Since those joyous days of my childhood when every game unlocked the gates of heaven for me, I have been to church many, many, many times. I can remember sermons on repentance when I was reminded to repent or face damnation. I repented. Or sermons on prosperity when I was told by smiling pastors in sparkling suits to plant seeds of offering if I wanted to reap new cars and great jobs. I planted.
But I don’t recall ever listening to sermons on the environment and how I should adhere to the principles of sustainability. I therefore didn’t wake up in the morning thinking about the earth and how I should play a role in replenishing it. Neither did I go to sleep at night wondering if I had spent the day in a way that was good for the earth.
It wasn’t until my mid twenties when I started working at the United Nations Environment Programme that the green gospel finally hit me so hard that I fell hopelessly in love with the environment. I suddenly started looking at trees and rivers differently. I started wondering why Nairobi River was so dirty yet it was no less of a river than River Firatsi, the crystal clear river in my village. This river had been the centre of my childhood.
During holidays, I bathed in this river every single day and unsuccessfully tried to swim in it. The singing, whistling river was such a big part of my life that I didn’t regard it as an external entity needing my conservation touch. If anyone had polluted it, it would have felt like pollution of my very life.
I thought about this precious river when I was writing the introduction of UNEP’s Africa Environment Outlook for Youth book. River Firatsi’s memories caused me to write the following, “Africa is big and beautiful. It is the second largest region in the world, accounting for 20 per cent of the world's landmass. This vast land is clothed in rich biodiversity, colossal forests, beautiful climates, and amazing coasts, ravishing rivers, green land and a host of other environmental beauties.”
River Firatsi was indeed a ravishing river.
Later that Sunday when I sat in Church at the International Christian Centre, I found myself wondering about Africa’s ravishing rivers, colossal forests and amazing coasts.
Ron Sommers was the pastor of the International Christian Centre Church where I was a member at the time. He had a kind face and an extensive white beard that made him look like a younger brother to Father Christmas. His son Jon was just a year older than me and a friend, as was Amy his older sister. Because I knew the family, Pastor Ron’s sermons always had a personal touch to them and I usually enjoyed them immensely.
But this particularly Sunday, I was distracted. Those words from the introduction that I had written kept dancing in my mind, “colossal forests, beautiful climates, and amazing coasts, ravishing rivers, green land…”
If God created this beautiful environment, then why is it that we talk about it so little in Church?
Is God green? I wondered.
In other words, is the environment and its conservation rooted in God, just as holiness is? As is my habit, I pushed this question to the back of my mind until later.
With this issue of God and the environment safely tucked away to the back-room of my mind, I launched myself even deeper into environmental activism. When my UNEP project on African youth was wrapped up, my final act was to launch the Africa Youth Environment Network, that I hoped would unify African youth in taking care of the environment and empowering themselves economically in the process.
I also teamed up with Togo’s Sena Alouka and several other young green visionaries as we founded and launched the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) in Nairobi, in 2006. At about the same time, I founded the Solid Waste Action by Youth (SWAY). As if not content with these initiatives, I went ahead and teamed up with Akpezi Ogbuigwe, my charismatic mentor at UNEP to birth the Sustainability Generation which we hoped would be an umbrella for green youth initiatives not just in Africa but globally.
What was pushing me into all this green activism was not the Bible but just a strong ethical belief that a better world was only possible through a greener world.
But one morning when I was feeding birds outside my balcony thanks to my then girlfriend’s passion for birds, that question that I had pushed to the back of my mind stormed back to the front, “Is God green?”
Is God the ultimate environmentalist and does He require us all to follow suit?
Who is an environmentalist? Wangari Maathai, who was catapulted to global fame by her Nobel Peace Prize, was arguably Africa’s best-known environmentalist.
The Oxford dictionary defines an environmentalist as “a person who is concerned about protecting the environment.”
However, the problem with seeking to define the environment and by extension an environmentalist through narrow linguistic and scientific lens is that it reduces the environment to a thematic pursuit in the same league with say, actuarial science or banking.
For me, the environment is everything that is made by God as opposed to man. Which actually answers my question of whether God is green. He cannot create the environment and not be concerned for that very environment. Along this vein, an environmentalist is simply someone who nurtures nature and cares for others. For example, conserving rivers should go hand in hand with empowering communities that live alongside these rivers.
Further to this, even those things that are made by man like cars and clothes can be made through the sustainable blueprint that underpins the environment. Sustainability is therefore not just the right thing to do, it is the Godly thing to do.
Back to the stuff that is made by God, the list is endless – forests, oceans, crops, rivers, clouds, fish, lions, elephants plus of course, humanity itself. This means then, that you andI as human beings are part of the environment and should not treat it as just another academic or fringe pursuit.
Is God green? Yes. But don’t just take my word for it. Read for yourself.
‘Genesis 2:15 – And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and guard and keep it.’ God requires us to tend, guard and keep nature. Not to exploit and mess it up. The entire creation story is centred on nature. The conservation of nature that is inherent in this creation story should leap from the pages of scripture into our livelihoods and lifestyles.
‘Numbers 33:34 – And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell..’ That pretty much speaks for itself.
‘Deuteronomy7 22:6 – If a bird’s nest should chance to be before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother bird is sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother bird with the young.’ Again, this speaks for itself.
Jesus taught the golden commandment, ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ One holistic way of doing this is to take care of the very earth upon which your neighbour depends on for sustenance.
The Holy Qur’an is also totally clear on environmentalism. Since I am no expert on the Holy Qur’an, I dug up a book known as ‘The Holy Qur’an and the Environment.’ It is published by the Jordan-based Institute for Islamic Thought. As I sipped Rwandan coffee and read the book, some words jumped out of it like a Maasai Mara gazelle and lodged themselves into my mind:
“Unto God belong the East and the West. So wherever ye turn, there is the face of God.” (Al-Baqara, 2:15).
The book went on to further explain this verse, ‘This natural world was created by Him, for His purpose and that in itself confers upon the natural environment a sacredness which must be recognised by all believers. This, then, means that all believers must have the utmost care and respect towards nature.” In 96 pages, the book does a beautiful job of explaining to Muslims why taking care of the environment is a divine duty.
Most of the world’s seven billion people are either Christians or Muslims. If they all listen to the unquestionable words in their respective Holy Books, this world would be a much greener and better place.
Is God green? Yes. He created green and made it clear to us that we should keep it green.