How teaching on creation is making a difference in DRC
By Kukedila Ndunzi Muller
At the beginning of this third millennium, humanity confronts serious ecological problems that threaten human life and all of creation. The consequences of global warming are perceptible in every country of the world: polluted air and water, serious flooding, extreme heat, etc.
In Africa, principally in sub-Saharan countries, populations are exposed to many diseases as a result of the deterioration of creation and conditions of life. Other parts of creation—fish and animals, birds, trees and rivers—have not been spared. They are victims of human greed and foolishness. Yet, even as the Lord protects us, we must protect God’s creation by taking care of the earth and its inhabitants. This is the will of the Creator.
Old Testament Foundation
The Old Testament contains several passages that teach us about our responsibility toward creation. The most eloquent passage is Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (RSV). This verse underlines the cultural mandate of the mission of God entrusted to human beings in the garden of Eden: tilling it and keeping it.
Tilling it: The root word àvàd means till, serve, work. It has two meanings: First, it means to offer an act of worship to God, to accomplish certain services of adoration. Second, it relates to the manual labour of humans to meet their own needs. It is also a service provided to kings (Exodus 20:9; 30:16; Leviticus 25:39; Deuteronomy 28:23; Psalm 128:2; 24:1–2; Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 16:58; 2 Thessalonians 3:8–9, 11). In the beginning, manual labour was neither a curse nor the consequence of sin. It is a divine institution; labour comes from God, because God worked and continues to work.
The term àvàd, understood as a service to offer, brings us back to our responsibility to worship God. We know that true worship consists of putting oneself in the service of others for good (Isaiah 58:6–7; James 1:27); to till the soil means to obey the will of God.
Keeping it: The verb shamar means to keep, survey, watch over, protect, conserve, hold onto, conserve the memory, observe, notice, hold. This verb is used 126 times in the Pentateuch, 128 times in the Prophets, and 165 times elsewhere in Scripture. In the Genesis 2:15 passage, shamar takes on the sense of survey, preserve, care for.
The task of human beings is to protect the garden from an enemy of a completely different nature who aspires to become its master and will appear without delay. The word shamar refers as much to shepherds watching over their flock as it does to the farmer who tends a garden.
As administrators of great things, humans cannot presume to be owners. Humans are the managers of a creation that remains the property of God. Creation must be managed according to the norms of divine justice and not according to human desire for power.
New Testament Foundation
Colossians 1:15–23 clearly affirms that, in Christ, everything (panta in Greek) exists because “all things have been created through him and for him.” It describes the relationship that exists between the Christ of creation and the Christ of the cross. In Christ all things are reconciled and rediscover harmony. Paul boldly declares that the beneficiaries of this rediscovered harmony are not just humans, but all things.
In Romans 8:18–22, Paul writes that all of creation suffers (humans and other creatures), and all await the redemption of the children of God. This suffering comes from human rebellion against the law of God. God created a luxuriant and productive garden without weeds, a place of complete health and life, but sin brought sickness, death, thorns and thistles.
The Benefits of Creation Care
Biblical teaching on creation care has several benefits. It allows us to:
- Banish ignorance in the face of our responsibility when it comes to protecting creation. We understand that God is the creator of the entire universe (Genesis 1:1), which bears eloquent testimony to God (Psalm 19). All of creation belongs to God (Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 24:1; 1 Corinthians 10:26), who loves creation and takes care of it, giving water and nourishment to all creatures (Psalm 104; Acts 14:17), even as God gave Christ Jesus (John 3:16).
- Grant a sabbatical rest, i.e., time for reestablishment and the enjoyment of the fruits of God’s creation (Exodus 20:23; Leviticus 25:26). We must permit the rest of creation to be productive and multiply (Genesis 1:22; 9:1–7; 28:17), and not add “house to house” (Isaiah 5:8).
Participate in efforts to stop the rapid deterioration of creation that threatens the world.
- Work toward sustainable development without compromising the development of future generations.
The Costs of Creation Care
World governments are divided on questions linked to the protection of the environment. Capitalist countries and the most industrialized countries of the world are the biggest polluters.
When the most industrialized states set aside their egos and change their vision of the world, financial means can be mobilized to stop the damage to creation and its global consequences.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the environmental situation is dramatic. Since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, thousands of armed refugees have devastated the fauna and flora in the eastern part of the country. Successive wars in this region have contributed to the destruction of the environment. Virunga and Garamba national parks have become hideouts for local and foreign armed groups that kill mountain gorillas, okapis, hippopotamuses, and more.
In cities like Kinshasa, the environmental situation is tragic: Kinshasa, once called ‘Kin la belle’ [Kinshasa the beautiful] is now described by the people of Kinshasa themselves as ‘Kin la poubelle’ [Kinshasa the trash can] (F. Lelo Nzuzi, Kinshasa, Ville et Environnement). Unsanitary conditions reign everywhere. Plastic bottles are thrown out in gutters, streams and rivers. Erosion has washed away parts of certain neighbourhoods in the city. Lack of sanitation is at the root of deadly diseases such as typhoid, malaria and cholera.
Faced with this situation, both the federal government and the provincial government of Kinshasa are powerless. According to the governor of the city, the provincial government lacks the financial and material means to ensure daily clean up. Efforts agreed to by the government and people of good will are a drop in the ocean.
Protecting creation demands significant financial resources and a change in people’s mentality.
The Contribution of Mennonite Churches
The damage done to creation in the DRC is closely tied to the cultures and food and economic needs of the populations of each province. For example, in the regions of Kasai and the southwestern part of Kwango, small scale diamond mining has completely modified the flora as well as water systems, and certain species of animals have disappeared altogether.
In such an environment, Mennonite leaders raise the awareness of their members and local populations toward a change in mentality: to see creation in the light of biblical teaching.
Thanks to the Evangelism and Community Health program, pastors and even church members have been sensitized to work for their own development, but also for the protection of the environment and the struggle against unsanitary conditions. For example, we have asked the pastors in Kinshasa to clean up the immediate environment around their parishes, to install hygienic bathroom facilities and to plant trees in courtyards where space allows it. After visiting some of the different parishes, this work has already proven to be effective.
In addition, young Mennonites have joined with other young people to work against unsanitary conditions and erosion in Kinshasa. This work is being done with the means people have at their disposal: sacks and shovels. Thanks to the efforts of our young people in past years, the Lonzo parishes in Camp Luka of Ngaliema district and the Mfila parish in the Delvaux neighbourhood of the same district were saved from erosion that threatened their very existence.
In the context of the DRC, Christian churches in general and Mennonite churches in particular bear a heavy responsibility with respect to the protection of creation. Christian leaders and the faithful in local churches need more teaching on creation care. They must also engage in concrete action to protect creation. Church leaders must play a prophetic role in calling out political leaders concerning the deterioration of the environment.
The context of our brothers and sisters of the North is different from that of the South. Nevertheless, the struggle against the deterioration of the environment is a shared one, because the consequences are not only local, but global. This is why the experience of those in the North can serve those in the South who are the most exposed to the harmful effects of the damage to God’s creation.
Historically, Mennonites are attached to working the earth (tilling and keeping it) and our varied experiences can reinforce the bonds of fellowship and sharing.
Kukedila Ndunzi Muller is provincial representative of Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo(CEFMC), the Mennonite Brethren church, in Kinshasa, teaches at the University Center of Missiology (Kinshasa), and is a doctoral candidate in holistic development.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in Mennonite World Conference’s Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2018.