I close inspire you to personal reflection in addition to the thoughts I have provided through the life-shaping immersion experience I was blessed to have in Kenya:
Through experience and observation, I have come to realize that the physical destruction of the earth extends to humanity, too. If we live in an environment that’s wounded – where the water is polluted, the air is filled with soot and fumes, the food is contaminated with heavy metals and plastic residues, or the soil is practically dust – it hurts us, chipping away at our health and creating injuries at a physical, psychological, and spiritual level. In degrading the environment, therefore, we degrade ourselves and all humankind. The reverse is also true. In the process of helping the earth to heal, we help ourselves. If we see the earth bleeding from the loss of topsoil, biodiversity, or drought and desertification, and if we help reclaim or save what is lost – for instance, through regeneration of degraded forests – the planet will help us in our self-healing and indeed survival.
Kamilah Jones is a second-year Master of Divinity candidate at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She is a CBF Leadership Scholar.