By Dienna Goscha
It was a beautiful Minnesota day. Green leaves, blue sky, cool breeze, warm sun. A day Minnesotans dream of. We headed to the local arboretum, my three boys and I. Parking, I unloaded the stroller and put the baby in, gave instructions to the five year old and three year old not to wander far and we started off on our hike. Not far down the path we encountered a baby frog and gathered around to admire it. Capturing a teachable moment, I started into a lesson on the life cycle of a frog when suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a foot descended on the frog crushing the life out of him. My five year old and I gasped. Attached to the foot was the leg of my three year old. I stuttered, “Why did you do that?” He stared at me blankly.
Deflated, we all trudged back to the car and headed home. No one said a word. No one mentioned the frog again until that night at dinner. After my husband said the blessing, the five year old started wailing, “I loved that frog. I really, really loved that frog.” My husband looked at me incredibly confused. After I explained the travesty of the day, he looked at the three year old and uttered words I have never forgotten, “Don’t you ever hurt one of God’s creatures. That frog didn’t do anything to you. You had no right to hurt it.”
Often we encounter our environment like a three year old, ready to squash it if we feel like it, without any regard for what our actions may do to others. We take the Genesis 1 words of “subduing, ruling, or dominion” to mean we have free reign to do whatever we want with the earth. In general, Christians have not taken up the cause of the environment within the church because they do not see it as a spiritual issue. However, if we are to truly do as Jesus taught, to love God and to love others, care of God’s creation must be embraced. This is not just an issue for the “world,” it is an issue for the church.
Every kid can tell you ways that we are destroying the environment. Every kid can list for you ways that we can save our environment. They know where the recycling bins are and how long it takes for a plastic bag to break down in the land fill. They know words such as global warming and solar energy. But can every kid tell you what God says about taking care of the environment? Do kids understand why this might be important to God?
At the very foundation of Creation care are the principles of relationship, obedience, gratitude, respect and justice. We find a concern for the environment through ourrelationship with Jesus, through whom we learn to love God and love others. Our love for God leads to obedience of his word, which directs us toward taking care of his Creation. When we take care of the earth, we show our gratitude to God for making a beautiful and creative place for us to live. When we leave the environment better than we found it, we show respect for all God’s creatures. And taking care of our environment is justice. Those who are marginalized in our world suffer the most from our abuse. If we truly love others the way Jesus calls us to, we cannot help but be affected by this.
But how do we instill these foundational elements into kid’s thinking? How do we let them see that when we live a life of excess we are hurting those we may never meet? By intersecting the environmental science that kids are learning in school, on kid’s television shows, in kid’s magazines and perhaps at home with strong spiritual teaching, we can impact their thinking with a concern for creation care and for making a difference in God’s green world. An environmental camp or Vacation Bible School is just the place for this intersection between science and faith to take place.
An environmental camp includes many of the same elements that a traditional camp or Vacation Bible School would have. Such activities as skits, bible stories, crafts, snacks, games and bible memory are a part of each day. However, the camp also incorporates environmental experiments and projects where kids learn about God’s creation and put into practice what it means to make a difference in the world. Not only are children made aware of the biblical foundation, they also come to appreciate the world that God made for them. They are challenged to act on this awareness and appreciation.
The camp (or Vacation Bible School) starts with large group time where the biblical foundation would be laid. Imagine fun characters such as a wacky environmental scientist, the Green Man Group (similar to the popular Blue Man Group) or a game show host introducing kids to the concepts of obedience, respect, gratitude and justice. The main spiritual teaching takes place during a Bible story, ending with prayer and a challenge to consider what changes the child should consider in his/her life. Application of the teaching takes place during an object lesson using a recycled item pulled from the recycling bin or a lab demonstration of an environmental experiment performed by the wacky scientist, Dr. Lime Green.
After the large group time, the kids break into small groups and travel to different areas in a rotational system. They create crafts out of recycled objects, put together fun snacks, test an environmental science experiment, learn Bible memory verses, participate in active games and dive into the bible during small group discussion. All of these activities would reinforce the biblical point made during the large group time. Also, environmental projects are incorporated into the day such as testing water for ph levels or making a solar oven. Creation scavenger hunts and nature hikes are an integral part of the week, as are local projects to clean up a specific area. World-wide projects such as raising money for bloodwatermission.org or other organizations that help those affected by the misuse of the environment give kids a tangible way to make a difference.
During the week-long camp or VBS, kids are challenged to look at their world in a different way. They are challenged to think about the effect their actions make on the environment. They are challenged to look at how their actions reflect their love for God and others. And finally, they are challenged to take steps of action to make changes in their lives.
Including families in an environmental event, whether for one night of the camp or for the entire camp, create a sense of mission within the entire family and how they can make a difference. The long term retention and ripple effects of the camp are enhanced when family members all have the same information and challenges. As families talk at home about the event, lasting changes are made not only in attitude but also in how they choose to live out their lives. Parents will have the tools they need to model Creation care for their children.
The goal of the camp should be awareness of the environment, appreciation for all God created and action to make a difference. Although it would be tempting to put personal political views into this type of camp, it is important to allow God to work on the conscience of each family. The camp’s focus should not be on pushing convictions on people but rather on building strong biblical foundation. It should not tell families how to take care of the environment so much as tell them why they should. What they do with the information becomes a continuous journey that they will take through life
God has given us a beautiful, creative, life-filled world. Let’s teach kids to obey Him by taking care of it, showing our gratitude to Him for it, showing respect for others by not destroying it and providing justice by not allowing misuse to hurt those less fortunate. Let’s be passionate about teaching kids how to better love God and how to put into action loving others. Let’s be passionate about kids learning at a young age that their attitudes and actions can truly make a difference in the world. Imagine what you can do by bringing the issue of the environment into the church and equipping kids and their families to make a difference in God’s green world.
Dienna Gotscha has led children’s ministry for over 20 years and is co-founder of River’s Edge Curriculum (www.riversedgecurriculum.com), where she created the iGo Green Kid’s Camp curriculum. She serves as Pastor of Families and Children at Real Life Community Church in Minnesota. You can reach her at [email protected].