U.S. evangelicals' slow warming to creation care raises the question: how concerned are evangelicals in countries considered ground zeros for climate change disasters?
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)-affiliated umbrella organizations in high-risk countries (as identified by Western environmentalists) have not been as vocal on climate change as their World Council of Churches counterparts. But evangelical bodies in several developing nations are mobilizing members as they prioritize the problem among other issues such as evangelism, persecution, and HIV/AIDS.
"In the West, you hear climate change being described as a threat. In my country, it is not a threat—it is already happening," said David Kamchacha, disaster rescue coordinator for the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM). The Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA), to which EAM belongs, says changing weather patterns threaten the sustainability of longstanding rural communities throughout southeast Africa, and local churches are the grassroots organizations that people turn to for help.
Churches in the global South rank climate change low on their list of priorities, said Brian Swarts, national coordinator for Micah Challenge USA.
"There's an awareness of the issue," he said, "but a lot of [churches] don't have the desire or capacity to address it."
One such country is Sri Lanka, where evangelical churches are struggling in the face of persecution and anti-conversion laws.
"There is an ongoing civil war and we have a huge internally displaced population," said Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. "As we struggle with mere survival physically, climate change is not on our agenda presently."
By contrast, Osvaldo Munguía of Mopawi and Mark Halder of Koinonia lead evangelical taskforces on climate change in Honduras and Bangladesh respectively, where increasingly violent storms claim crops, livestock, and lives each year yet local evangelical churches do not recognize climate change as a significant problem.
"Climate change issues are not as compelling to church leaders because the [Bangladeshi] church is not very strong," Halder said. "Pastors are very much engaged in evangelical work … rather than county-level social, economic, and political issues."
While Bangladesh and Honduras deal with an excess of water from increased storms, Africa faces the opposite problem. An estimated 75 million to 250 million Africans are projected to face a water shortage by 2020, according to the Evangelical Environmental Network.
Climate change is already negatively affecting the African poor as crop yields decrease, mud huts are decimated by increased rainfall, and schools and clinics are destroyed by changing weather patterns, said Stephen Mugabi, executive secretary of the AEA's Commission on Relief and Development.
The evangelical church is crucial to Africa's response to climate change, Mugabi said. The AEA is planting trees and providing food to affected people in Uganda, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
Kamchacha is doing the same in Malawi, where he said rural areas have become increasingly disaster-prone. With the help of Tearfund, a British aid organization that has become the poster child for evangelical work on climate change, Malawi evangelicals proactively build dikes to fend off floodwaters and plant drought-resistant crops.
"When [in the West] you talk from theory and your knowledge is from books, you have time to delay," said Kamchacha. "In my country, we cannot afford to delay. We need to act now."
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