Why All Missionaries Are Environmentalists (or Should Be)

all missionaries are environmentalists
Far from a political posture, caring for the earth was God's first command to man. Photo by Robert Johnson / TEAM

Steve Dresselhaus, a senior director at TEAM, shares about the vision behind TEAM’s creation care initiatives.


Whether or not he or she knows it, every missionary is an environmentalist. Perhaps not the tree-hugging, Gaia-worshiping, organic-brown-rice-eating style of environmentalist caricatured by the media, but a practicing one, nonetheless.

Obviously, some of us are more specialized and intentional in creation care than others, and we could all do a bit better at it. But each of us is somewhere to be found on the caring-for-the planet continuum.

Anyone who has fed a poor person, been involved in healthcare, helped in disaster relief, taught a child to use a trash can, fixed a leaky faucet, car pooled, enjoyed a sunset or a day at the beach, preached against predatory greed and accumulation, or turned off a light in an empty room is playing a part, tiny though it be, in obeying the first command given by God.

This command, which precedes all others and cannot be ignored if we say we are followers of Jesus, is the Genesis 1 mandate for us to reign over all life on the planet. We cannot love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength without loving what he loves, nor can we love our neighbor as ourselves without protecting where our neighbor lives, nor can we be holy as he is holy while ignoring what he told us to care for.

Caring for the planet is all about love, obedience and compassion. It has nothing to do with a political agenda, at least not for Jesus followers.

Somewhere in our history, we Westerners adopted an ancient Greek way of looking at the cosmos which separates the spiritual and physical into two worlds, one of which became more important than the other. The material, physical world was deemed less important than the spiritual world, a sad and unbiblical way of seeing things in light of God having created the cosmos and declaring the whole thing good.

The goodness of the world was challenged, and imbalance and chaos rushed in, when the first couple, in an act of accumulative greed, took the first thing they did not need and which they had specifically been told not to consume. This first sin, this pursuit of human divinity, was compounded by being an act of sinful accumulation. It gave birth to the entire environmental problem we face today. The selfish accumulation of resources, whether they are stored in over-stuffed garages, in rented self-storage units, or hoarded around our waist, remains the source of environmental degradation and the injustice that always accompanies it.

When Jesus died and reconciled to God everything he created, he also brought back together the material world and the spiritual world. In this reconciled world, it is no longer possible to view loving our neighbor as ourself as somehow not involving the physical world. It is no longer acceptable to think of telling someone to be clothed and fed without actually feeding and clothing that person. Feeding the poor is part of caring for the environment.

In Jackson, Wyoming, they dump hay during the harsh winters to help the elk population in the U.S. National Elk Refuge, a last resort for these animals whose natural migratory routes and food sources were cut off long ago by construction projects, tourism and urban development. Feeding elk is different from feeding the poor only in that the hungry person we care for is created in the image of God and thus enjoys a privileged status far beyond that of the elk. The root cause of hunger for both elk and man, however, is the same; it is sin and, in this case, the sin of misusing the environment.

The environment always has been and always will be God’s tool for providing for every creature he created. The God who cares for sparrows, who tells us not to mistreat animals, and who promises to meet our every need would never have created a system incapable of caring for the creatures he placed in it. It is impossible to love people without loving the creation God placed them in. It is impossible to love someone but do nothing to rescue them from dangerous living conditions. Love can never turn a blind eye to anything that harms anyone.

The cosmos was created in absolute perfection and will someday return to that perfection, because our God is the God who reconciles all things to himself through the blood of his Son. Until Jesus, the resurrected one, returns as the physical reigning king, we who follow him must obey him. Until Jesus returns, TEAM missionaries will continue making and gathering disciples of Jesus who possess  a comprehensive world view that includes caring for the environment as a privileged opportunity to serve and to love.

Learn more about TEAM’s initiatives and opportunities to serve in creation care. 

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About the author

Steve Dresselhaus
Steve Dresselhaus

Raised in Venezuela and the son of TEAM missionaries, Steve Dresselhaus is a Senior Director for Global Ministry at TEAM and focuses on Latin America and creation care. He and his wife, Lois, live in La Paz, Mexico.

7 Comments

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    • Linda, being aware is vital. We don’t all need to be perfect at creation care but if each of us does just a bit better we will make huge progress. In your part of the world we need get people on board soon, before things get out of hand.

  • Love this, Steve. Thanks for putting what many of us believe so eloquently.

    I’m also struck by how apt an answer is the second to final paragraph, to misled folk with those godless bumper stickers such as “Save a baby, club a seal.”

    Bless you on this Earth Day.

    David

    • David, you hint at a gut reaction we often get from people who don’t understand that we are actually helping them by caring for their environment. We have all seen the stories where the argument goes from “I want to save the whales” to ” You are a baby killing abortionist,” in the blink of an eye. Is there no room for a pro-life environmentalist? I am troubled by the leap to the extreme we so often experience when we simply attempt to obey the first command given by the Almighty.

  • I really enjoyed your article! I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but as a Christian who has contemplated these issues for quite some time and completed post-graduate studies in agriculture and world hunger, I believe that one of the best steps Christians can take to contribute to a better environment is to stop consuming mass-produced meat and other mass-produced animal products. I do not think eating meat in itself is sinful, but I do think consuming enormous amounts of mass-produced meat is a symptom of pride, selfishness and gluttony. It not only destroys the environment (including the poor treatment of the animals themselves), but it also contributes to poor health outcomes and to world hunger as the mass producers of meat drive up the global price of grains, making them less affordable to the poor. I believe the solution is to eat smaller portions of locally-produced meat. Thanks for the opportunity to comment and share my conviction! (Oh, and I love organic brown rice.) 🙂

    • Courtney, thanks for your comments. Ever since Eve took that first thing not needed our world has suffered the effects of accumulative greed. Mohandas Gandhi said “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” Jesus taught us to say “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our greed, our appetites our accumulation of stuff be it possessions or stored calories are taking the planet to unsustainability. I appreciate your attitudes and your actions.

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