Category Archives: Poverty

Got Doodoo? Make Biogas!

How many days last year did you spend caring for your Father’s creation? We all know that “tending and keeping” God’s world was the first job assigned to mankind in the Bible (Genesis 2:15), but many of us struggle to see what it has to do with our discipleship and calling. How about you?

Here in Kenya, we see a lot of day-to-day creation care by ordinary people. Maybe it’s because most people live by tending the plants and animals around them. Millions of Kenyans tend tiny postage-stamp farms: good weather and fertile soil mean the world to them.

Whatever the reason, everyone I’ve met here understands that caring for the earth is really important. I want to tell you about one I met recently. Her name is Josephine Muthone.

Josephine is a farmer. She’s an active member of the Presbyterian church. On her 1-2 acre parcel in Kikuyu north of Nairobi she milks three cows, and grows beans, potatoes, corn and other produce to feed her three children. She also grows coarse Napier grass to cut as fodder for the cows. Her husband died two years ago.

Josephine Muthone

Josephine Muthone, with tea made with biogas

Josephine works really hard. By 4:30 in the morning, she’s already walking several kilometers to the dairy co-op with her full milk jugs swinging from a shoulder harness. But while hard work is necessary, it’s not enough. Josephine used to spend lots of time, labor and money buying and carrying heavy loads of firewood for her kitchen stove. Her soil was becoming degraded, and fertilizer costs were eating into her earnings. Rains were becoming unreliable, and water was a real problem. And without a husband’s earnings or help, providing for her family was a real challenge.

But a few years ago, with the help of a local expert, Josephine installed a biogas digester in her small farm, and it’s made all the difference in the world. No more hauling charcoal and firewood; no more smoky cook stoves and harmful kitchen fumes; instant heat from free, renewable cooking gas; a steady supply of free, safe organic fertilizer to enrich her farm plot; no more runoff of harmful raw manure into the local waterways; and more resources to pay school fees for the children and improve her family’s life. What’s more, the biogas digester paid for itself in less than three years.

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The Privilege of Skepticism

Written by: Kyle Schaap

If you are reading this and are from North America (and perhaps even if you aren’t), you are no doubt aware of just how divisive the issue of climate change is in the US and Canada. Experts from both sides of the issue are regular installments on the 24-hour news networks, presenting the latest data in favor of or disputing the warming of the planet. Policy experts offer the pros and cons of legislation aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Law makers debate possible action steps. Facebook posts supporting or refuting climate change turn into hotbeds of political (and sometimes a little bit of personal) attacks. Friends bicker; family relationships are strained.

Kyle Schaap (2)

Kyle Schaap led a group of Christians to witness impact of climate change in Kenya

This is simply the reality of the political climate in North America, but the existence of such rigorous debate is no coincidence. If warming trends continue the way that scientists are currently projecting (4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century), things in North America won’t look all that different. We’ll probably experience more droughts, our growing zones will shift, and Michigan will have the climate of Tennessee.  Even if things do get bad in North America, we have the money and technology necessary to adapt fairly well to any changes in weather patterns or growing seasons that we might experience. In short: North America can afford not to worry about climate change—at least for a while.  Continue reading

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toilet

Kibera.The biggest slum in Kenya. Second biggest in all of Africa. From all over Kenya, they pour into this place, a sprawling community in southeast Nairobi, home to as many as one million living souls. They come to Kibera from all over Kenya: many leaving family farm plots that have become too small from subdivision; others driven off by failing rains, extreme floods and erratic seasonal patterns; some, the victims of soil depletion from unsustainable farming practices. Whatever the reason, they are here looking for a better life.

