Commitment to Creation

Interview with Joanne Moyer – Spring 2011

How did you get interested in creation care/environmental issues?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m not exactly sure. I think it happened sometime around Grade 9. It may have been sparked by some volunteer work I did around that time at a place in Lethbridge called the World Citizen’s Centre. I went through a bunch of reading materials and I think there was a lot of environmental literature.

What really cemented it though was the time I spent at Camp Valaqua, working as a counsellor. Those summers were a time when I really started to own my faith and spending time in God’s creation was a big part of my faith development. I’ve read in some old Christian writings that God gave us two revelations: the Bible and world that God created. I think that for me, the God revealed through creation helped me to understand the God revealed in the Bible. Because of this deep connection and association of God and creation for me, taking care of creation is of great importance.

This doesn’t mean that an academic career in environmental studies and natural resource management was immediately obvious to me. I spent most of my twenties trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. After I graduated with theology degree from CMBC, I figured it would be useful to get a bachelor’s degree in something, and wanted to something that was useful in the world (as opposed to say, English, which had been my favourite subject in high school). So, because I had had this interest in environmental issues for a while, I decided to do a BA in environmental studies and see where it led. And where it led was the position with MCC writing the material which became Earth Trek. I loved this work and wanted to do more like it. Then I did a masters, because you can’t get much work with just a BA in environmental studies. After the masters, I realized that the particular area of the environmental field that really excites me can best be addressed from within academia. I got the opportunity to try out teaching, liked it, and here I am, doing a PhD and hoping to find work in a university when I finish.

Can you tell us a bit about the research work you are doing? Challenges? Highlights?

I am doing a degree in Natural Resource and Environmental Management at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba. For my thesis, I am researching learning within faith-based organizations doing environmental and development work in Kenya. Sustainability (both environmental and economic) is a learning process, so it is useful to understand how we learn, so we can learn better. Faith-based organizations make an interest context in which to study learning because despite their long involvement in development, and their growing involvement in environmental issues, they’ve been largely ignored by academics and major development players until very recently.

I spent several months mostly based in Nairobi at the beginning of 2010, meeting a bunch of different organizations and getting a broad idea of their work and their character. I came back in September and spent several months with A Rocha Kenya, a Christian conservation organization located on the coast where they work with forests, birds and community conservation and development. Now, I’m working with a Quaker rural development organization in Western Kenya. My research consists of observing (and sometimes participating in) the organizations’ work and interviewing staff and volunteers on their experiences and what they have learned.

There have been various challenges in doing this research in Kenya. Cross-cultural communication can be challenging, and sometimes I really have to work in my interviews to get across the question I’m trying to ask. I do not speak Swahili, or any of the local languages, which might make it easier. It’s also just challenging being here as a white woman by myself. I feel vulnerable and don’t get around as much as I might like to because I want to be safe. It is frustrating to stick out so much and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Highlights would include all the wonderful people I’ve met, and the great work I’ve observed. I know that these organizations are small and their contributions to solving problems may be only small drops in a big bucket, but it’s still inspiring to see what they’re doing and the commitment with which they do it. One of the biggest highlights from my time on the coast was participating in bird ringing or banding. Actually putting bands on birds and taking the measurements is very skilled work, but untrained people such as myself still got to handle the birds. I don’t think it’s possible to describe how amazing it is to hold a small wild animal in your hand and feel it’s little heart beating as you carry it to the beach to release it back into the wild.

How does your Christian faith impact the career you've chosen? 

I described already how entwined my faith and my interest in environmental are. I can think of maybe three other important impacts.

One is the opportunity of sharing my environmental concern with other Christians, a group of people with whom I already share many values and beliefs. This allows me to communicate on the level of faith, which I think may be more effective than just preaching doom and gloom or listing off depressing statistics and scientific data. I am more and more convinced that the environmental crisis is largely a problem of ethics, beliefs and values. Changing what everyone in the world believes and how they behave is daunting, but sharing with people who already share so many other beliefs and commitments feels like a good place to start.

Another impact has to do with approach. I think this may be starting to change (I hope it is) but it seems like a lot of environmentalists become so frustrated in their attempts to save nature that they start to despise humanity. This contributes to the perception that the environment and the economy must always be conflicting priorities. Given the work I’ve seen in Kenya, I don’t believe this is necessarily the case. Also, as a Christian, I see people as part of creation and therefore must always seek to keep human and non-human interests in balance. Since I believe that God created all of us, (whether in six days or not doesn’t matter all that much to me) I also believe that such a balance is possible.

Finally, environmental work can be extremely discouraging. As one of my interviewees said, we may win a battle, but we’re always losing the war. But because I am doing this work as an act of discipleship to God, under the grace of Jesus, even though my meagre efforts may seem insufficient to the problems at hand, I know that God is in control and the fate of the planet does not rest solely in my hands and those of my colleagues. In this, I find hope.