Care for Creation - draft 1

In an article in this week's Church of Ireland Gazette I refer to a first draft that I did not use. We'll, this is it.

Care for Creation

Asuncion is a hot and steamy city, and January 2007 was no exception. Giant black thunder clouds towered above us, the warm large raindrops spotted the ground and moments later the torrential downpour began. The tropical storm was so intense the road between us and the school, where we worked as missionary teachers, was soon a fast-flowing torrent of dirty water.

The pools of water lay in hollows in the streets, in piles of sodden rubbish, and in the hollows of old tyres. In these humid pools mosquitoes bred. We had grown used to mosquitos, they had that high pitched buzz and irritating bite, but that April brought the ades aegypti mosquito and the epidemic of Dengue Fever, the first ever in Paraguay.

We tied up mosquito nets around our beds and made sure that each morning we sprayed ourselves and our children with repellant. Dengue Fever comes in two forms, a mild strain and a hemorrhagic fever - you do not want to develop severe Dengue Fever.

By April that year 19,000 cases of Dengue had been reported, including a Mission Partner colleague from the South American Mission Society; there were 54 cases of hemorrhagic fever and 17 deaths. During this time the work of the mission school and of work of the Anglican Church was severely impacted.

Since 2007 there have been severe Dengue and Yellow Fever outbreaks in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2018. The World Health Organisation reports that the threat from Dengue Fever has grown in recent decades and is a leading cause of death amongst children in Latin America. Other diseases such as Zika virus have also emerged.

The World Health Organisation says that climate change is allowing the spread of the Aedes aegyptio mosquito. Within 30 years these mosquito born diseases will impact half the world's population, there have already been 3000 cases of Dengue in Europe in the last three years. The increased spread of disease is a consequence of a complex mix of easier travel and climate change.

When you witness first hand how the work of the church can be impacted by environmental change you began to wonder, what should the response of the church be? I understood that mission was about preaching the gospel, making disciples of all nations and helping the poor - but in 2013 I began to realise my view of mission was missing some marks.

Typhoon Haiyan

On the 7 November 2013 the largest hurricane ever to make landfall, the category 5 Super Typhoon Haiyan, devastated the Philippines with sustained winds of 315 km/h (195 mph). The storm surge flood killed over 6300 people and 2 million were left homeless. The international community immediately launched a relief effort and hundreds of millions of dollars were donated towards the disaster relief. Across the Church of Ireland parishioners donated €180,682 and £89,154 through the Bishops’ Appeal to Christian Aid and Tearfund. These funds provided emergency relief packs to the most vulnerable, emergency shelter and food packs to families and longer term support to help restore local communities.

To me, this was mission - my donation had helped to provide relief aid to desperate people - but then I read an article by Father Edwin Gariguez, a Filipino priest, that had a profound effect on my thinking. In the article, 'Opinion: We Have a Moral Imperative to Act on Climate Change.' Edwin Gariguez echoed Proverbs 31 verses 8 and 9 when he wrote,

'The Church cannot remain a passive bystander. It is our moral imperative to give voice to the voiceless. The moral imperative to act could not be stronger and the world now needs to stand united in the face of the climate crisis that knows no geographic boundaries, while the worst impacts still can be avoided.'

I realised at that moment that giving a donation was not enough, the church had to speak up for the poor and fight injustice.

And one of the greatest injustices is the continued investment in the fossil fuel industry - the leading cause of the climate crisis.

Care for Creation

What followed was a journey of theological discovery. It began when Rev Dr Chris Wright spoke at our church on the 'Mission of God's People'. He said something profound - when thinking about mission we tend to forget about the first two chapters and last two chapters of the Bible. He wrote,

"The Bible does not begin at Genesis 3 (or end at Revelation 20). You might think so when you listen to some presentations of the Bible’s message and mission. The Bible is not just about the solution to our sin problem and how to survive the day of judgment. It begins with creation and ends with a new creation."

Chris explained that the Lausanne Movement on world evangelism released The Cape Town Commitment in 2010 which calls for integral mission,

"Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation."

Through Dr Wright my understanding and view of mission matured and broadened, and it put the story of creation into context. I saw Genesis 2:15 as a foundation of this new thinking - 'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.'

A key role for human beings, and part of the mission of the church is to care for God's creation.

For those who would like to explore this further, I'd recommend starting with John Stott's last book Radical Disciple - when I read this book I decided it was time to act - you could say I was radicalised by John Stott!

Marks of Mission

Another theme that Dr Chris Wright introduced me to was the Five Marks of Mission. These were developed by the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984. They have been widely adopted as an understanding of what contemporary mission is about, and the recent years a number of Church of Ireland Bishops have spoken and taught about them. The Five Marks of Mission are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Put simply, the Five Marks are: Tell - Teach - Tend - Transform - Treasure.

That evening in Magheralin, sitting under the teaching Dr. Chris Wright, changed my thinking. Previously familiar Bible verses took on new meaning. I always knew that Romans chapter 8 was about new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and it still is, but now verse 21 took on new meaning, "creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

All of my Christian life I'd thought the gospel was about saving people, now I knew that part of that mission was to save the planet too.

Time to act

A fire had been lit inside me - it was burning against injustice. The planet was suffering through climate breakdown, pollution, plastics, and loss of habitats and species - and people who depend on clear air, soil, and water are dreadfully impacted as a result. When the Holy Spirit calls you to act what can you do? Here is some suggestions on how to start,

  • Read about creation care theology - try Bishop Tom Wright's books.
  • Sign up to the mailing list of Christian Aid, Tearfund or similar organisations.
  • Sign up to EcoCongregations newsletter for news from Ireland.
  • Get involved in a campaign - such as ending fossil fuel investments.
  • Transform your church - go Fairtrade and Plastic free.
  • Reduce your own carbon footprint - use public transport, walk more, drive and fly less.
  • Speak to friends and colleagues about the threats to the planet.

In recent days children have taken to the streets each Friday in climate strikes - they understand that their future is in peril. David Attenborough has said recently about species loss, “I find it hard to exaggerate the peril. This is the new extinction and we are half way through it. We are in terrible, terrible trouble and the longer we wait to do something about it the worse it is going to get.”

God calls us to save the planet, now it is time to act.


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