According to Alemayehu Wassie, if you see a forest in Ethiopia, you know there is very likely to be a church in the middle.
Small forests surround some 35,000 Tewahedo churches and are all that’s left of the tall, lush, natural forests that once covered almost half the country.
The Communist government that took over in the 1970s and 80s cut down over 90% of the nation’s forests in order to convert the land to farming.
Now these churches are joining the effort to grow back the national treasure that communism destroyed.
The churches of Ethiopia have partnered with local ecologists to grow new hope for this country.
Ethiopia was once known for biodiversity of land and natural resources, truly an oasis sustaining Earth as a whole.
With the ravaging of the torn-up landscapes brought about by communism, this biodiversity was on the verge of extinction.
The goal of the communist government was to increase food production.
But according to Wassie, “productivity could have been increased by using technologies rather than expanding farmland.”
Unfortunately, the kind of technology that significantly boosts farm productivity requires significant capital investment, the kind of capital investment that is rejected by communism.
Joseph Sunde at the Acton Institute explains, “Such an approach would have required individualized and specialized knowledge — aligning and adapting to changing tools and technologies and applying them to local environments and conditions. Instead, the country got thrown to the short-sighted dreams of central planners.”
According to its website, “the Acton Institute is a think-tank whose mission is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
Joseph Sunde says there’s another lesson in the story of Ethiopia’s Church forests: “In the wake of such blindness and reckless destruction, we see the perseverance of innovative individuals and communities voluntarily coming together to rebuild and restore that which was lost.
“We see humans made in the image of God amid institutions contorted by the love of man, using their God-given creative capacity to participate with nature and restore the created order.
“This is the task we’ve been called to, and regardless of whatever dysfunction may surround us –environmental, economic, political, or otherwise — these are the features we know will endure.”
According to Nature Magazine, “the [Tewahedo] church, to which more than half of Ethiopians belong, views the natural forest as a symbol of heaven on Earth, where every creature is a gift from God and needs its habitat.”
God is our Creator — and we as His creatures were also endowed with the responsibility of caring for His other creations.
This definitely undergirds our arguments for the inborn value of human life, human rights, humanitarianism, etc. However, God also has created this Earth and everything in it, and also has given us responsibility to care for His miraculous planet.
Not only do Ethiopian Christians view restoring their forests as a spiritual issue, they are learning the actual benefits are physically tangible, and extend over more than just the country at hand.
Forests/reforestation provide “cooler temperatures, greater humidity, better water conservation, reduced soil erosion, and comfortable habitats for birds and insects that help pollinate crops and control pests”, according to Nature Magazine.
Alemayehu Wassie and Meg Lowman are two lead ecologists working on this issue who have been conducting educational workshops and local research activities to stimulate awareness.
Keeping forests strong and alive is clearly a part of our spiritual calling. We are called to be good stewards of the earth. Part of this, as the Tewahedo churches are demonstrating, is working to maintain God’s provided home for all creatures. We extend grace and mercy of the King to all creatures by working in concert with His design.
We now, in our own country, need to take the lesson learned by Ethiopians and re-learn them for ourselves:
Conservation cannot be achieved by top-down central planning. It can only be achieved by taking personal responsibility and making the changes ourselves. And it requires a free market with the capital needed to increase the productivity of the resources we do have.
We are part of this Earth, intended to present to the world the masterful design of the Perfect Designer. We do this by maintaining and working WITH the design, not against it or choosing a separate path.
We do not know better; by God’s might, we know MORE when we seek His Providence.