When I lived and worked at the OMF International Centre in Singapore I asked Aran*, a young Thai theological student, what he’d like us to pray for. His answer amazed me: ‘I pray for the soil of Thailand’.
He was training to be a pastor in Thailand, and he was deeply troubled that its soil, as in many other countries including the UK, is being severely degraded. He knew that caring for his people should include caring for their land.
Many of us may not be fully aware of the environmental impacts of our way of life. It’s easy to take many things for granted – fresh air and water, waste disposal and so on; and the dominant consumerist culture has encouraged us to think that there is an unlimited supply of the things we want. But we are living in a time of ecological crisis and unprecedented climate change, with huge and growing impacts on many people, especially the poor, and on the wonderfully rich biodiversity that brings glory to God. In 2016 it was estimated that we would need 2.7 planet Earths to sustain everyone in the world consuming resources at the level of the UK. This compares with the figure of 2.2 for China, 1.0 for Myanmar, and 1.65 for the whole world.
Today the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us how environmental mismanagement can combine with other factors, with surprising and devastating results. Climate change, the trade in live animals and the loss of habitats have displaced wildlife species on an unprecedented scale, adding to the risk of viruses spreading from wildlife to human populations. In turn the pandemic has endangered wildlife conservation by stopping funding from eco-tourism.
While the ecological crisis and climate change are becoming more widely recognised by churches and mission organisations, creation care may still be seen by some as a ‘niche’ concern for specialists with ‘green fingers’. Instead, we should see it as foundational to all aspects of our walk of faith. After all, the mandate to look after the earth and its creatures is an intrinsic part of being human (see Genesis 1:26-28). Moreover, how can we claim to love our neighbours if we don’t care about the land and ecology on which they (and we) depend?
OMF and creation care
OMF International has practised some elements of creation care integral mission since the 1950s. This has included sustainable food production in our work of mission in rural communities in Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere. We have also engaged in disaster relief since the work of the China Inland Mission in the 1870s. Today there are many opportunities for us to work in ways that promote environmental sustainability in Asia’s cities, and conservation work among rural and coastal communities. Aran’s prayer for the soil of Thailand reminds us that sharing a concern for the natural world remains one way of helping people to connect with the Creator.
We are also exploring how we can reduce our ‘ecological footprint’ as much as possible. To this end, OMF (UK) has adopted a creation care policy for how we live and carry out our ministry. One example of this is the installation of solar panels at our oﬃce in Kent. And for our building projects in East Asia, we seek to use local, sustainable materials such as bamboo and pressed earth blocks; we reduce the need for air-conditioning by designing for natural ventilation; and we install various energy-saving devices.
We also want to raise awareness of creation care challenges and opportunities, and to welcome those whom God is calling into cross-cultural mission, who have a heart and skills to help care for God’s creation, as part of their witness to Christ.
OMF International Facilitator for Creation Care