In honor of Earth Day today, I’m excited to welcome author and conservationist Leah Kostamo. Leah’s book Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community tells the story of her and her husband’s pioneering Christian environmental stewardship work in Canada. She’s a transplanted Arizona girl, a mom, and–as I discovered as we laughed and talked–a kindred spirit. Join our conversation . . .
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About 10 years ago we started the first Christian environmental center in Canada with A Rocha, an international Christian organization that works in 20 countries around the world. For people who haven’t been to our center before, I describe it like a youth hostel meets the Sierra club and then wrap that all up with Christian hospitality on an organic farm.
We focus on doing three things: First is environmental education. Then we do conservation work—basically just studying the habitat where we are and working to preserve it. (We’re on a stream that has four species of salmon so we do a lot of work on the stream). And then the third thing we do is we have a big organic garden and we have an organic box program where about 100 families get food from our farm, along with food banks and other means of help for those in poverty.
On my blog this month, we’ve explored environmental stewardship from several angles. I realize not everyone is as enthusiastic about this issue as you and I are, Leah! So if you were talking with someone who had concerns or was skeptical about the idea of environmental stewardship, what would you most want to say to that person?
I would start with Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” That’s our starting point. I think it is also important to primarily use the word creation instead of environment because “creation” assumes a “Creator.” If there’s a Creator, then we turn to the biblical narrative in Genesis and see that it assumes stewardship. The two words used in Genesis 2 are care and keep. These are the same words used in Aaron’s blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you.” It’s critical that we understand this is God’s charge to humanity: to care and keep creation.
Another thing I might share is this awesome passage in Jeremiah 29:5-7 where Jeremiah is talking to the Jewish people who are in exile in Babylon. He says to them, “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
I think that’s really all about being planted. The passage uses the word city but I would say “your place” or “your watershed.” You live in this place, you plant gardens, you work for the welfare of everything around you. In that welfare is your welfare. If the water is clean, you’ll be able to drink it. If the industrial plant isn’t putting toxic chemicals into your water, you’re not going to get cancer from it. You know, all these things are all interrelated. So seek the welfare of your place because it’s your welfare too.
Environmental concerns ask us to have a global perspective. But your title Planted reminds us that each of us live in a particular place. We’re each planted—and this implies a lot about our sense of place and our sense of calling. So what does it mean to you to be “planted”?
I think the global issues are so big and so, for me, I’ve chosen the theme of “planted” as a stance of hope. It’s a way of acting out conviction in one place over the long haul. It’s about being planted not only in a place, but also with particular people.
When you’re planted some place, you get to know it pretty well. There’s an idea now called “watershed discipleship.” It just means as a Christian, knowing and caring about the issues, the people, and the creatures in one’s watershed.
The watershed is geographical designation rather than a political one. It’s not “I live in Chicago” or “I live in Indianapolis.” For me, I live in the Little Campbell River watershed, so I ask, what are the issues in my watershed? For each of us, there are going to be issues of agriculture, there are going to be issues of justice—such as people who don’t have access to food. There are going to be environmental issues, like creatures who aren’t thriving or who are going extinct in the area.
So I think the idea of being planted both looks to the now—the people and creatures living around you in the present—but it’s also a long-term perspective. It’s about thinking: This is where I’m planted. This isn’t just where I come home after work and sleep. This is my place.
I’m wrapping up my “Be Green” focus by zeroing in on how environmental issues are directly linked to “the least of these” among us. How do you see creation care linked with biblical justice and compassion?
It’s really important to approach this from a human angle—to look at human suffering around the world. For example, many don’t realize how we in the first world are outsourcing our trash. In China and parts of Africa, there are e-waste dumps where we’re just shipping our toxic waste to developing countries. They get paid to take it, but then its’ poisoning and polluting their water supplies, it’s poisoning the people who work with this stuff without safety goggles and gloves.
I know climate change is a difficult, divisive topic for some in the States, but in terms of justice, climate change is the most outrageously unjust thing we’re doing. The richest people in the world are pouring all this carbon into the atmosphere and then the poorest people in the world—who, by the way, actually aren’t contributing hardly at all to climate change—are the ones living in the droughts and who can’t plant their crops and don’t have access to clean water.
We work in developing countries and it’s interesting because often people there will say, “In the West people see the environmental cause as a luxury, but for us it’s life or death if we don’t have clean water, if we don’t know when to plant our seeds because the seasons have become so unstable.” One woman in Kenya said, “We used to know when to plant, but now we just throw the seeds in all the time because we don’t know when the droughts are going to come or when the rains are going to come.”
So you start to realize that the way we care for the environment is also a way of caring for the most vulnerable in the world who depend directly on the environment in order to live.
Thank you, Leah! Friends, you can read more of my conversation with Leah in my article at Today’s Christian Woman.
Also, if you enjoyed this interview, you can find more like it. Click below to join in my conversations with two more amazing and inspiring Christian women who care for God’s created world: Nancy Sleeth and Tracey Bianchi.
(Photo credit for image of Leah: Brooke McAllister)