My life has shifted quite a bit since graduating high school almost one year ago, when I decided to spend some time abroad to work in the advocacy sphere with Brethren Volunteer Service and—among other things—to put my intrinsic concern about the well-being of the environment into practice.
The environment I live in has always been a powerful place and safe haven for me, with a certain inner connection between me and the peaceful yet powerful aura of nature. In my hometown in Germany, which would be considered a rather small city by American standards, I liked to go for runs and walks in our local natural sanctuary when I was in a weird spot or felt like I needed something cleared out of my head. That natural environment thus has offered me a space to bolster my well-being on a physical as well as mental level.
Caring about the well-being of our earth, then, is just the least form of acknowledging what provides us with shelter, food, joy, and essentially life. I am convinced that given our inescapable relationship with nature by birth, everyone should be aware and careful of how they treat and interact with their natural surroundings. There is a God-given reciprocity between us and our planet. We, as sojourners with God’s creation, bear a responsibility to cherish our relationship with the earth and protect what is currently at stake.
Therefore, I deeply appreciate the work the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and its staff are doing, and the opportunity that this volunteer service has offered me to explore and push my interest in caring for our planet to the forefront. The Church of the Brethren reiterated its concern about global warming in its 2018 Statement on Creation Care, which reaffirmed the work of the Brethren Creation Care Network—a group I am also part of as it undergirds the necessity for people of faith to care for the environment.
One of the key notions of the statement says, “Human-caused climate change is contributing to violent conflict all over the world.” This alludes to how climate change, war, and thus our work as peacemakers are undoubtedly connected. The statement, citing a US Department of Defense document, also acknowledged how the effects of climate change have been described as “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” And according to UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, an annual average of 21.5 million people were forcibly displaced each year by weather-related events such as floods, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures.
Because the denomination has been fundamentally opposed to violence of any kind and has echoed Jesus’ call for love of neighbor, mitigating the effect climate change has on our planet is substantially intertwined with those calls for peace and compassion. But how do we effectively address this issue and equip our communities to take action against the destruction of God’s earth?
Well, that’s for me to find out as I continue my work. But I am happy to have the chance.
Cornelius Raff is a Brethren Volunteer Service worker (Unit 333) from Mainz, Germany, serving with the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy in Washington, D.C.