This Groaning Eden

Lydia C. Robledo 02 Jul 2010

A Response to Scott Sabin’s ‘Whole Earth Evangelism

Etienne is not a Filipino name, but the settings and scenarios of Etienne’s life shared by Scott Sabin are realities in many places in the Philippines. The Philippines is a tropical country of 7,107 islands. It is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of biodiversity, but its people discovered their country’s richness at the same time they launched its destruction, the latter happening at a very fast pace. Now only 6 percent forest cover is left. Like Etienne and his family, most Filipinos are unaware of the root cause of the mudslides, heavy flooding, drought, and sickness that plague their desperate lives. Most think that they are poor because they do not have money to spend.

The Philippines has a population of about 90 million. For a country that prides itself as “the only Christian country in Asia” (85 percent Catholic), it also holds the title as the fourth most corrupt among 16 countries surveyed in Asia. An estimated 30 percent live below the poverty line. The present condition of the country’s natural resources mirrors the quality of life of many Filipinos. The very people who bear the name of the Creator, who cry out to God daily about their suffering, have overlooked the abundant God-given resources that far exceed their basic needs. The Philippines is blessed with beautiful mountains, rivers, and abundant marine life, but neglect and abuse of these “life support systems” have made many Filipinos poor. They opted for logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, encroachment, urbanization, poaching, indiscriminate clearing, use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, improper waste disposal, mining—anything that can help generate money at all costs. And they do not stop. It seems that no amount of campaigning for nature can change the hardened hearts of these people, nor can repeated calamity.

I remember when a ship carrying tons of deadly Endosulfan chemical, intended for the vast pineapple plantations in Mindanao, sank near an island south of the Philippines. For months, the people of the island refused to eat fish for fear of poisoning. Ironically, in the pineapple plantations, the farmers and their families inhale the chemical the whole year round and no one is bothered at all. Killing them slowly is okay.

What about the Gospel? The loving Creator and Redeemer still asks, “Where are you?” in this groaning Eden. No one wants to tend the garden.

There are more than 25,000 evangelical churches listed with the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. In my numerous butterfly-watching trips, I have visited some of these churches, even in the remotest villages of the Philippines. Environmental stewardship is slowly gaining ground as an aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), which devastated Metro Manila last year. Climate change became a byword in every household as the culprit that caused the tragedy. I asked three pastors on different occasions why environmental stewardship is not preached, and all three asked for materials on creation care. What happened to Genesis?

The church can be the catalyst. There is still no evangelical voice loud enough to lobby for creation care in the Philippines. There is a great need to educate, to push the Bible-believing Christians out of their homes and away from televisions and computers, to see the garden! Jesus’ command was, “Look at the birds of the air. …” Paraphrased, he said, “Go bird watching!’ Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel show beautiful documentaries of the natural world, but they can never replicate the awe that comes with actual discovery. To watch the beautiful colour palette of butterflies and birds as well as to observe their behaviour and their relationship with plants and other forms of wildlife cannot be done in classrooms. Up-close and personal have lasting impact. Seeing leads to appreciation, and appreciation results in caring for creation. For the Christian, it is an open opportunity to thank and praise the Creator, the One who shares his delight, the One who owns all.

For the Philippines, the church has a big role in the monumental task of restoration. Let the pastor and members of the church go to the field with the knowledge of the Scripture on creation care. The Creator who delighted in his creation is also the Saviour. Discover his majesty and wisdom, his love and provisions, his plan of redemption.

Lydia C. Robledo is founder and chair of the Philippine Butterfly Habitat Conservation Society. She also founded Christians in Conservation and is writing a book on butterfly watching in the Philippines.

This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)