Tie-dye? Jello? Whiteboard markers? Snorkel mask? Nametags? Watercolor paper? My mind ran through the needed supplies for the following day, just hours away, as I lay awake in bed, pretending to get some sleep before the week’s activities began. The past five months I had been preparing for this camp, and now, filled with anticipation, I again pondered the schedule, the stations left to set up, the staff introduction to the kids.
As an environmental science major, I was first inspired to pursue an active role in sustainability and conservation by PLNU associate professor of biology Dr. April Maskiewicz, with her energetic teaching style and contagious hope for change. Not long after taking her ecology and conservation class, I found myself accepting what would be the most challenging and rewarding position I have ever held. I still remember reading the job description: “Creation care intern will be responsible for camp publicity, registration, curriculum, recruitment of leaders, and supplies.” My heart had jumped at the opportunity to work alongside a group of believers committed to pursuing the heart of God, honoring Jesus Christ as Lord, and inspiring a culture of environmental stewardship within the church.
The month was February. As the newly hired Solana Beach Presbyterian Church (SBPC) creation care intern, I began transforming dreams and ideas into concrete camp objectives and curriculum under the guidance of Tom Theriault, SBPC missions outreach pastor, and Cathy Tyre, one of SBPC’s creation care team leaders. Two of pastor Tom’s goals were to reveal that the biblical pursuit of Christ is integral to addressing environmental issues and that science is in no way adverse to the Bible, but rather that God’s love witnessed through Jesus Christ is the same love that compels us to both study and protect the natural world. The coastal location of Solana Beach and the accessibility of the San Elijo Lagoon inspired our decision to focus specifically on water. With this in mind, I advertised the camp to parents with the following words:
SBPC Creation Care Camp—Save the Date! June 17-21
Children will gain an understanding of basic ecology, be challenged to rethink the way that they engage creation, and be empowered to be active participants in conservation and sustainability as children of God. Our theme for this camp is SPLASH!—where kids will take the plunge to address local and global water issues, while exploring the Bible and God’s heart for restoring His creation.
Goals set! Now on to curriculum and activities, keeping in mind that our audience would be fourth through sixth graders. Children are not content to sit and talk about ideas—they want action. This inspired me to design a structure where information was conveyed through group activities and competitions, arts and crafts, and a hands-on community restoration project. Our focus verse was Romans 8:19, which we shortened to the phrase “All creation’s waiting for the children of God to be revealed,” suggesting three main questions. First, what exactly is creation? Second, why is it waiting? Third, what does it mean for a child of God to be revealed in the earth?
I wanted to retrain the way the kids thought about the world and the way they interacted with it. So when we talked about creation and how it was made from God’s love, we also practiced learning about God’s love while studying creation, referencing verses such as Colossians 1:16-17, 1 John 4:16, and Romans 1:20. I brought in different bones, feathers, rocks, leaves, and animals, and after the kids held, examined, and described them, I asked them what each item told them about God’s love.
One kid, on seeing a tadpole, said, “That’s awkward!”
To which I responded, “Yeah, it does look really weird; is God’s love ever awkward?”
Together the campers and I discussed different stories in the Bible and personal experiences when God’s love was expressed in strange, awkward, and even uncomfortable ways.
Midway through the camp, we looked at Romans 8:21-22 to learn how creation is in a state of waiting because it is being degraded. We looked not only at how our actions negatively impact creation, but also why. Hosea 4:1-3 says that because the Israelites had “no knowledge of God,” they literally hurt all creation. Continuing with the theme of God’s boundless, intricate love, I shared that knowing God means you experience His love and how well He takes care of you, which then encourages you to love and take care of everything around you. When we don’t know God, we are cutting ourselves off from His limitless, contagious love, and our perspective narrows until all we can see is ourselves—selfishness and greed are the two devastating contributors to the current state of the earth.
That same day, I shared the concept of a water footprint with the kids. Most schools address direct water usage with students, but few people have yet been exposed to the concept of a water footprint. Scientists use this term to talk about how much water a person uses. This includes direct use of water, like flushing a toilet or taking a shower, as well as indirect use, such as the amount of water used to produce the food and products we use. I had the kids guess how much water was required to make basic goods like a hamburger, a glass of apple juice, a car, or a cotton T-shirt. For instance, a hamburger patty (one-third pound of beef) requires at least 600 gallons of water to be produced. That’s like taking a two-hour shower! And that’s not including the ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, or buns that typically accompany a hamburger.
The kids were absolutely amazed by how water-intensive certain processes are and excitedly declared that they wanted to eat less meat and dairy products. The purpose of sharing about water footprints was not to convince campers to stop eating meat and dairy, but merely to show that by choosing to eat less meat and dairy, they can make a huge impact on water conservation. One mom came up to me after the camp and shared that her son had announced to the family that he wanted to be a vegan because dairy and meat use too much water. I was so amazed and inspired by the mom’s willingness to support her son’s decision and learn some new recipes. This is what I had hoped for—that the kids’ enthusiasm would influence their families to readjust their lifestyles, whether that meant carpooling to school, buying less one-time-use plastic, or simply eating less meat.
The final day of camp focused on the final topic of our theme verse: the revelation of the children of God. Just the night before, the Lord had given me a new version of the classic “renew, reuse, recycle” phrase: “rethink, repent, restore.” These three words are foundational in our transformation as children of God. The more we rethink our habits, the more likely we are to recognize actions that are harmful to the environment and repent. The change in our lives that comes from repentance leads to our participation in restoring the earth. It is through restoration that God’s love is revealed through us to all creation. All creation is waiting for God’s love to be revealed through us, God’s children!
It is my hope that this basic cycle of rethinking, repenting, and restoring be embraced by believers all around the globe, our lifestyles be transformed to better meet the needs of an ever-changing planet, and the creative capacity of children be supported and upheld as a means of inspiring lasting change within our world. To this end, I constructed and carried out SPLASH, and to this end, I endeavor to give my life.
By Erin Smith