The recent transformation of a London rubbish tip shows why more Christians are warming up to the idea of environmental mission.
Standing in the fresh green grass of Minet Country Park, surrounded by flowers and butterflies, it’s hard to believe that five years ago this 90-acre West London oasis was brimming with burnt-out cars, abandoned refrigerators and fly-tipped waste.
But the derelict history of this beautiful area is precisely what makes it such a powerful picture of redemption for the religiously and culturally diverse community of Southall and Hayes.
Dave Bookless, head of the UK branch of A Rocha, the Christian conservation organisation that spearheaded the renovation, described how the Living Waterways project began in 2001:
“My wife Anne and I had already been in Southall for 10 years in parish ministry when we were given a vision of community-transformation and Christian mission arising out of a renewed relationship between people and place.”
In a community consisting of many refugees or second generation British caught between two cultures, Bookless aimed to offer ‘a vision of rootedness and belonging, of a relationship with creation that could be a stepping stone to a relationship with the Creator.’
The five-year project is an example of how creation care and missions are becoming increasingly intertwined, as more Christians realise that caring for creation directly translates into caring for people.
Not only that, but common concern for the Earth has proved to be a great platform for Christian dialogue with environmentally conscientious followers of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. In an interview on AudioMission, the Church Mission Society podcast, Bookless shared how much of the clean-up and restoration of Minet Park was done by hand, with Christians working alongside people of other faiths or of no faith in particular.
He points out: “In today’s complex world, we … should not look at evangelism without also tackling poverty and injustice. Nor can we tackle poverty without facing environmental issues, which are among the biggest drivers of global poverty.”
Bookless’ words serve as a reminder that it is often the poor who are affected worst by natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. Elaborating on why this should be a Christian concern, he adds that issues of water supply, deforestation, sustainable agriculture, and climate change “all relate to our mission to bring good news to whole people, and to proclaim Christ’s Lordship over all creation”.
Christians engaging with environmental issues help introduce the biblical worldview in a way that is relevant to people today. “As Rob Frost has claimed: ‘When you take the earth seriously, people take the Gospel seriously’,” says Bookless.
That’s why organisations like A Rocha are keen to help Christians understand the biblical basis for environmental mission.
According to Bookless, “Creation care is something which the Bible really commands us to do as people who follow Jesus. In Genesis 2 God sends Adam into the Garden of Eden to tend it and to keep it. That commandment has never been taken away; that’s still very much our basic relationship with the earth and with the creatures with which we share it.”
A Rocha’s Living Waterways project, with its nature trails, floating classroom and conservation area, opens up the wonders of God’s creation to people who have little chance to enjoy the beauty of the natural world first hand. They put on school assemblies, host lunchtime and after-school clubs and environmental encounters, where children come to the park and try out pond dipping, do nature walks or build birdhouses … all on what used to be a rubbish heap.
It is a beacon of transformation that is needed in a time when much news about the state of the environment is gloomy.
“There are some scientists who are saying that the environment is so badly damaged it’s too late,” says Bookless, “But most scientists believe that we have a window of opportunity somewhere between one and 50 years, and if we don’t make drastic changes to pollution levels or our lifestyles within that time, we may see things spiral out of control so drastically that human life becomes almost impossible.”
But, if followers of Jesus were to step in and work to stop the destruction of God’s planet, he says, then transformation like the kind at Minet Park could take place on a much grander scale.
“My prayer is for Christians in a position of influence and responsibility here and elsewhere to understand the biblical view of caring for God’s planet and to put that into practice. If all Christians around the world caught the vision [for creation care] it would make an enormous difference.”
Listening to the melodies of various birdsongs coupled with the chatter of children and families in Minet Country Park, one can certainly understand how creation care makes a difference, both in the world and for the people living in it.
As Bookless says: “The message of redemption and hope that this site has given to the local community has been incalculable.”
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