Semester 1 at Eastern saw 57 Master of Transformational Development (MTD) students immersed in studying the implications of climate change for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. It is one thing to be deeply confronted by the disturbing scientific realities of climate change through our reading, but many of Eastern’s MTD students are directly involved with communities already suffering as a result of climate change.
Several of our students live and work in Kenya and Zimbabwe and, as is true in many parts of sub-Sahara Africa, the farmers in their churches have endured months and months of no or little rain. Crops wither in the fields, and with them family incomes also dry up and food security is threatened. The increasing unreliability of rains, one of the symptoms of climate change, is impacting on our MTD students’ communities in Egypt, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
Imagine the impact of soaring temperatures on the inhabitants of large urban slum communities where our MTD students are working: Delhi, Jakarta, Nairobi, Dhaka, and Lahore. One inevitable consequence of climate change in those communities will be the dramatic increase in outbreaks of the diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, malaria, dengue, and encephalitis.
How do we engage meaningfully with a threat as deeply disturbing as climate change? What does Christian hope look like when confronted by a global ecological crisis that threatens human existence as we know it?
In a public lecture at Eastern on May 2, in which he examined many of the challenges confronting the global community at this time, Evert-Jan Ouweneel, a Dutch philosopher and World Vision senior advisor, offered seven ways to resist the pressure to cave-in to despair and grief, and be energised by hope:
- Stay calm. “God is in control – He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
- Stay compassionate. Our first priority should be the “well-being of those who are hit first or hit the most.”
- Stay hopeful. Evert-Jan reminded us of Martin Luther’s assertion: “If the world ends tomorrow I will still plant an apple seed today.”
- Stay visionary. Always remember the Bible’s global vision and God’s promise of a glorious future for the entire creation.
- Stay stubborn. “Let’s stick to hope in the midst of pessimism and cynicism.”
- Stay human. “In this time of re-tribalism, with people withdrawing into their own bastions of likeminded people, Christians can be the bridge-builders of society.”
- Stay joyful. “If we can’t count our blessings as children who say ‘Abba Father’ to God, who can.”
Someone who epitomises what this looks like to me is Sharon Edison. Sharon is in her final semester of MTD studies, and four years ago set up a small development organisation called Sahayak (meaning helper) to respond to the needs of highly vulnerable women and children living in a slum on the southern edge of the sprawling Indian capital Delhi. The challenges confronting this community are huge. Just last Tuesday (July 11) I received a WhatsApp message from Sharon telling me of a cholera outbreak that had taken the life of a 5-year-old girl called Reema, and another four of Sharon’s young charges had been hospitalised. Despite such terrible setbacks Sharon and her team remain determinedly positive and committed to making a sustainable difference. In her July newsletter she writes:
“Creation Care is all about stewardship. It all belongs to God… The first command God gave to man was to take care of the Earth, which includes managing and protecting the environment. We believe that what we can do, we must do! We have been discovering nature’s solution to climate change related health issues for the benefit of our kids at Sahayak. Wherever we found land we planted Aloe Vera and it’s a joy to see Aloe Vera plants that we planted some time back growing. This plant has antiviral and anti-bacterial properties as well as being a healing herb for skin, rich in vitamin A, B, C & E. Aloe Vera is a commercial miracle plant in one of a medicinal group of plants…. Our aim is to sustain this initiative for the benefit of our kids and their families in the community. At present, we are farming about 90 plants since we last counted. We have been approached by neighbours, shopkeepers and gardeners for sale of these plants. We have incorporated Aloe Vera gel in recycled bottles and given to all our kids at the centre to heal their heat boils and bug bites.
We also are planning to add the gel of aloe in fruit juices as it’s good for health. May we find it in our hearts to care for one another and our earthly home and leave it greener and cleaner for our children and their children.”
Compassionate, visionary, hopeful, joyful – all who have studied with Sharon in the MTD know that she is all these things! Please pray for her and her 50+ colleagues in the MTD, that God will sustain them with hope and joy as they walk alongside the poor in their communities, and work with them for a better future.
Lecturer in Transformational Development