Already a light in its corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo Initiative is positioned to set an example of ethical stewardship through caring for the created world. DRC boasts rich and biologically diverse forests, extensive waterways, and vast mineral deposits. However, greed for these natural resources has fueled conflict, and endemic poverty perpetuates practices that degrade ecosystems. Conservation policies that protect people and natural resources are absent or ineffective. In cities such asBeni, where UCBC is located, garbage litters the streets and smoke from trash fires clogs the air. Drivers wash their cars and motorcycles in streams and leak gasoline into the water. Trees fall to charcoal production. Contamination degrades the ecology and puts individual and community health at risk.
It is in this context that CI organized Creation Care: Campus Conversations, which was held on the UCBCcampus in May 2014. Before going out into the community, CI needed to articulate its own vision about environmental stewardship. Raising awareness about the biblical mandate to care for the created world and facilitating discussion about CI’s responsibilities were the focus of Campus Conversations. To facilitate the week, CI invited four creation care practitioners and experts from DRC and from the US to come as featured speakers to UCBC:
- Rachel Lamb (Young Evangelicals for Climate Action)
- Elikia Amani Zahinda (Congolese Foresters Network)
- Joel Vwira Tembo (Goma Business Services and Friends of Creation Initiative)
- Ben Lowe (Evangelical Environmental Network)
Overview of the Week
The week opened with a community-wide chapel service on Monday. Generally students and faculty attend Monday and Friday chapel services. The grounds crew, mechanics, and construction workers meet for their own Bible study on Saturdays. This chapel was different, as the entire UCBC community gathered for praise, worship, and teaching. Academic Dean and Acting Rector Honoré Bunduki Kwany welcomed the technical crews and applauded their work. Ben Lowe presented a biblical rationale for creation care, reminding the community that, as Christians, we are (1) created to be stewards of all that God has created (Gen. 2:15), (2) commanded to love God and all people (Matt. 22:37-40), and (3) called to reconcile relationships between God, human beings, and all creation (Col. 1:15-20).
Over the next five days, 14 formally-scheduled workshops, meetings, and structured conversations occurred, including—
- A workshop with UCBC’s technical crews on workplace safety and water pollution.
- A workshop with administrative and support staff on responsible use of resources.
- English classes discussing specific challenges and opportunities of creation care in eastern DRC.
- A curriculum development session with faculty to look at ways that creation care has informed programs and curriculum at other universities.
- Break-out sessions with students and staff, each led by one of the invited guests, to address targeted topics: alternative energy sources, waste management, the role of art in developing appreciation for the natural world, the intersection between human needs and environmental protection, and water pollution.
- Exposé with the entire faculty and staff where Joel explained recycling, composting, and responsible waste management initiatives, and Elikia described forest conservation and agro-forestry actives in DRC.
Numerous informal meetings and conversations occurred during the week. One group of students shared their interest to develop safe methods of recycling and safe disposal of technology waste with Ben and Joel. Other students wanted to learn more about responsible waste management (including composting and recycling) as both social responsibility and business opportunity. Women students met with Rachel to discuss women’s leadership. Elikia met with English teacher Jackson, who wanted to know about native tree species to plant on his plot.
The week closed with Scientific Day, an annual event that every Congolese university is required to host. At Scientific Day researchers present their work for informal evaluation and feedback. Over 30 representatives from other local universities, interested agencies, Beni’s Environmental Services, and theInstitut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN / Congolese Institute for Nature Conservancy) joined more than 300 members of the UCBC community. The day’s agenda included four presentations:
- Community Waste Management, Sorting, Composting, and Recycling: The Goma Experience (Joel VwiraTembo)
- Conservation or Survival? Meeting Competing Needs (Rachel Lamb)
- The State of DRC’s Forests (Elikia Amani Zahinda)
- Conservation Lessons from the Field: ICCN at Work (Ghislain Sambo)
Following the scientific presentations, Kahindo (Kahi) Kambere, a local artist, captivated the audience. He presented one of his paintings—a vivid and symbolic piece that depicts DRC’s natural beauty, the forces that threaten it, and the hope for reconciliation. The moderator, Bora Innocent Uzima, commented after the applause, “We in Congo think artists are lazy and waste time. They do not do real work. We have seen today that is not true. We have seen how art can teach.”
At the close of Scientific Day, ICCN representative Ghislain Sambo approached Rector and Academic Dean,Honoré Bunduki Kwany to express his appreciation. “We do not have such opportunities to speak to the public about our work. Usually people criticize us. But today we had an opportunity to explain why our work is important.”
For some background: ICCN is responsible to protect and supervise the Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park, which extends along DRC’s eastern border. The park is a protected area. However, many people live and farm there, and trace landholdings back before there was a national park. The general population considers human survival and protection of natural resources mutually exclusive. Consequently, conservation and human survival often collide with dire consequences.
As Rachel Lamb pointed out in her presentation, people’s well-being depend upon the well-being of the natural world. Scientific Day offered a new vision about the relationship between humanity and the rest of the created world. It also provided a safe place for conversation around an otherwise volatile subject.
Summary and Next Steps
Creation Care: Campus Conversations was built around three goals:
- Establish a coherent and shared vision as a Christian community committed to environmental stewardship and an ethic of Creation Care.
- Develop plans to realize that vision.
- Initiate action steps.
Out of the various meetings, workshops, and informal conversations, two iterations of a vision statement have emerged:
- As a faithful response to God’s call for humanity to be good stewards of creation, the UCBC community commits to take action for the good management of our resources and to serve as good witnesses, inviting the wider community to join us in creation care.
- Being God’s stewards of creation, we are a university community that does good management of resources and that promotes voluntary action for creation care and plays a role model in the entire community.
Plans for realizing this emerging vision are in process. First and foremost, UCBC leadership and community members have agreed that a Creation Care Committee (working title) comprised of representatives from across the UCBC community will serve as the guiding arm of UCBC’s creation care initiatives. This group will serve to establish strategic plans and prioritize activities to coordinate and marshal resources.
As for taking action, the Campus Conversations planning team continues to meet, coordinating information and facilitating the establishment of the Creation Care Committee. A student-designed website is ready to “go live,” and “Creation Care Volunteers” has formed to organize campus-wide initiatives. Student recorders have produced two publications for printing (see attached). Two UCBC students will be attending the Climate Leadership Fellows trainings in the US in August. During this event, sponsored by the Evangelical Environmental Network and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the students will develop plans for a campus climate project to be implemented at UCBC.
CI and UCBC look forward to building on Campus Conversations with Creation Care: Curriculum and Collaboration next year.