HURRICANES, TIDAL WAVES, EARTHQUAKES AND PESTILENCES SEEM TO BE COMING WITH ALARMING FREQUENCY THESE DAYS. While scientists and politicians discuss the threat of global warming, televangelists speculate about end time signs. So to meet a group of Christians engaging with creation from a perspective of hope last week in Portugal was most refreshing.
Prior to the annual Hope for Europe Round Table near Faro on Portugal’s southern coast, my wife and I drove westwards towards the Alvor Estuary, near the south-western tip of Europe. Here on this estuary, the first field study centre of the A Rocha project had been set up to awaken awareness of environmental responsibility. We wanted to familiarise ourselves with this project and meet the people involved; we had recently informed them that A Rocha would receive this year’s HOPE Award, to be presented a few days later at the Round Table meeting along the coast.
As a Christian nature conservation organisation, A Rocha (Portuguese for ‘the Rock’) is identified by five core commitments:
· Christian – a biblical understanding of a creator God, who loves and entrusts the world to the care of human society, underlies all A Rocha activities;
· Conservation – all research and environmental education is toward the goal of the conservation and restoration of the natural world;
· Community – good relationships within the A Rocha family, and with the local community, flow from commitment to God, each other and the wider creation;
· Cross-cultural –A Rocha involves people from diverse cultures, locally and globally;
· Cooperation – A Rocha partners with other individuals and organisations concerned with a sustainable world.
The centre’s director, Marcial Felgueiras, explained to us that many thousands of migratory birds stopped over in this large salt-water marsh area on their trips between Europe and Africa. Flight paths from most western European countries converged on the south of Portugal, the Algarve. Some of the migratory birds we may watch in our own gardens could be regular visitors to this estuary.
A Rocha had trained over 400 volunteers and many former students continued to be active in environmental issues, we learned. The database at the centre in Portugal held records of over 60,000 birds ringed, while extensive studies of plants and fungi, moths and butterflies had led to influential reports and articles on the Algarve’s environment. Proposals for reserve status for the Alvor Estuary stemmed directly from A Rocha studies. Thousands of visitors had taken part in the environmental education programmes.
As more and more Christians recognised the need to protect and restore important habitats, A Rocha had grown into a family of projects working in seven European lands, with a focus on science and research, practical conservation and environmental education. Projects were also now underway in the Middle East, Africa, North and South America and Asia. (See: www.arocha.org)
The first time I heard of this project was when Dr Chris Steyn nominated it to receive the HOPE Award for 2005. This award is presented annually to a person, group or project promoting biblical hope among Europeans. Recipients are chosen by members of the Round Table, an annual gathering of convenors of networks operating under the umbrella of Hope for Europe (www.hfe.org).
At a presentation ceremony last Friday in Tavira on the Algarve coast, Dr Chris Steyn of the Hope for Europe working group commended A Rocha for promoting cooperative action towards the healing of the land. He cited Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 8 verse 19), saying that Christians looked with hope towards that moment of restoration for which ‘creation waits in eager expectation’. “Dr Francis Schaeffer encouraged Christians to treat nature now in the direction of the way nature will be in the future, and to exhibit now a ‘substantial healing’ between man and nature, and nature and itself,” he continued.
Marcial Felgueiras was joined by Alfredo Abreu, of the A Rocha International Board, to receive the award, a handsome silver-pewter creation on a black engraved marble base. In a brief interview as part of the ceremony, I asked Alfredo how he answered those who questioned the priorities of Christians engaged in creation care, as opposed to evangelism and church-planting. God’s Kingdom involved every area of society and all of his creation, was his reply. Care for his creation was part of the Father’s business. Such care also pointed toward a Christian understanding of the future, a perspective of hope, he added. The environmental movement had become very pessimistic in recent years. And, yes, there was much cause for concern. Yet Christians were assured by Paul that the creation would be redeemed, according to Colossians 1:15-20. Therefore we faced the future with hope, not despair. And creation care often opened opportunities to talk to others about why Christians cared: there was a Creator who had entrusted the care of his creation to human society.
Which left me with the question: why have we so often abdicated such creation care to those who believe in no God, or in a mother-earth-goddess? Why have we denied the world for so long an authentic witness of the love of the Creator for his own creation?
Till next week,