• Stewardship - The Power to Protect or Destroy

    Posted by Gershon

    25 July, 2011

    Njeri* lives in the Highlands of Mount Kenya. She has spent several long days and nights floating in and out of delirium as she lies powerless and feeble on her hospital bed. She has lost the ability to feed and care for herself; instead she has been forced to rely on her daughter, Esther, and the hospital staff to tend to her needs. Njeri has contracted cerebral Malaria, a condition that until recently had never been seen in the Kenyan Highlands.

    The mosquitoes responsible for Malaria were kept at bay by the colder highland climate, but in recent times the temperature has been warming and the mosquitoes have begun to spread into hundreds of communities that once believed they were safe. Njeri has become another victim of their upward climb, and is now at risk of joining the million Africans that lose their lives to the disease every year.

    It's hard to know how to best respond to Njeri's story. I think I, like many, feel compelled to help and biblically I know there's an imperative to act. When the bible writer James asks, 'what good is our faith if it does not lead us to respond to those that are in need (James 2:15-16)?' it's hard to imagine how he could have been more clear. Knowing what the best response is in Njeri's situation however, is not so simple.

    Instinctively I think of how I can best tend to Njeri's most pressing needs by taking immediate action. The first step would be to restore Njeri's health by funding her hospital care and medicine. Then, I could seek to protect her and her community from future instances of the disease by working with others to provide anti-malarial bed nets and lobbying for spending to improve her health care facilities. From experience I know that each of these responses would be hugely beneficial. However, there is another dimension to Njeri's story that also needs to be addressed. According to environmental scientists, Njeri's suffering is in fact a symptom of a broader environmental issue - climate change.

    It was the rising temperatures that allowed the disease carrying mosquitoes to spread into the highlands where Njeri lives, and climate scientists informs us that if we do not effectively addresses climate change not only will diseases like malaria continue to spread but other environmental disasters will begin to affect millions of people across the world. Floods, storms and hurricanes like those experienced in Queensland will become more frequent and more intense, rising sea levels will push whole communities from their homes, hundreds of thousands of species will be pushed to extinction and increasingly, harvests will fail leaving millions to starve.

    Compassionate conscience demands that we help Njeri and those undergoing similar trials. However in order to do this, we must take a step back and consider the cause of their problems. Failing to do so may ultimately render our efforts to reduce suffering little more effective than trying to reattach a severed arm with a band aid.

    In my work I encounter many Christians that doubt that humanity has the power to substantively impact the Earth's environment and cause the climate to change. The narrative that I see in the bible however, seems quite different. We read in Genesis that God created the universe, not with a single word or the snap of his finger, but through purposeful and careful labour. He filled his creation with beauty and abundance and even paused at each stage of its development to declare its goodness. Then having created and filled the earth, he appointed humankind as rulers over creation; granting us dominion over all that He had crafted. In this act, God made us the stewards of His cherished earth, handing us the power to be its protectors and (as is all too often the case), its destroyers.

    If we accept that God has granted us the power to shape creation, we begin to recognise that even the climate isn't outside our sphere of influence. And more disturbingly, we begin to realise that the debilitating malaria that Njeri is experiencing is a symptom of a problem we created. A problem that we are now exacerbating through the negligent use of the power we have been granted. Njeri's suffering is a failure of our stewardship.

    Worst still is the injustice of our failure. Though the global poor have contributed least to the problem of climate change, it is they who will be most affected. 80% of the costs and 99% of the deaths will be theirs to bare.

    As Christians in Australia then, how should we respond? Firstly, we should generously support those like Njeri who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. You can do this by donating to the work of Micah Challenge endorsing agencies. Secondly, we should be mindful of the ways in which we contribute to climate change, and begin seeking ways to reduce our personal carbon footprint, such as eating less meat or switching to renewable energy (the Micah Challenge MDG7 resource page suggests action ideas to help you do this). Finally, we should support and encourage strong climate action from our government, calling on them to become global leaders in ensuring the world's temperatures do not rise by any more than 2 degrees. This can be done by writing letters, visiting your local MP and joining Micah Challenge's new 'Share the Earth' campaign.

    God has granted us tremendous power over His creation. Martin Luther King Junior's words remind us that, "power without love is reckless and abusive while power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice". Let us be good and faithful stewards who exercise power by reflecting God's love to all those in need and indeed, to all of creation.

    Gershon Nibalker is the Advocacy Coordinator for Baptist World Aid Australia and a member of the Micah Challenge Campaign Strategy Group.

    *Njeri's story was adapted from IRIN News, The Human Cost of Climate Change. Some names were changed.