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A Virginia Church Loves People in the Horn of Africa Without Leaving Virginia

We’re taught that God loves the world and we are called to love the world. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors in the Great Commandment (Mt 22:37) Our neighbors, he revealed in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, are any humans in need within our ability to help (Lk 10). Love is, evidently, more than a feeling. It is doing something to help those who are suffering.

But is it realistic to think we can love all 7.8 billion people in the world? Isn’t loving our neighbor simply supporting local homeless ministries in our communities? Not in today’s global economy and environment. One church in Virginia recognizes this and is doing something about it.

There is an ecological crisis devastating the Horn of Africa this year, the worst drought in 40 years. The rainy season over the past three years has failed to materialize. Finn Church Aid, the largest international aid agency in Finland, reports that some of the main water sources—rivers, lakes, and wells—can no longer support its people. People are walking more than 4 miles to collect water to drink, cook, wash and care for their livestock. In one county (not country, this is not a misspelling) alone in Kenya, more than 1 million head of livestock have already died. An estimated 16 million people are in urgent need of food and water assistance in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

I recently spoke with Sam Harrell, Associate Coordinator of Global Missions for CBF, at a conference in Raleigh, who warned of an imminent global refuge crisis emerging from such events. Most emigration is driven by these kinds of ecological crises. And ecological crises are driven by climate change. People in many countries are emigrating not for better jobs and pay, but for the mere chance to avoid malnutrition and dehydration. They have an innate instinct to live and have a chance to pass along their love and culture to their families.

What does this have to do with a church in Virginia? The Rock Spring Congregation United Church of Christ in the northern part of Virginia is this year’s winner in the energy saving category of Interfaith Power and Light’s Cool Congregation’s Challenge. The Oakland-based organization’s mission is to encourage congregations to take bold action on climate change. The Rock Spring Church was one of 77 entries for an award this year. They won their award because of their immediate and long-term commitment to be a. net-zero church campus. In fact, they hope to sell electricity back to the grid in the near future.

They created a mortgage through their endowment to upgrade their 33,000 square foot facilities. They purchased and installed 118 solar panels on their educational building, weatherized the windows in the historical sanctuary, and converted their lights to LED. Laura Martin, associate pastor for the congregation since 2015, says she hopes Rock Creek’s bold moves will inspire congregations across the country.

Although Martin said nothing about the particular drought in the Horn of Africa, climatologists will tell you that the wealthiest countries are causing harm to the poorest countries in the world. Our actions and behaviors in the wealthy West are impacting climate events in the 3rd world. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught when he said, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Lk 12:48). This Virginia church is providing an example to live out this teaching of Christ.

I hope that all congregations can begin to think about the impact of their energy usage as a means to love God’s creation. The decisions we make about our sanctuaries affect our neighbors who are living on the precipice of famine. Perhaps our facilities committees will recognize they have as much to do with the church’s mission to the poor as the benevolence committees.

(I want to acknowledge fuller stories about the Virigina church and the drought in the Horn of Africa are found in the May 18, 2022 edition of Christian Century magazine.)

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