Kibera: Last stop in Kenya's urban migration

Kibera: Last stop in Kenya’s urban migration

A better life? It’s hard for me to imagine what a worse life might look like. An uncountable throng in a continuous stream up and down muddy alleys, paths and narrow clay-red streets; unbroken ranks of tin and mud shacks crowding against each other and squeezing into serpentine pathways; vendors selling plastic sandals, maize, charcoal or other essentials at virtually every hut; open cooking fires everywhere; trash mixed with mud and sewage underfoot; and the air above choked with acrid smoke.  Continue reading

Climate Change in Kenya: It Didn’t Used to Be This Way

We enjoyed generous hospitality this morning from the staff of World Renew in Nairobi, an NGO affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church. At their offices this morning, we listened to leading authorities on agriculture, forest management, food security, development and disaster relief tell us the new reality of life in Kenya: Things are changing, and mostly not for the better.

I’m traveling with new friends from Canada, the U.S. and Uganda who share a deep commitment to caring for God’s creation. Some of us focus our efforts on the ravages of human-induced climate change. But our Kenyan friends are dealing with the facts on the ground, serving the victims of drought, flooding and soil degradation. They’re not fighting for a cause; they’re fighting for people.
The stories they tell all have a common theme: The systems people once relied upon to sustain their communities are increasingly unreliable. Droughts are increasing in frequency; so are floods, such as the ones ravaging Kenyan crops at present; and increasingly degraded soils are undermining the ability of farmers to rebound after severe weather shocks.  The result is increasing hunger, poverty and insecurity.
“Climate events are forcing us to fundamentally rethink how we work,” said Jacqueline Koster, World Renew’s director of disaster response for large swaths of the African continent.
For my part, I’m looking for the data: Prove to me that extreme weather is worse now than it once was; show me the data beyond any dispute. It happens that there is good data, but it only goes back a few decades – not long enough to persuade the most skeptical observers. But skeptics should have heard what we heard today from these experts on the ground. Here are some examples:
  • World Renew program consultant Stephan Lutz traced the trajectory of East African drought over the last forty years. There was one major drought in the mid-1970s that captured the world’s attention. Another came along a decade later. In the 90’s the pace increased to two. Two more hit in the 2000’s. And already, there have been two more crippling droughts since 2010, only 3 years into the new decade. Today, Lutz speaks of nearly “perpetual drought” conditions. It didn’t used to be this way.
  • World Renew formerly viewed its development work in terms of periodic interventions to help communities recover from occasional setbacks on the road to greater stability. But Koster doesn’t talk that way anymore. Climate shocks come so frequently that she speaks instead of helping communities to “build resiliency” in light of the inevitably frequent climate shocks. It didn’t used to be this way.
  • Disaster Response Manager Chris Shiundu told us that farm planning has become much more difficult. Kenyans recall that in the past, on Christmas, they would feast; the following day, they would eat the leftovers; and the next day they would plant crops. You could count on the rains within a day or two. Now, no one knows when the rains will come, and planters must watch and wait for erratic rains.
  • Team leader Davis Omanyo put the routine planting date at February 15 in another region, now abandoned because of erratic rains. And he reported that many farmers must purchase twice the normal amount of seed, so that the crop can be replanted after erratic rains cause the first planting to fail. You used to be able to plan your farming calendar. No more.
  • And while drought conditions have taken their toll on food production, Shiundu told us that excess moisture from erratic rains has also caused maize (field corn) to rot on the stalk, resulting in the total loss of crops in some regions.
  • Project Manager Geoffrey manages disaster relief in Mbeere district, where the maize and cowpea harvests have been reduced by 70% this year due to flooding from extremely heavy rains, and the arrival of a pest caterpillar never known before in that region. “People who are 70 years old tell us that this never happened before in their lives,” said Geoffrey, “nor in the prior generation.”
For those of us from carbon-heavy North America, these accounts prompt some serious soul-searching. We know what our greenhouse gases are doing to the climate in general, global terms. We know it’s driving extreme weather, melting ice caps, raising sea levels and acidifying the oceans. Now we’re listening to our fellow Christians tell us of the impact on God’s beloved in Kenya.
Thank you for your accounts Chris, Davis and Geoffrey. Thank you Jacqueline, Stephan and your many co-workers. We will do our best in the coming weeks to tell your story to our fellow North Americans, and especially those in our churches. At a minimum, we are one body with those who suffer in the harsh new world faced by many Kenyans today. And if our life patterns back home are responsible for suffering in this distant land, we will do everything we can to bring about the changes you deserve.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

Love God, Love Your Neighbor

Among the many excellent Christian works on the moral imperative behind caring for the creation, the National Association of Evangelicals offers one of the most compelling. Here is a brief excerpt from their booklet, Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment.

