When I arrived at A Rocha, a Christian environmental stewardship organization in Hamilton, I was wind-swept and cold. It was a grey, wet day and I was feeling a little soggy after my 20 minute walk over.
I met ShariAnn Kuiper and Carrie Van Dorp in a cozy room above Environment Hamilton downtown. They were waiting for me inside with a freshly-baked batch of peanut butter cookies and an array of tea.
They welcomed me as if I were in their own living room and asked if I preferred green, black, white, oolong or rooibos tea. Maybe it was my face that gave it away, but it was immediately apparent that I did not know the difference, let alone have a preference between these options.
With a knowing smile, Carrie launched into the most eloquent and informative presentation on teas that I’ve ever heard. She explained how black tea is roasted, and that rooibos often comes from South Africa. I was struck by the authenticity of her passion for agriculture and plants.
The two went on about the tea plant and the ways in which its used, and just like that, I was convinced. "These people are passionate about creation and they love what they do," I thought.
I asked them about A Rocha, their path to environmentalism and how faith shapes their day-to-day work.
A Rocha is an international Christian organization which engages in scientific research, environmental education, community-based conservation projects and sustainable agriculture.
ShariAnn is the project coordinator for Cedar Haven Farm, A Rocha’s ranch property just outside the Hamilton Area. She runs public education programs for schools and families on sustainability and agriculture.
“We are not your typical environmental organization,” ShariAnn starts.
She says A Rocha struggles to find out where they fit in the Canadian landscape, because they aren’t a typical environmental group, nor are they a common religious organization.
“The Church doesn’t always understand how the environment is part of Christian mission. Environmentalists don’t always get why these Christians showed up,” says ShariAnn.
“We’re not an advocacy organization. We are an organization that deeply cares for people and the places they live,” she says.
Carrie is the Urban Food Program Coordinator at A Rocha. She runs workshops for newcomers, teaching them about nutrition, composting and community gardening. Carrie says it is important to know what you believe about creation before caring for the environment.
“Why we do whatever we do, all of us, anytime, is influenced by what we believe about the world. And if we don’t believe very much about the world, or what we believe about the world is really unclear, then it’s hard for us to act consistently, and it’s hard to make choices,”
A Rocha is careful to emphasize that environmental stewardship is about relational stewardship as well. That’s why so many of their projects are focused on equipping people to engage with nature responsibly. When people care for the natural world, they’re loving the people that live in it too.
“Our relationships with other people and our relationship with the natural world include so many decisions. [We] recognize that we are Christians, [and] we believe that God is sovereign, and that God made everything and speaks to us through it,” she says.
Carrie and ShariAnn both say their faith motivates their environmental stewardship. “Approaching environmental issues from a Christian perspective, I find I’m a much happier environmentalist” Says Shari Ann.
Carrie says her passion for the environment stems back to her childhood. “I’ve always had a pretty deep awareness that God made everything and that we have a role to be careful… and honour all that God has made.”
Likely because the A Rocha staff understands the benefits of growing up around nature, they focus on younger generations in urban city-centres, many of whom have never had access to large gardens and parks. In the summer, they run day camps where kids can spend time at the farm gardening and learning about local plants.
For ShariAnn, some of the most eye-opening experiences come from gardening with kids at the Cedar Haven Farm. Many of the children they teach have no real connection with the natural world outside of A Rocha. One student she worked with even exclaimed “I’ve never been in a forest.”
It’s moments like this that lead ShariAnn to continue her work in the gardens. She says, “It’s not that being an environmentalist is a tool for faith, or our faith is a tool for the environment, it’s that they are linked, they are woven together.”
A Rocha’s national office is located in British Columbia. They also have locations in Hamilton and Manitoba. Beyond these three core centres in Canada, they have a number of regional locations doing smaller community-oriented projects and several international offices. To learn more about A Rocha, visit their website, or pop by one of their community gardens this spring!