I was out for dinner recently with a bunch of friends, eating at a local Indian restaurant. One of them asked me about the studies that I'm currently doing and I tried to explain that it was looking at stuff in the Bible that is about the environment. 'That's really interesting', she said, 'I didn't know the Bible said anything about the environment'.
As I spluttered into my curry I reflected on what an amazing statement that was, particularly because this one person had been very involved in a church for about fifteen years of her life. However, she left the Christian scene a few years back and has hence missed out on a remarkable turn-around that has taken place in the UK Church: that of seeing the concept of caring for God's world move from being a weird and somewhat mistrusted agenda to one that is a key part of what it means to follow Jesus in our world today.
Many years ago I was Head of Social Responsibility at the Evangelical Alliance. The battle then was for an 'holistic mission' which included both evangelism and social care. Now, however, we are increasingly recognising that for mission to be truly holistic we must be caring for the non-human as well as the human. After all, if God's plans for salvation include the whole of his creation (Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:19-20; Mark 16:15) then surely our's must do as well! For those of us who are involved in world mission and Christian work around the world, in whatever form that takes, this understanding should weave a clear web through all that we do.
Steven Bouma-Prediger, in for the beauty of the earth, talks about becoming 'ecologically literate' and questions how well we know the place that we live in. Growing up in missions circles as I did, I knew all about the issues involved in cross-cultural mission: the need to understand the culture, to know the language and so on. However, becoming ecologically literate is about learning to ask another set of questions of the place that we are serving in or going to, alongside the ones we have been trained in so well:
- How does the area/community/society relate to the natural systems that are there?
(how does the ecosystem work? What is used by the community? What are the main species? What are the food chains? etc)
- What is the state of health of the area? What are its 'vital signs'?
(population growth, energy use, waste disposal, pollution, soil loss, species extinction, deforestation, desertification etc)
- What historical, political, economic and religious forces have molded your area?
- What understanding and perception of nature is there?
(animistic, consumerist etc)
- How might the community and natural systems relate sustainably?
Asking these sorts of questions helps us ensure that caring for God's creation is an integral part of our lives and our work.
What are some of the practical implications for us?
In general, when we look at how we can live in ways that respect God's world, there are four particular areas in which we can make a difference, and this is no less true for those of us doing mission work. These four areas are:
1. The food we eat. Where does our food come from? Do we buy locally or do we ship cornflakes thousands of miles so we can still enjoy our usual breakfast?! Where does our meat come from and can we reduce the amount we eat? Who and what are we supporting through our food choices?
2. The way we travel. How often do we fly? Is a four-wheel drive a necessity? Can we conference-call instead of travel? Can we go over-land instead of flying? Do we offset our travel (see www.climatestewards.net)?
3. The energy we use. What heats/cools are house and water? Have we looked into whether there are renewable energy options we/our mission agency could invest into? How big is our fridge/freezer?
4. The things we throw away. What happens to our rubbish? Is there anything that can be recycled? Are there opportunities to work with the local authorities to help them develop facilities? How can we cut down on the amount of stuff we have that gets thrown away?
Wherever we live in the world and whatever we are involved in doing let us be aware of how we can reflect God's love for his whole creation in the way that we live our lives.
 To look at the Biblical material on this in more depth see D. Bookless, Planetwise (IVP:2008) and R. Valerio, Life Issues Bible Study: Environment (CWR: 2008).
 S. Bouma-Prediger, for the beauty of the earth: a Christian vision for creation care (Baker Academic: 2001), 20-23.
To look at these, and lots more, issues more fully see R. Valerio, L is for Lifestyle: Christian living that doesn't cost the earth (IVP:2008).