In Matthew 22:39, Jesus gave us a “second” command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

For us to be faithful in loving God, we must love our neighbor. In Luke’s account of the same incident, a bystander asks, “But who is my neighbor?” thus setting the stage for one of the best-known of all Jesus’ parables: the story of the Good Samaritan. Loving my neighbor, according to the parable, includes responding to the needs of someone who has been hurt. We are to feed him, clothe him, care for his wounds and provide for him.
Care of the poor and oppressed is a resounding theme in both the Old and New Testaments, as, for example, in Deuteronomy 15:10-11:
”Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
God gave the Israelites structures and rules that established provision for the poor. Relatives were to redeem sold land and support widows; cloaks could not be kept in pledge; the poor could glean in the fields. We are told to care for those who are hungry and thirsty, even if they are our enemies (see Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:20).


Free downloadable NAE booklet
Nothing could be clearer than Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:36-44. Jesus tells his disciples that on Judgment Day, we will stand before God and answer for the way we treated those who were hungry, naked and sick, and for those who were strangers and prisoners: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). And, on the other hand, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (v. 45).
When we care for the poor, we are ministering to Jesus himself: To care for the weakest is to care for Christ.
There are millions of suffering people in the world, and thousands of Christians who offer them assistance. Unfortunately, the realities of climate change mean that those suffering millions may become billions. All of us who follow Jesus will need to respond.
Reproduced from National Association of Evangelicals: Loving the Least of These. To download a copy of the complete NAE document, click here.

Bono and the “Unholy Trio”

Two weeks ago, U2 lead singer Bono paid a visit to a packed auditorium at the World Bank.  In an on-stage conversation with bank president Jim Yong Kim, Bono warned of “an ‘unholy trio’ of extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme climate” – which together threaten to stymie global efforts to alleviate poverty and human suffering.

The Irish musician and activist is widely recognized for his advocacy for the poor in Africa. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was granted honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth. And now he’s warning members of one of the world’s leading development organizations about the threat of climate change to the poor of the world.
Before taking the top spot at the World Bank earlier this year, Jim Yong Kimco-founded the global medical NGO Partners in Health with Dr. Paul Farmer, and served as president of Dartmouth College. He added to Bono’s warnings his concern that catastrophic levels of global warming would be reached within the next generation, not in some distant time horizon.
Here are brief snippets from Bono’s comments, and Kim’s responses:
Bono:  [An] “unholy trio” of extreme poverty, extreme ideology, and extreme climate make a very difficult weave; very strong, very hard to break. And we have to accept that the climate crisis could undo a lot of the work we do in development.
World Bank president Kim: The world at two or four degrees [Celsius hotter] is going to look so different. And it’s not three generations ahead. I have a three-year-old son. When he’s my age, he could be living in a completely different world. And right now, I don’t see the roots of that movement [to combat climate change] taking shape.
I’m no expert on the World Bank, and I know some people who offer only qualified endorsement of their work.  But when leaders who have dedicated their lives to alleviating poverty raise the alarm about the climate crisis, maybe it’s time for people of goodwill to take action. The world will not do what it must without the United States. And the U.S. will not do what it must while most of our politicians think that we don’t care.
Maybe it’s time we write our representatives and tell them we care. Do it now, by clicking here.
You care. I care. But I’m afraid we have no idea how much our children will wish we had really cared.
May God bless you.
J. Elwood