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Missions with a green message

Christians spread the gospel while encouraging environmentally friendly practices

POSTED: March 19, 2011 1:00 a.m.
/For The Times

The Rev. Albert Daviou baptizes a baby in the village of Tanai, Tanzania, during his mission trip in February. Daviou, pastor at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Dahlonega, traveled to the African nation with engineers Tom Roberts and Tim Tieslau to help villagers plan to fix a broken well.

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Throughout history, the way missionaries spread Christianity has changed as the world and cultural dynamics have advanced.

Today, the green movement has taken its grip on Western culture and also missionaries. Environmental missionaries who are blending the green movement and their spiritual work are a growing group.

These missionaries make trips to Tanzania, India, Russia and any number of locations worldwide to preach the gospel while introducing a new green technology. Such technology includes digging wells and harvesting clean water for villages, building clean-burning stoves and planting trees to rehabilitate forests that have been ravaged.

In any form, the environmental movement will be another way that missionaries will be leading the "lost" to the Christian church.

The Rev. Albert Daviou, pastor at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Dahlonega, recently traveled to Tanai, Tanzania, with two local engineers, Tom Roberts from St. Elizabeth's and Tim Tieslau from St. Gabriel's Episcopal in Oakwood. Their mission was to rehabilitate a broken well in the village.

Their first trip was more of a planning mission. The next one, scheduled later this year, will involve installation of the well.

"Tinai had a functioning well, which hadn't functioned ... completely since June," Daviou said. "So the closest well ... was 9 kilometers, and that's a trip that the women would make."

The new well Daviou's group plan to dig will cost about $50,000. It will have a storage tank and four pipes that will run to the village and to the cattle, among other locations.

"The villagers would also be responsible for monitoring the usage," said Daviou, who added that the initial pipe to the well must be buried 1 meter below ground. "The river beds are dry and it's going to be a deadly year. There is an urgency to it; everyone is affected by HIV/Aids and malaria, both of those were present in this remote visit.

"The pipe alone would be $3,000."

Daviou learned about the mission through the long arms of the Episcopal church. He said that the experience in Tanzania, and the response by the villagers, is hard to describe and digest, both emotionally and analytically.

"The experience of being there is overwhelming, the poverty. When you see pictures you see beautiful people and color ... the culture is essentially untouched by Western civilization," he said. "It's an experience that is almost difficult to understand. Our brains can't comprehend and it's even difficult to remember."

The event that stuck in Daviou's mind after the trip was the outdoor church service that lasted from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and brought hundreds of villagers to hear the gospel.

"If you value human life, here is plenty of suffering and dying and when you are there you cannot imagine the need that by our standards is almost bottomless," Daviou said. "Today (Wednesday) is the first day that I've been able to function normally emotionally, I don't really know what that's about ... maybe it's about the enormity of the experience."

This small group of local Christian men aren't the only missionaries working through environmentalism according to Alexei Laushkin, the director of communications for Creation Care, the Evangelical Environmental Network, based in Washington. Creation Care is a ministry that seeks to educate, equip, inspire and mobilize Christians in their effort to care for God's creation, to be faithful stewards of God's provision, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the environment, the organization's website said.

Laushkin says the environmental movement has slowly come to the forefront of many missionaries' lives and will certainly continue with the increasing amount of press and acceptance by evangelicals.

"Whether Catholic, Protestant, etc., they are very focused on spreading the message of the gospel," he said. "And so like the Southern Baptist Convention, really any large church, even nondenominational types, will send people to be missionaries and live full time in other countries and to spread the gospel through that culture."

Adding the environmental element to the missionaries work isn't too far of a stretch.

"We are big advocates of people being self-sufficient, so we don't fault people who are in industries that are environmental damaging, especially (for) people that this is how they make their life," Laushkin said. "It's their God-given duty to work in those industries; there is nothing sinful or bad about that. What we are thinking is how we provide economies a skill in the local economy that is environmentally friendly. There are some interesting projects happening overseas."

Laushkin has worked with missionaries throughout the country. He said one of the upcoming organizations for environmental missionaries is Lowell Bliss, the director of Eden Vigil based in Manhattan, Kan.

Lowell and his wife, Robynn, were missionaries in India and Pakistan for 14 years. They watched friends die from polluted rivers which is what spawned his interest in the environmental ministry.

"We came back in 2007 to the states and began to explore climate change issues. I even wrote up a report called ‘A Church Planting Missionary Looks at Global Climate Change' and I'm convinced that environmental issues and even climate change, in particular, represents one of the best ways to bring the gospel," Bliss said. "We believe that an environmental missionary is one who works cross-culturally for Christ, the creator, sustainer and redeemer of all creation in caring for the environment and making disciples of all nations."

Bliss hopes in the near future he will be helping place environmental missionaries all over the world through his connections with mission organizations.

"We are missionary members with a group called Christar," Bliss said. "We quickly discovered that mission agencies that already exist are already well-positioned to receive this type of missionary and to supervise this type of missionary. So Eden Vigil is trying to mobilize an environmental missionary and then place them to whatever agency the Lord might call them."

Bliss and Laushkin are excited about the recent The Lausanne Movement, a group created by the Rev. Billy Graham. It held the International Congress on World Evangelization last October in Cape Town, South Africa.

The international committee gathered mission and church leaders from every part of the globe to address challenges and opportunities before the church with respect to world evangelization, according to the website.

"The Cape Town Commitment has a whole section on creation care and climate change, which is latching onto the issues and the American church is really grabbing onto it," Bliss said.

The North American follow-up meeting to the Lausanne III goals is set for April 4-6 in Orlando, Fla.



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