I recently returned from several weeks in Kenya, where a group of North American scientists, teachers and church leaders were examining the impact of global climate disruptions on poor farmers in that country. We travelers shared a profound commitment to creation care. We also shared a sincere faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we met with farming and church groups, we heard dolefully repetitious themes: the planting seasons are disrupted, often cutting harvests from two per year to one or less; droughts are much more frequent; more intense floods are washing away fertile soils; changing climatic patterns result in new crop pests never seen before….
At every visit, we took pictures of our new Kenyan friends. But I can’t help noting: They all look so different from me. Their suffering moves me. But at some level, it’s a bit harder to see their suffering as my suffering. Would it be different if they looked, spoke and dressed like me?
This is the question addressed by Albert Hamstra, a career missionary with the Christian Reformed Church, and a member of our traveling team.
Written by: Albert Hamstra
Hamstra planting a tree near Nairobi
What if the main people who were suffering from the effects of environmental degradation and climate change were white? Would the reaction to it be any different in the USA and Canada than it is today?
One of the reasons these problems are so difficult to address is because they have been racialized. Whenever “the other” is of another race, sustained empathy with them is extremely difficult and rare. It becomes easier to find reasons for our indifference and inattention.
This scenario has been played out repeatedly in many situations so that most, if not all, of our major social/ethical challenges are racialized.
We Christians have been given the grace to escape from the destruction of racialization and the racism that accompanies it. This is a significant reason why the Church is especially qualified to address issues of the abuse of creation. We know God the Creator; therefore there is no “other” whom we can dismiss as having less value.
I encourage us to spend a few minutes imagining what it would be like if the main people who were suffering from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation today were white. What does that image say to us?
Albert Hamstra serves the CRC as its Global Impact Director. This post first appeared on May 1, 2013 in the CRC’s World Renew volunteer website.