Caring for creation in community
Environment … conservation … sustainability … these are passionately discussed topics on a campus where popular majors are natural resource management, environmental studies and wildlife biology. For students who follow Jesus, it’s an open door to discuss why caring for creation is important — and how to live justly within it. This passion led one group of students to spend part of their summer at an organic farm dedicated to conservation and Christian community.
The students who volunteered were from the University of Northern British Columbia, located in the forested mountains of western Canada. “Most of the students here at UNBC care deeply about the environmental problems in our world and want to do something about it,” said Troy Lee, Inter-Varsity staff member. That’s why, at the end of the school year, he invites students to spend a week at A Rocha, an intentional community and organic farm located just north of the United States border near Vancouver, British Columbia.
A Rocha: Getting down and dirty
This year, Troy and five students from UNBC volunteered for a week at A Rocha (which means “the rock” in Portuguese), joining fifteen other people on site. Together they participated in conservation projects, provided organic food for the local community and offered environmental education for school children and adults — all within a context of a Christian community.
But not all of the students who volunteer for the project were Christian. One student had visited other sustainable communities and wanted to try A Rocha. She commented that, unlike the others, it had a special “vibe” that came out of the deep sense of purpose created within the community.
“It was exciting to see her make the connection between our Christian faith and sustainable community living,” said Troy. He saw her response as an affirmation of one of the core commitments of A Rocha: Underlying all we do is our biblical faith in the living God, who made the world, loves it and entrusts it to the care of human society. Troy adds, “Both of the non-Christian students who came were blown away by this hopeful and helpful community of faith and action.”
During the week, there were many opportunities to put faith into action, and the group got involved in a broad range of projects:
- planting a two-acre organic garden
- participating in an education day with fifty-six seventh-graders
- habitat restoration
- assisting with a bird inventory at a nearby bay
- planting a fruit tree orchard
- on-site office renovations
In the evenings, the group studied scripture together, learning more about biblical creation care. They watched several films and discussed them afterward. One was a remarkable episode of the Planet Earth TV series. They also viewed Black Gold, a film about Ethiopian coffee growers who struggle to be paid a fair price by coffee buyers. This initiated a great conversation in the group about ethics and injustice in the coffee industry — and about the ethical decisions they each make as individual consumers of other food products.
The trip was eye-opening for Emily, one of the core leaders in the InterVarsity group at UNBC. During the week, she was reminded of how creative God is. “We went birding one day and it was my first time seeing a red-winged blackbird,” Emily said. “I was so amazed with God’s creativity. As I discovered more about God’s creation, I felt like I was getting to know little pieces of God.”
The volunteer week challenged Emily’s relationship with the Lord in other ways. “God used the people who surrounded me to remind me what it looks like to use our gifts,” Emily said. “In recognizing the gifts of others — and how they were a blessing for our team — I did some self-examination and realized that I hadn’t done too much to use and strengthen the gifts God has given me. I think God wants more of me.”
When Emily and the others return to campus in the fall, they hope to build on what they learned this summer. In September, the Inter-Varsity group will again participate in the “Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup” program at a nearby creek and park. “This event has been a significant outreach opportunity for our students on campus,” said Troy. “It’s a great way of putting wheels to our faith!”
Together, in community, they echo the words of the psalmist who said, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). It’s a hopeful message to the UNBC campus.
Additional resources about environmental stewardship:
Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation by Edward R. Brown, InterVarsity Press 2008. This book offers a biblical framework for creation care as well as practical steps that ordinary Christians can take to exercise good ecological stewardship. The author is available as a speaker for conferences or campus groups.
The Care of Creation edited by R. J. Berry, InterVarsity Press, 2000. Focusing concern and action, this book is a stimulating and provocative international commentary by leading theologians and environmental practitioners.
Redeeming Creation: the Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship by Fred H. Van Dyke, David C. Mahan, Joseph K. Sheldon and Raymond H. Brand, InterVarsity Press, 1996. The authors combine compelling stories with both biblical and scientific investigation to address current ecological problems.