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Christian Eco-Warriors​​​​​​​

BY MOK SHI-LYNN



The Creation Care committee of Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia is one of the few Christian environmental care groups in the country. Consisting of four capable, passionate individuals, the group shares knowledgeable insight on matters such as the biblical mandate for creation care, what it means to bless creation, how to balance the needs of people and nature, and why Christians are lagging behind in caring for the environment.



As part of Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia’s (GPM) 10-year plan called “Church Without Walls”, Environment and Creation Care is one of six committees that were set up to impact different sectors of society. When it was first established in August 2011, Elder Ng Kee Huat of City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC) was chosen to champion the sector. He then invited Julie Chan of Logos Presbyterian Church as well as Alicia Teoh and Ken Yeong (both from CDPC) onboard the team.



An electrical engineer by profession, Ng is also registered as an Energy Manager at the Energy Commission. His company, 3E Energy, seeks to help clients achieve energy efficiency in their daily operations. Chan is a graduate in chemical engineering who then went on to obtain a diploma in divinity and mission, and finally earned a Master’s in Environmental Management. Teoh is the church administrator at CDPC and is responsible for the greening of her church. She is also the founder of the Facebook page ‘kakiHijau’ which advocates sustainable living among urban dwellers. Yeong recently completed his Master’s of Environment and is focused on the conservation and restoration of creation.



The team has been conducting workshops and talks at member churches of GPM as well as organising nature outings.



BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW


It soon becomes apparent that these four individuals are extremely dedicated to the cause. They have the ideal blend of technical knowledge, theological understanding, spirit of volunteerism, and most importantly, a great love for God’s creation.





For Chan, her creation care journey started more than 10 years ago, when she was studying at a Bible college. “One of my assignments was on deforestation and the church. I used to think that creation will be renewed anyway when Christ returns, so why should I care? As I was researching for my assignment, I saw the link between Christianity and caring for the environment. I began to realise that within the biblical framework lies the correct worldview to solving the ecological crisis. And when I was working on my Master’s degree, I visited a landfill. That visit alone caused me to change my lifestyle and make a commitment to simple living for the sake of the environment,” she says.



Similarly, Yeong struggled with conflicting ideas of environmentalism before discovering that the Bible actually held the answers as to why we need to care for our natural surroundings. “I used to hold the traditional perception of conservation: that in order to protect nature, you have to lock it up and throw away the key. I tried to do my part by going into ecotourism, but I really struggled with the seemingly irreconcilable position that if you bring people into the jungle or places of nature, those places will ultimately be spoiled or damaged. I was a Buddhist at the time so I had no means or worldview to reconcile those opposing views,” he admits.



The team agrees that having the right worldview is crucial to developing effective, sustainable environmentalism. “When Jesus came, died and rose again, He ushered in an era of redemption, restoration and transformation,” Yeong explains. “This applies not only to humans, but for the entire created order. I am not apart from God’s creation, I am actually a part of it. So I really cannot separate the church from environmentalism – they have to go together. And there isn’t a worldview out there that can deal with environmental issues except for the one in the Bible.”



Teoh adds, “Some people may say ‘what’s in it for me? Why should I live a sacrificial life when others live without consequences?’ But as Christians, we have a powerful motivation to care for creation because we have the mandate from God.”




CHRISTIAN NEGLECT





Despite a biblical basis to care for creation, environmental conservation is low on the list of priorities for most Christians. The reason for this, according to Ng, is the teaching or lack thereof in the Church. “Preaching is important in guiding behaviour and action. If creation care is consistently taught in church, then I think Christians will live it out.”



“Christians will say that we need to give priority to the Great Commission. But when we ask people if they spend much time and effort obeying the Great Commission, few actually do. In fact, most hardly bother. As an example, let’s take evangelism and parenting. You can’t say that evangelism takes priority over parenting, therefore you neglect your duties as a parent. So if we can include parenting as part of our lifestyle, can’t we include creation care?”



“Creation care is in fact the first commission that God gave mankind: be fruitful, multiply and take care of the earth. If it’s God’s commission, then we are expected to obey. In his book, The Mission of God, Christopher Wright says that we need to carry the whole gospel by the whole church to the whole world. And the whole gospel includes creation care.”



Teoh believes that misguided ideas from decades ago contributed to the Church’s lack of involvement in environmental care. “In the ’70s, during the flower power era, environmentalism was taken on by non-Christians, such as the tree huggers. Because of that, Christians had a kneejerk reaction and went in the opposite direction. Also, at one time, there was a fad among the independent churches about rapture. The thinking went: I’ll be raptured, so I don’t need to worry about the environment and should just concentrate on bringing more people with me.”





The church has been so unconcerned about the environment that, according to Yeong, Christians are being blamed for current environmental issues. “In academia around the world, the blame is being laid right at the Church’s doorstep. This is because of the misunderstanding of some Genesis texts that we think gives us dominion over the world. The Church is guilty of adopting the worldview that the soul is separate from the body and that when we go to heaven, we’ll just leave earth. We even have songs that say ‘I’m just passing through’. This is actually Greek philosophy, not a biblical worldview,” he says.




DEVELOPMENT VS ENVIRONMENT


With so much at stake, how do we ensure that human needs are met without neglecting the environment? While Teoh believes that sustainable development is possible, she admits that oftentimes, people only take action when circumstances force them to.



Chan says bluntly, “No matter how difficult it is to strike a balance, we have to strike it somehow. We only have one earth. On a global level, nations are trying but with little success. They couldn’t reach a consensus at all the climate summits. Everybody was looking at one another for solutions, but no country wants to make the sacrifice or be left behind in development.”





On the other hand, Yeong thinks that it is a false dilemma to pit development against the environment. “We do need development. And the Bible doesn’t say that you should not develop. But we need to look at what kind of development is taking place. You can help develop the Orang Asli in an ecologically sensitive and sustainable manner. But if you look at what’s happening in certain parts of Malaysia, it’s not about development. It’s about politics and power.”



WHERE DO WE BEGIN?


Chan says that churches can begin by preaching about creation care. Teoh adds, “First and foremost, the pastor has to be theologically convinced. Only then will he be able to persuade his congregation.”



Teoh recommends that if a church wants to go green, it must have someone to champion the cause. “You need someone who’s passionate, willing to put their hands to the plough and go the extra mile. Without a church champion, it’s virtually impossible for a church to tackle creation care,” she says.





It is Teoh’s hope that, if the church leads the way, the congregation will bring the message home , families and friends will catch on and the idea will spread. “If the Church came together and started a revolution, can you imagine the impact? Imagine if all Christians refused to use Styrofoam. I’m sure store owners will have to change their packaging. I believe we have the buying power."



For individuals, Chan suggests leading a lifestyle of simplicity. “We often make our consumption and shopping choices based on ‘it’s cheap, must buy!’ The externalised cost is not accounted for. I used to think ‘why should I buy recycled paper when I can get fresh paper for cheaper?’ Once I saw the impact of cutting down trees to make fresh paper, I made a conscious choice to buy recycled even though it’s more expensive.”



Summing it up, Teoh says, “We’re in this consumerism rut where we want to just buy and buy, own and own, bigger and better things. I think we all have to pull back and stop chasing after more things.”



“Start small,” Teoh advises. “Be stewards of your purchases, the food you eat, the waste you generate. The creation care journey is a gradual process and a lifestyle change.”




For more information on the activities of GPM Creation Care, go to www.facebook.com/ gpmcreationcare




Christian Eco-Warriors - Asian Beacon: Aug-Sep 2013 (Vol 45, No 4, p12-4)