Two pastors shared their stories of how they point people to God, promoting reconciliation among the community and providing refuge to people and other environmental species.

Both of them don't know each other personally yet found their calling in ministries that promotes environmental stewardship to their congregations. Both pastors have witnessed how God unexpectedly transformed the Churches by taking care of nature.

Promoting Peace Through Forest Keeping

Evangelical Free Church Pastor Michael Martin told Christianity Today that when he first came to Baltimore, he didn't imagine what could be 10 acres of woods near the church could turn into. He shared that the church was in deep wound due to decades of white flight and a debate about where the church should be built.

Martin said the hurt among the people sprang stewardship issue. No one has the energy to pursue any project aside from their works in the church. Yet the church also wanted to connect with the neighborhood.

Things changed after Martin's traverse on the wood. He shared that when he was starting to learn about the community, a neighbor carrying a machete took him back to the trees' impassable edge. He followed that person and led him to a peaceful path. The pastor said he felt moved by the serenity of the place and thought to himself this was the answer to their prayers.

Martin thought of an idea where the need for green space in the community and the need for the church to serve the community takes place. With his partnership with the campus ministry Cru, six tons of underbrush and trash were cleared. Afterward, invasive species and ash trees were removed through the church's partnership with the Baltimore mayor's office and the US Department of Agriculture. They also planted more than 2,000 additional trees.

With all their efforts and volunteerism led by the pastor, a "Stillmeadow Community PeacePark and Forest" bloomed in the area that was enjoyed by the church and the community.

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Giving Refuge Through Stream Maintaining

Meanwhile in Michigan, the Christian Reformed Church Pastor Gary Koning also shared his realization with Christianity Today. He said many events in the Scripture took place in the outside setting like God speaking to Abraham and Jesus walking around proclaiming the Gospel which was in contrast to air-conditioned halls where modern sermons take place today.

It coincided with the answer of his congregation when he asked them where they last felt closer to God, and 80% of them answered in nature. The church suffered a great loss in number during the pandemic but the pastor said, those 50 people who remained were mission-minded.

They started different ministries caring for people with special needs, people without a home, and people struggling for food. They also jumpstart a project taking care of a water stream near their church called "Stream Team."

What started as a small project turned into conducting a macroinvertebrate species survey after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality granted them $18,000 through the help of a state conservationist who noticed their "stream team" project and taught them how to monitor water quality.

Koning said that taking care of the environment was a way of worship to God. The church has now a "Creation Station" designated for children learning how to steward the environment.

This year, the church decided to change its name to "The Refuge," saying that they don't just give refuge to people but other species found in the environment.

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