Free Methodists have long known the importance of taking action when it comes time to care for the poor. We have historically thrived in embracing pragmatic steps to aid the poor and oppressed.
The Holy Spirit is on the move within the Free Methodist Church as new kingdom opportunities present themselves. One opportunity the Spirit is bringing to our attention in these challenging times relates to creation care. Yes, environmental messaging is often negative and guilt-prone. Yes, the subject of climate change has contributed to the political divide plaguing our nation. However, negativity doesn’t have to define our responses as Christ-followers. After all, we are “born again” — not “born against.” So, if you’re ready for a simple way to proactively practice caring for the poor and creation in one simple package, then I’ve got good “born again” news for you. The action steps listed below offer real-world dividends in a manner consistent with our biblically oriented value systems.
First, buy your first Christmas tree overseas. Before you buy a Christmas tree for your home this year, you can make a difference by planting 100 trees to combat deforestation. With a $10 gift to Eden Projects, you will not only plant 100 trees; you will also provide employment for the person who will plant them on your behalf. Then, when you set up and decorate a beautiful evergreen tree in your home this Christmas, it will be a reminder of the positive impact your family has made and one more reason to be filled with joy.
Second, educate yourself on the subject of creation care. With the help of godly leaders like Nancy and Matthew Sleeth, we are coming to a better understanding of what Scripture has to say about creation care. Books like, “Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action” and “24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life” will provide you with biblical information to help you discern the Spirit’s leading. Another great read is “Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace” by Howard A. Snyder with Joel Scandrett.
Third, get behind a positive and proven Free Methodist partner organization. The Eden Projects is a nonprofit organization currently operating in Madagascar, Haiti and Nepal. Eden’s strategic objective is to “alleviate extreme poverty through environmental stewardship.” In more simple terms, Eden hires impoverished and often oppressed villagers to plant trees — millions and millions of trees every year.
Eden first began planting trees in Ethiopia with the FMC in March 2005. From our initial base in Ethiopia, Eden expanded to Madagascar in 2007, Haiti in 2010 and most recently to Nepal in 2015. As of this month, Eden will have planted more than 138 million trees within our four project nations. The capacity to restore entire forests has been achieved through the employment of approximately 3,500 full- and part-time village employees. These employees add (on average) 2.2 million trees every month to the total tree count. Eden’s level of efficiency empowers the capacity to grow seedlings in our own nurseries, plant the young trees at carefully determined sites and ultimately guard the young trees to maturity; all for as little as 10 cents per tree. Eden’s before-and-after photos are amazing proof of God’s restorative power as we cooperate with his handiwork.
Fourth, understand how poverty and environmental destruction are connected. You are probably aware of the devastation Hurricane Matthew recently caused in Haiti. With a deforestation rate of over 98 percent, it is not uncommon for the people of Haiti to experience severe flooding that results in the loss of property and life.
The good news is Eden has already planted more than 250,000 trees in Haiti. We are off to a good start thanks to all who have joined with Eden and International Child Care Ministries serving together in Haiti to provide both forest coverage and food security. In 2017, Eden plans to increase production. Will you consider adding to the total number of trees? If you will, we will gradually see deforestation-related flooding, erosion and food security problems turn around.
There’s clear and simple logic behind the connection between environmental destruction and poverty, along with counter logic demonstrating how creation care and the alleviation of extreme poverty can resolve creation-neglect consequences.
The logic looks like this:
• When humans damage and destroy the environment, local farms and fisheries suffer from soil erosion and flooding. Shortly thereafter, the farms and fisheries become unproductive.
• When subsistence farmers and fishers see their crops and catch fall below the survival level, they become desperate and move to big cities to look for jobs.
• Big cities are often the sites where the problems of poverty and creation abuse become compounded. It’s hard to imagine, but many impoverished nations’ megacities suffer from incredibly high unemployment and underemployment rates. In other words, there are often no adequate jobs available.
• It’s in the megacities where desperate families become victims of slave labor and human trafficking. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news:
• The people of God can give a hand up — not just a hand out — by providing the dignity of employment through Eden’s Employ to Plant methodology, a proven way to positively impact the poor and the environment.
• Our Creator God entrusted creation to our care. In the event we failed to respond as godly stewards, our Creator designed natural systems to be incredibly resilient.
• When we combine caring for the poor with reforestation efforts, the net result is a multiplication effect that benefits both people and planet.
In conclusion, as we serve in unity through the power of God, we can demonstrate that a number of the world’s biggest problems can be solved to the glory of God.
Steve Fitch, D.Min., is the president and founder of the Eden Projects. He is a Free Methodist elder and the former superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California.