MCC creation care and sustainability initiatives over the decades

[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Concern for the environment and respect for God’s creation have been part of MCC’s approach to its work since 1920. Over the decades, MCC’s awareness of the rapid pace of environmental degradation, resolutions taken by Anabaptist denominations and stories from partners about the impacts of the climate crisis on their communities have spurred efforts to enable communities to adapt to climate change, engage constituents in modifying their lifestyles to reduce harmful environmental impacts and expand advocacy efforts.

Program: For many decades, MCC has actively cared for creation by promoting reforestation and soil conservation in its agriculture and food security programming. Starting in 1994, MCC also began to systematically incorporate creation care and environmental responsibility into program planning and evaluation. This approach was formalized in 1999 when the MCC board adopted an environmental stewardship and program planning policy that articulated basic expectations for its international program. This included assessing projects for their environmental impact, identifying national and regional priority environmental issues and conducting program evaluations that examined how environmental considerations were included in planning. An Environmental Guide for Program Planning was developed to provide guidance on how to put MCC’s environmental stewardship policies into practice across MCC program.

In March 2010, MCC adopted a set of operating principles, or core values, that shape MCC’s program and operations. This included a commitment to act sustainably. “Called to live simply and to be a steward of God’s creation, MCC seeks to act in ways which promote environmental, social, and economic sustainability,” MCC’s binational board proclaimed. As part of living into this commitment to act sustainably, MCC program staff revised and approved an environmental assessment tool for use in planning, monitoring and evaluating its relief, development and peacebuilding programs.

Public engagement: MCC’s engagement with Anabaptists in the U.S. and Canada on creation care and environmental sustainability began with the 1976 commissioning of the More-with-Less cookbook, with the goal of helping Christians to eat better and consume less of the world’s food resources. In 1982, MCC established a Global Education Desk in its Akron, Pennsylvania, office. While the education responsibilities of this position were eventually merged into other departments, the desk’s goal was to educate pastors and congregations in the U.S. and Canada about how their lifestyles affected the earth and were linked globally.

Farmers in Koti, Burkina Faso, meet to share updates with MCC/ODE staff and showcase their vegetable harvest during dry season. MCC partner ODE has created a garden space where 100 farmers, 50 men and 50 women, grow vegetables during the off-season. The gardens are sustained using water from four wells, with plans to expand to eight wells. (MCC Photo/James Souder)

The early focus of MCC’s creation care and environmental sustainability efforts on reforestation and soil conservation projects has expanded in recent years to other activities to help communities adapt to climate crisis-related risks, including providing access to potable water and seasonal safety nets, introducing crops and livestock breeds, supporting livelihood diversification, promoting hazard resistant shelter construction and helping communities prepare for disasters.

In 1989, the General Boards of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church adopted a statement, “Stewardship of the Earth—Resolution on Environment and Faith Issues,” which called MCC in the U.S. and Canada to “seek policy directions from the several Mennonite church bodies in promoting creation stewardship.” MCC board members responded by including creation care as one of its three top priorities at MCC’s annual meeting that year and called for staff to continue to address environmental concerns from a biblical perspective. Responding to this call from Mennonite churches and the MCC board, staff developed a variety of resources in the 1990s for individuals, families and churches related to creation care, including:

  • Earthkeepers, a 1991 study for individuals and churches that linked ecotheology to questions of militarism, war and economic systems;
  • the three-part Trek series, released between 1996 and 2004, with reflections and suggestions for individuals and families to live simply and with mindfulness of their ecological footprint; and
  • the WaterWorks Toolkit, a curriculum for churches highlighting water conservation, released in 2004

Several MCCs also undertook public engagement initiatives on creation care. MCC Ontario employed a creation care coordinator from 2006 to 2011 who focused on encouraging Anabaptist schools and churches to explore their impact on creation and to install solar panels as part of a green energy initiative. MCC Saskatchewan started a blog and workshop initiative called “No Waste Wednesdays” in 2010 that ran through 2013, focused on encouraging constituents and the public to adopt environmentally responsible ethics and behaviors. More recently, in 2016 MCC U.S. partnered with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College to establish the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to mobilize Anabaptists around climate change mitigation and advocacy. In 2018, the Center conducted a speakers’ tour targeting Anabaptist churches, universities and organizations that featured three international MCC staff and partners sharing about the impacts of climate change on their communities.

MCC remains committed to help communities adapt to the impacts of rapidly changing climates, to call Anabaptists and others in Canada and the U.S. to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of their lifestyles and to advocate for policies that promote environmental sustainability.

Advocacy: MCC’s advocacy efforts related to climate change and sustainability have been guided by MCC’s programming and connected to its public engagement. Beginning in the 1970s, MCC’s Washington Office was an early member of the Washington Interreligious Staff Community Energy and Ecology Working Group. In the 1990s, the Washington Office focused advocacy efforts on promoting fuel efficiency standards, sustainable use of public lands and an energy policy that addressed climate change. In 2001, the Washington Office released its Guide to the Environment, providing biblical reflections and action steps for concerned Anabaptists and others.

Constituent education included the 2003 spring seminar’s focus on creation care advocacy. In the past ten years, in response to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the communities in which MCC’s partners work, the Washington Office has continued its environmental advocacy work with a strong focus on climate change, international adaptation assistance and adequate funding and strong safeguards for the Green Climate Fund. Additionally, advocacy has focused on the environmental impacts of the fences and walls being built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ntate Marou Lenkoe, a farmer in Makilenyaneng, Lesotho, stands in one of the crops he grew using the conservation agricultural methods he learned as a participant in a “Farming God’s Way” workshop. MCC partner Growing Nations runs the workshops to teach farming methods with a biblically-based creation care focus to help counter the effects of climate change and reduced rainfall. (Photo/Barry Mann)

MCC’s commitment to creation care and environmental sustainability is not new. While MCC’s focus has shifted over the decades in response to growing awareness of environmental degradation and the voices of partners affected by the climate crisis, MCC remains committed to help communities adapt to the impacts of rapidly changing climates, to call Anabaptists and others in Canada and the U.S. to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of their lifestyles and to advocate for policies that promote environmental sustainability.

Meara Kwee is MCC’s protection coordinator, based in Akron, Pennsylvania.

Jantzi, Jeanne Zimmerly. Parent Trek: Nurturing Creativity and Care in our Children. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001.

Longacre, Doris Janzen. Morewith- Less Cookbook. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976.

Meyer, Art and Jocele Meyer. Earthkeepers: Environmental Perspectives on Hunger,
Poverty, & Injustice. Scottdale: PA: Herald Press, 1991.

Moyer, Joanne. Earth Trek: Celebrating and Sustaining God’s Creation. Scottdale, PA:
Herald Press, 2004.

Schrock-Shenk, Dave. Ed. Basic Trek: Venture into a World of Enough. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002.

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